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How to harvest your garden bounty

“Earth here is so kind that just tickle her with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest.”

— Douglas William Jerrold, “The Wit and Opinions of Douglas Jerrold,” 1858

Douglas Jerrold, an English writer and playwright, was describing Australia with these words in an essay called “Land of Plenty,” but his optimism is commendable to any gardener. I should always think of my garden as so gleefully generous.

With all of the tickling and hoeing I’ve been doing this growing season, I want to make the most of my garden bounty. Taking care to properly harvest vegetables and melons will allow me to do just that. The Home Garden Seed Association and the Oregon State University Extension Service offer the following harvesting recommendations:

Beans: Harvest beans when they are slender and crisp before the seeds form lumps in the pods. To harvest, take hold of the bean where it connects to the vine and use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the bean loose from the stem. Pulling the bean may break the stem and damage the plant. After pole beans finish their first crop, fertilize and water thoroughly to encourage new growth and produce until frost.

Cabbage: Cut cabbage head above the bottom leaves at an angle to avoid rot from water collecting on the stem. When new cabbage buds appear, thin to 3-4 per plant for a second crop of miniature cabbages. Prevent cabbage from cracking by twisting the head ¼ turn.

Cantaloupe: Pick cantaloupes when the stem separates easily from the vine, and the flesh between the skin netting turns from green to tan. Ripe melons will have a strong, sweet smell. No special tools or special handling are needed for harvesting melons.

Corn: Pick corn when the silks turn brown, the husks are still green, and the ears are completely filled out. Harvest in the morning by grabbing the ear of corn, pulling it downward and twisting it off the plant.

Cucumber: The optimal size for harvesting cucumbers depends on the variety, but keep in mind that bigger is usually not better, because the seeds become bitter tasting when they mature. Twisting cucumbers from the vine can damage the plant, so snip them with a clean, sharp pair of garden clippers.

Eggplant: Harvest eggplant the same way as cucumbers. They are ready to pick when their skins are shiny. The skin of overripe eggplant becomes tough and dull, and the flesh becomes bitter tasting.

Peppers: When peppers are ripe, they will be firm and full-sized. They should break easily from the plant. Peppers can be harvested when green for a milder taste, or left on the plant to turn red or yellow. To harvest, use clippers to cut the pepper from the plant with the stem still attached to the pepper.

Summer squash: Zucchini and yellow crookneck squash are most tender when they are no bigger than 5-7 inches, and patty pan squash is best at 3 inches or smaller. Harvest all types of squash by cutting the squash from the vine with clippers or a knife, rather than twisting them off.

Tomatoes: Harvest tomatoes when they are fully colored and slightly soft when lightly squeezed. Larger heirlooms and cherry tomatoes, both of which can crack if they are left too long on the vine, may be picked just before they are fully ripe and will finish ripening after they are harvested. Twist tomatoes gently until they separate from the stem.

For more about harvesting, see my blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

I’ll close by sharing a verse from another English writer, William Blake (1757-1827), who offers sound advice for gardeners. Blake writes, “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”

— Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.