You’ve planned, shoveled, plowed, mulched, sown, planted, watered, weeded and now it’s time to harvest your crop! Ah, fresh tomatoes, zucchini that were only “so big” yesterday. The beets come out of the ground, the pepper trees struggle to stand because they are weighed down by their bounty. It’s a great thing to reap what you sow!
Whether you’re gardening for snacking, adding zest or flavor to your dishes, or filling, storing, and living all winter on the vegetable garden type, reaping what you plant is the big payoff.
Now the question: what to do with all those fruits and vegetables?
Drying: Dried vegetables and herbs take up less space when stored and retain most nutrients and flavor. Herbs can be bundled and hung in a warm, dry place with good air circulation to naturally dehydrate or a dehydrator can be used. Either way, avoid crowding or stacking your produce – air circulation is essential.
Freezing: Some vegetables, like corn on the cob, keep very well in the freezer. For the corn, cook it well, then let it cool completely and cut it into slices. Store it in good freezer bags and be sure to label it. My family finds this corn is best enjoyed on one of those cool, cloudy winter days when you wonder if winter will ever end.
Storage: Some products such as potatoes and garlic keep very well. Again, air circulation and dryness are key.
Canning: The canning process requires perfect hygiene and attention to detail. Recipes must be followed precisely. Penn State Extension has lots of great canning information. Let’s Preserve: Basics of Home Canning is an excellent resource available online. When done correctly, canned fruits, vegetables, and even meats can last a long time. A jar of homemade jelly or tomato sauce can also make a great gift.
Planning: One of the most important things about “The Harvest” is planning. Ask yourself, how do I want to benefit from my (insert product here)? Sauces, condiments, baked goods, seasonings, sides or main dishes? How much freezer or shelf space do I have available? How much time do I have to devote to conservation? Once you have an idea of how/if you want to enjoy your harvest for the months/years to come, you will have a better idea of how much and what varieties to plant. Having a good plan will save you a lot of time and stress once harvest time arrives.
Be sure to harvest early in the morning when the leaves/fruits are at their tastiest.
Harvest only preservative products in the best conditions. Do not use stained produce or expired fruit. No form of preservation will ever make your produce better than when it was freshly picked.
Be sure to label and date everything. It pays to include the date and variety of the item, so you know how it keeps and tastes and most importantly, you know whether you want to plant it again – or not.
Another great source of information is Penn State Extension’s Fact Sheet on Harvesting and Storing Herbs and Spices for Use in the Kitchen.
Marianne Campbell has been a master gardener at Penn State Extension since 2010. Her passion for gardening is genetic: her two grandmothers taught her from an early age. “I cherish this time with them and have several of their plants in my own yard.”
The Penn State Extension Office in Greene County is temporarily closed to the public, so the Master Gardener Hotline is currently unable to accept phone calls or samples of plants. Master gardeners can answer questions by email.
If you have a plant question or concern, please email a detailed description to [email protected] You can attach two or three clear photos. Master Gardeners will retrieve your email and get back to you.
Please note that while our offices are closed, our volunteers cannot access their physical research library. Although Master Gardeners will endeavor to answer all your questions by email, response times may be slower for further research. We appreciate your patience during this time. Keep gardening and stay safe and healthy!