Fall is upon us and so is Harvest Part 2
September 6, 2018
Courtesy of Linda Heath
I don't know where the time went last week. When I get to writing about something that truly interests me, I lose track of the words. Planting is nice, but the harvest, even with all the work that it promises, is my favorite time of the year. Besides being work that I enjoy, I think it's the anticipation of the fresh vegetables and the future prospect of eating everything that I've canned or frozen. The best thing about growing your own vegetables, beside the sheer enjoyment, is knowing what chemicals are (or aren't) in your foods.
Last week I ended with a discussion of tomatoes. I talked about them first because it's a fruit (yes, tomatoes are really a fruit) that almost everyone likes and a lot of people grow. They can be grown in a garden or, if you have limited space, in a bucket or pot. But let's talk about some of the other vegetables (or fruits) in the garden.
Peppers are another item that I grow every year, especially jalapenos. That's primarily because I like them so much. I eat nearly a quart of sliced jalapenos a week, so I have to grow a lot of them. Peppers in general are a pretty easy harvest. The first thing to know about peppers is that, once they are harvested, they are much more susceptible to damage such as sunscald, heat damage and water loss than before they are harvested. So, the key here is to get them into cold water as soon as they are harvested to cool them down, then store at 40 – 45 degrees with high humidity. When you are harvesting peppers, you should clip the stems, don't pull them off. Pepper plants are brittle and pulling the fruit off can break the main stem. Consider wearing gloves when harvesting hot peppers. The capsaicin (the chemical that makes the pepper hot) is also on the outside of the peppers and can be transferred to your skin. Another nice thing about peppers is the time to harvest. Almost every pepper, sweet or hot, goes through stages in its development with different colors. Most will start out green and change color as it matures. You'll need to know what your pepper is supposed to look like at the stage that you want to harvest. Peppers are edible at any stage, but the flavor (and sometimes heat) changes with maturity. Jalapenos are normally harvested when green, but are red when fully mature. The red jalapenos are the hottest and make a pretty accent in the jar.
Peas and snap beans are harvested in the same manner. Both should be harvested in the early morning when it's cool, but after the dew evaporates, and cooled even further immediately. Rinsing them with cold water is the best method of cooling. If you have to store them before processing, then put them in the refrigerator at 40-45 degrees with a humidity pad. A humidity pad is nothing more than a damp paper towel inside the sealed bag with the beans. The best thing to do, though, is to process as soon as they are harvested. Then you don't have to worry about moisture and nutrient loss.
Corn should be harvested when it has a green husk and dry brown silks. You can check for fullness of the ears by very carefully peeling back the husk and looking at the kernels. If they haven't filled out yet, just as carefully put the husks back and let it wait. Heat is a killer with corn so be sure to harvest it early in the morning and cool immediately to prevent sugar loss. If you aren't going to process your corn right away it can be stored at about 32 degrees for up to five days. There is nothing like corn fresh out of the garden for dinner.
Melons are another favorite in the garden. But how can you tell that they are ripe and ready to pick? I felt like a real fool when I found the answer. Muskmelons are the easiest because their stems will start to slip from the fruit. At this point they are ready to harvest NOW. Don't wait because they will fall off the vine and start to deteriorate. Watermelons will put out tendrils that will wither when they are ready to harvest. Another sign is that the belly of the watermelon will turn cream-colored or yellow when it's ready. Between these two signs, you'll know it's time to pick...and enjoy.
There are a lot of other vegetables and fruits that grow here in Laramie County. They key is to know what your variety should look like when it is ready to harvest. And there is one very critical factor to the harvest that I hope everyone picked up on. Cool your produce immediately. That's the one factor that cannot be stressed enough. High temperature destroys the nutrient value and flavor of fruits and vegetables faster than any other factor and is really the most easily controlled. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.