Growing Fruit and Vegetables: Harvesting
Various vegetables, fruit and herbs which are ready for harvesting in late summer and autumn can be stored for use during the winter, if not required immediately. It is a good idea to have a store of produce, since, during the winter, there will be far fewer crops to pick from your garden.
The advent of freezers has made storage a lot easier, and many vegetables and fruit that previously could not be stored easily may now be kept in good condition for a very long time. However, a freezer is by no means essential, as there are various other more traditional methods that are just as successful.
Provided you have an adequate storage area, preferably an area under cover which is frost free, you will be able to store such crops as apples and pears, the root vegetables, such as, carrots, beetroots, and the like, and crops such as and . Some root vegetables can even be stored in the open garden provided they are well protected. Herbs take up little storage space, for they may be dried and placed in glass jars in the kitchen.
Although harvesting vegetables and fruit is a fairly simple matter, there are a few basic rules to follow if you want to ensure successful storage. For instance, if you harvest too early, before the crop is mature, or if you damage the produce in any way, you could considerably shorten the storage life of the fruit or vegetables.
As correct harvesting, then, is so important, let us start with the various methods used.
Fruit must always be picked at the correct stage of development— generally as soon as they are ripe. With apples it is not possible to give definite dates for the picking of the different varieties, as the season and the area in which they are being grown will greatly influence the time of ripening. However, harvesting generally starts from mid-summer and goes on through to late autumn, depending on whether the apples are early-maturing varieties, mid-season, or late-maturing varieties.
Early-maturing and mid-season apples must not be left on the trees too long after they have ripened or they will quickly spoil, but late-maturing varieties can be left until late autumn. If apples are picked before they are properly ripe they will never develop their full flavour, and if picked too late will not keep as long as they should.
The simplest way to test whether apples are ripe and ready for picking is to lift one or two fruit gently and give them a slight twist; if they part easily from the tree then you can start picking them.
Pears are a little more complicated in their harvesting needs. Early varieties should not be allowed to remain too long on the tree; they should be picked before they are fully ripe and allowed to ripen indoors. This applies to mid- and late summer varieties, and to one or two of the earliest autumn sorts.
The other early to mid-autumn kinds should not be picked until they are ripe, that is when they can be removed from the tree with the slightest possible twist of the hand. This is usually when the base colour at the stalk end starts to change.
Pears picked too soon will not ripen properly and may shrivel in store and not develop their full flavour. Early varieties, however, are an exception, as described above. If picked too late, pears may become ‘sleepy’: that is, the outside will remain hard and unripe, while the inner flesh becomes soft but tasteless.
Other fruit are harvested only when they are fully ripe—fruit such as plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, gooseberries, currants, blackberries, loganberries and strawberries, for instance. It is quite easy to tell when these fruit are ripe for they change from green to their appropriate colour—which may be red, purple, black or yellow. And they will have their characteristic aroma and feel soft to the touch when gently squeezed, not hard and bullet-like. If these fruit are picked too early they will not have their full flavour.
The ideal time to harvest fruit is when they are dry, as they can be difficult to dry off indoors. They need to be as dry as possible for storing, and those that are not to be eaten for a few days could become mouldy if wet.
If you intend to store fruit then you must take great care when picking them to prevent bruising and skin damage. If this happens they will not keep for long but will quickly rot. As you pick them, you should put them into a soft container, such as a canvas bag. Special fruit-picking bags are sometimes available from good garden centres and shops. A rigid container, such as a basket or bucket, may be used instead, but line it first with some soft material such as tissue paper to prevent damage to the fruit. Place the fruit gently in the container—never throw or drop them in. Apples and pears for storing should have their stalks left on.
Fruit do not necessarily ripen all at once, so it may be necessary to pick the tree or bush several times before all the fruit is harvested.
Most fruit will be easy to pick, especially if you have dwarf bush apples and pears and trained forms like fans and cordons, which are easily reached from the ground. Large fruit trees, however, may present a problem. Do not be tempted to shake the fruit down as this will severely damage them. You could use a ladder for reaching up into the tree but ensure that the top is well over a strong branch and the bottom is on hard, level ground. Your container could be hooked on to one of the top rungs to leave both hands free.
An easier method of picking out-of-reach fruit is to buy one of the proprietary fruit-picking tools. These consist of a long pole with a bag or net at the top; this is held just underneath the fruit, which drops into the bag after the stalk of fruiting shoot has been severed by a cutting blade above the bag.
Fruit pickers equipped with a cutting blade can also be used for light pruning when the bag is removed. Alternatively, fruit-picking heads are available for some long-handled pruncrs. With a fruit-picking tool, you should be able to harvest a large tree from ground level with relatively little effort.
If any of the fruit are wet when you pick them, take them into a warm, dry room so that they dry off.
With vegetables, you should again aim to harvest at the correct stage of development. The vegetables that are stored for winter use are generally the maincrop varieties of root crops, and their harvesting times are not too critical. As with fruit, these are generally harvested in late summer and autumn. Lift potatoes when the stems have more or less changed completely to yellow, and onions when the top growth has bent over and is beginning to yellow. Tomato picking should be finished before the frosts begin.
Root crops which are to be used in the summer, however, should be harvested while still young and tender— this applies to crops such as early carrots,, and the like. Peas and beans must be picked before they become old and tough. Peas should be soft and succulent and the pods of beans should snap cleanly in half and not be tough and stringy. With salads, such as lettuces and , and green vegetables such as cabbages, sprouts, and , the time to harvest is not critical but with some you may find that they start to go brown in the middle and rot if left too long.
Vegetables for storing should be harvested carefully, for damaged crops may rot in store. Root crops are dug up with a fork, taking care not to pierce the roots. Any damaged roots should be used as soon as possible. Thrust the fork in on all sides of the root to be lifted, gently prising it upwards each time, and then lift it out on the tines of the fork.
Do not try to lift crops when the ground is frozen as damage could occur. Try to harvest them when theis just moist—neither too wet nor too dry.
Some gardeners leave root crops such as parsnips in the ground until they need them in the autumn or winter, but lifting may be difficult then if the ground is frozen. Also, they are liable to be damaged by pests of various kinds.
Carrots, swedes and turnips, as well as parsnips, can be left in the ground if desired.
Root crops for storing must be dry, so clean off all the soil thoroughly and lay them out in a warm, dry place where they will quickly dry off. Onions andneed thorough ripening after lifting. The best way to do this is to lay them in a garden frame for a week or so, turning them each day so that the sun ripens them.
Cut off the leaves of carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes, onions and shallots, using a sharp knife. With beetroots, do not cut off the leaves, but twist them off with your hands to prevent excessive ‘bleeding’. Any unripened tomatoes can be placed in a warm, dark cupboard or drawer to finish ripening.
Herb foliage, such as sage, thyme, bay and rosemary, is generally harvested for drying in mid-summer. It should be cut on a warm, dry day, in the morning after the dew is off. Many herbs flower in the summer and it is best to take the leaves off the stems just before flowering as the oil content is then at its highest. Herb seeds are harvested under similar conditions, but later in the season, when fully ripe. They will either have changed colour completely or be easily shaken off the plants.