Vail Landscape Logic: Plan your harvest to get the best results and make your produce last longer
It’s finally about time to harvest those tomatoes, squash and green beans we’ve been patiently growing all summer. There’s been a good deal of effort already put into them, but as seasoned gardeners will tell you, the real work happens at the harvest, when zucchini needs to be picked right now, not next week.
To get the most from your harvest, it must be timely, done properly and with sufficient time to prep the produce for storage. Otherwise, the results of a growing season of work could be short lived — or worse yet, wasted. Here are tips for how and when to pick and how best to store the harvest to prolong freshness.
How to pick
Certain veggies, such as tomatoes, are easy to pick by hand and can be easily twisted off the vine. But for most crops, it’s best to avoid pulling or tugging on the plants, as this will damage them. Use pruners or a knife to make a clean cut and hold on to the fruit, not the stem. When picking pumpkins and squashes, for example, if you carry them by the stems, their weight will often cause the stem to break off, and that will shorten the shelf life. After picking, disinfect pruners with alcohol to avoid spreading diseases.
When to pick
Most vegetables start to go limp as soon as they’re picked, so the sooner veggies are prepped and into storage, the longer they will last. For that reason, it’s best to plan the time not only to pick your produce but also the additional time and materials needed to prepare and store it right away.
Morning is the best time to pick because that’s when veggies have the highest water content. Cooler days and cloudy days are also better than sunny, hot days for harvesting.
While it seems hygienic to wash off the dirt before storing veggies in the fridge, this won’t prolong shelf life. Getting veggies wet leads to quicker spoilage. For root crops, in particular, such as carrots, turnips, radishes or beets and also green beans, getting them wet will cause spoilage and shorten their shelf life.
After digging root crops, wipe off dirt with a dry paper towel and remove the green tops. Root crops will last up to three months if they are kept unwashed in a ventilated plastic bag in the coolest part of the fridge. You can plan on serving fresh carrots for Thanksgiving!
If you have a lot of veggies to store, take advantage of a cool basement area. This is a great place to store root crops, plus cabbage and potatoes. Keep carrots away from apples, potatoes and any other veggies that produce ethylene gas, as it will make them bitter.
Harvested veggies need to breathe and have air circulation to keep them from wilting. Consequently, don’t wrap them up tightly in a plastic bag. Instead, use ventilated plastic bags and keep bagged produce in the refrigerator. The coolness slows down metabolism and keeps produce fresh longer. This applies to peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower and summer squash. For lettuce and herbs, insert a slightly moistened towel in storage bags. This will provide enough moisture to prolong freshness without making them soggy.
Don’t have time to freeze the produce you are unable to consume? Share it with a neighbor or a local food bank. We can pass along the abundance our gardens have given us by sharing it with others.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.