We have finally made it to the big moment. Harvest time! It’s officially time to reap the benefits of all the work you’ve been putting in since the spring. Here are a few tips around making the most of some common summer veggies and herbs which are abundant right now.
If you haven’t already- get picking that basil! It’s ready. It’s ok if it’s flowering. The taste is a little stronger and spicier but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got! Mix some arugula, spinach or other greens with it if the flavor is too strong for your tastebuds. Basil is popularly used in making pesto or pistou (pesto without nuts) and its distinctive taste is summer’s calling card. Freeze some pesto in little baggies or ice trays for use in the winter time.
Basil harvest tips: pinch off the top bracts of the plants to encourage bushing (see picture). When I start to see the flowers coming that’s when I top it and get pesto-ing. This year I’m changing it up and infusing some basil oil.
The essential summer favorite is just coming on in most home gardens now. While it may seem late compared to what’s coming out at the farmer’s market, the timing is just fine! If your tomatoes are still ripening DON’T WORRY. You will eat tomatoes before the season is over. Sometimes they take a while!
How do you know if a tomato is ripe? Check the color- you want strong coloration (noting that some varieties ripen yellow or orange so they may not turn red!) and for slicers gently squeeze the fruit. If it’s hard, then give it a little longer. You want the tomato to have a little give to it when you squeeze. Ideally, let it ripen on the vine as that’s where you’ll get the most flavor. While tomatoes will ripen on the counter, they are better when ripened on the plant.
My veggies are not pretty!
Your veggies don’t have to be pretty to get eaten. We have been sold a lie that produce is uniform and blemish free because that’s what we see in the store. It’s not true! Just like in home gardens, farmers end up with ugly/imperfect crops that are completely edible and delicious. Congrats, you are now a farmer!
Blossom end rot: Ack! My tomatoes seem to have shriveled black ends! Unfortunately, you’ve got some blossom end rot. It’s not ideal but unfortunately there’s nothing to be done about it this late in the game. Watch the tomatoes for ripeness (you can eat the rest of the fruits) and next year make sure to add some calcium to your soil in the form of lime or gypsum.
Sunburn on your peppers: like the end rot, this is something you can’t do much about now. You could put some shade cloth over your peppers, but if it were me I’d harvest and eat around the sunburned spot and next year try to plant peppers closer so they can shade each other, or set up a little shade over them from the get go.
How do I know when to pick zucchini and eggplant? (Look for the shine)
If you are growing zucchini, it’s likely you have had one get away from you and found a baseball bat that seemed to have grown overnight! Summer squash are sneaky like that. The decision of when to pick summer squash is personal. Some people won’t eat bigger squash at all! I look for a slight shine and a size that feels appropriate to me. (For instance, I would wait to pic the one in the picture and my mother in law would not- you do you.)
With eggplant – pick them when they are size you want to eat them – but catch them before they start to yellow and get seedy.
How do I know if my melons are ready? It’s part art and part science.
- Look for the slip! That’s a little tendril right by the fruit. When it dries down, that’s one indicator of ripeness. For musk melons (like cantaloupe), a dried down slip, plus a strong melon-y smell and it easily coming off the plant will indicate ripeness. For watermelons, look for a dried down slip, and a yellowed (not white) spot where it’s been sitting on the ground. Additionally, give it a good thump. If it has a nice resonant sound, that’s another clue you’re ready for a watermelon feast.
These pests show up in gardens right around now. They primarily like brassicas (kale family) who are under stress at this time of year. So if you’ve still got kale or broccoli around, it may be time to pull it up and get it out of there. Here’s a list of things you can do about them (if you are really motivated, pick them off and drop into a bucket of soapy water).