Vegetable harvests, articles on seed saving and garlic planting, workshop on cover crops.

 

Close up of Cow Horn okra pods.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

There are several aspects of vegetable harvesting. In this post I will look first at maturity indicators, then at four ranges of cold-hardy crops for harvest at various stages of winter, followed by a reminder of the order for harvesting storable crops, according to the coldest temperature they can take. After that I have links to a couple of other websites with great information on these topics, a mention of two articles on seed saving  and one on garlic planting I have in Growing for Market magazine. And a link to a Mother Earth News Fair Online workshop on establishing winter cover crops.

Harvest and Maturity Indicators

Don’t harvest too soon or too late. How do you know when it’s ready to harvest? Different factors are important for different crops. Use all your senses.

  • Size: Cow Horn okra at 5”/13 cm (others shorter), green beans a bit thinner than a pencil, carrots at whatever size you like, 7”/18 cm asparagus, 6”/15 cm zucchini
  • Color: Garden Peach tomatoes with a pink flush. The “ground spot” of a watermelon turns from greenish white to buttery yellow at maturity, and the curly tendrils where the stem meets the melon to turn brown and dry. For market you may harvest “fruit” crops a bit under-ripe
  • Shape: cucumbers that are rounded out, not triangular in cross-section, but not blimps. Sugar Ann snap peas get completely round before they reach peak sweetness.
  • Softness or texture: eggplants that “bounce back” when lightly squeezed, snap beans that are crisp with pliable tips. Harvest most muskmelons when the stem separates easily from the fruit (“Full slip”).
  • Skin toughness: storage potatoes when the skins don’t rub off, usually two weeks after the tops die, whether naturally or because of mowing.
  • Sound: watermelons sound like your chest not your head or your belly when thumped. Try the “Scrunch Test” – press down firmly on the melon and listen and feel for the separation of the ripe flesh inside the melon.

Cabbages are fully mature when the head is firm and the outer leaf on the head is curling back. Ignore the separate “wrapper leaves” when making this judgment. If you need to keep mature cabbage in the ground a few days longer, twist the heads to break off some of the feeder roots and limit water uptake, and they will be less likely to split.

Mature cabbage showing curled leaf on the head.
This educational photo of a split cabbage is provided by Firesign Farm

Broccoli
Select blue-green broccoli heads and harvest them before the flower buds open, but after they’ve enlarged. We press down with finger-tips and spread our fingers to see if the head is starting to loosen.

Young immature broccoli head after rain
Photo Wren Vile

Sweet Corn

Sweet corn will be ready to harvest about three weeks after the first silks appear. Corn is ready when the ears fill to the end with kernels and the silks become brown and dry. An opaque, milky juice will seep out of punctured kernels. You can use your thumbnails to cur through the husk on the side and view the kernels. Don’t make your cut on top of the ear, or the dew and rain will get in and rot the corn.

Sweet corn ears are mature when the silks die and turn brown. Photo Kathryn Simmons
Mature Sweet corn ear.

Garlic

Garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop. See Ron Engeland’s Growing Great Garlic. Harvesting too early means smaller bulbs (harvesting way too early means an undifferentiated bulb and lots of wrappers that then shrivel up). Harvesting too late means the bulbs may “shatter” or have an exploded look, and not store well.

Cut across hardneck garlic – airspaces around the stem show maturity

Music garlic cut open showing gaps around stem – a sign of maturity.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Garlic bulb cut horizontally to check maturity (good now or soon).
Photo Wren Vile

Onions

Wait until the tops fall over to harvest, then gently dig up the whole plant and dry. Leave the dry, papery outer skin on the onion for protection.

Onions curing and drying in strings. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Four Ranges of Cold-Hardy Crops for Harvest at Various Stages of Winter

  1. Crops to keep alive into winter to 22°-15°F (-6°C to -9°C), then harvest. Harvest and use soon: Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, chard, lettuce, radishes. Harvest and store: beets, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, winter radish (including daikon), rutabagas, turnips. Many greens and roots can survive some freezing, so it is worth experimenting to find how late you can keep crops outdoors.
  2. Hardy winter-harvest crops: cabbage (Deadon), carrots, collards, kale, leeks, parsnips, scallions, spinach. We grow our winter-harvest crops in our raised bed area, which is more accessible in winter and more suited to small quantities.
  3. Overwinter crops for spring harvests before the main season. Some crops, if kept alive through the winter, will start to grow again with the least hint of spring weather and be harvestable earlier than spring plantings. Depending on your climate, the list can include carrots, chard, chicories such as radicchio and sugarloaf, chives, collards, garlic, garlic scallions, kale, lettuce, multiplier onions (potato onions), scallions, spinach. In mild areas, peas can be fall sown for a spring crop. Sow 1″ (2.5 cm) apart to allow for extra losses.
  4. Winter hoophouse crops: The rate of growth of cold-weather crops is much faster inside a hoophouse than outdoors. The crop quality, especially with leafy greens, is superb. Plants can tolerate lower temperatures than outdoors; they have warmer soil around their roots, and the pleasant daytime conditions in which to recover. Salad greens in a hoophouse can survive nights with outdoor lows of 14°F (–10°C) without inner rowcover.

In my post Root Crops in October, I gave this list of storable crops in the order for harvesting, related to how cold they can survive.

Clear and store (in this order):

  • Sweet potatoes 50°F (10°C)
  • “White” Peruvian potatoes 32°F (0°C) approximately
  • Celeriac 20°F (°C)
  • Turnips 20°F (°C)
  • Winter radish 20°F (°C)
  • Beets 15-20°F (°C)
  • Kohlrabi, 15°F (°C)
  • Carrots 12° F (°C)
  • Parsnips 0°F (°C)

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Here are some links to a couple of good sources for more harvest information:

  1. Piedmont Master Gardeners Garden Shed Newsletter

Guidelines for Harvesting Vegetables by Pat Chadwick

A list of seven basic principles of harvesting, followed by a crop-by-crop list of almost 50 individual crops and a resource list of 18 publications (focused on the mid-Atlantic and Southeast)

  1. October Tips from Harvest to Table, by Steve Albert covers all climate zones and comes complete with a USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Prepare your garden for colder weather, plant winter crops where there is still time, harvest crops that will suffer from cold, construct low tunnels with rowcover or clear plastic to keep crops somewhat protected from wind and cold temperatures

Links to other posts by Steve Albert

How to Prepare a Winter Vegetable Garden

Predicting Frost in the Garden

Garden Tips for October


Growing for Market articles

Harvesting seeds this fall?

I have written articles for Growing for Market magazine about growing and saving seeds (August and September issues), and planting garlic (October issue).

Given the shortages of some varieties this spring, it wouldn’t surprise us if more people tried producing seeds of vegetable or flower varieties this year. Here are links to articles from the August and September magazines, covering wet and dry seed processing.

Roma tomatoes cut in half for seed extraction.
Photo Pam Dawling

Wet seed processing and saving

Wet seeds are embedded in fruit. Wet processing has four steps: scooping out the seeds or mashing the fruit, fermenting the seed pulp for several days, washing the seeds and removing the pulp and then drying the washed seeds.

Read the article “Wet seed processing and saving”

Dry seed processing and saving

Dry seeds develop in pods, husks or ears, and dry on the plant rather than inside a fruit. While you obviously want to get seeds into the hands of growers before they need to plant, and into seed catalogs before they get printed, often there is no urgency to extract the dry-seeded crops from their pods. You can wait for a slower time, or use seed cleaning as a rainy-day job.

Read the article “Dry seed processing and saving”

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Mother Earth News Fair

I have a workshop on Winter Cover Crops for Gardeners as part of the Mother Earth News Fair Online Winter Gardening Course. The Winter Gardening Course features 7 videos, each 21-44 minutes long. Mine’s 32 minutes on cover crops.

You can enroll for the 8-course Winter Gardening Course for $20.

Or choose the 2020 all-access course bundle of 21 courses (over 100 videos) for $150.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season Extension and Frost Preparations

Here’s my new Season Extension slideshow that I presented recently for the Allegheny Mountain Institute Farm at Augusta Health and the Center for Rural Culture in Goochland. Click the diagonal arrow icon to see it full screen.

https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableMarketFarming/season-extension-pam-dawling


Frosted daikon radish.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Since Hurricane Michael passed by, temperatures have plummeted. I dusted off our Frost Alert List. First is the “Grab and Run” list of what to do. Then follows a list of factors to consider to help you forecast whether or not you are likely to get a frost. We take the night-time low temperature for our nearest town (7 miles away) and subtract 5F to predict what temperature we’ll get.

Frost Alert List
Task Crop Notes  
Harvest all edible Asparagus beans
Harvest all edible Eggplant
Harvest all edible Okra
Harvest all edible Tomatoes Incl green
Harvest all edible Peppers exposed to the sky
Harvest all edible West Indian gherkins
Harvest all edible Pickling cucumbers
Harvest all edible Corn
Harvest all edible Green bean plantings past their prime
Thick row cover Late Beans #5,6 Uncover once mild again
Thick row cover Summer squash and zucchini Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Slicing cucumbers Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Celery Double hoops -leave covered
Thick row cover Last lettuce bed Double hoops – leave covered
Set sprinklers Slicer tomatoes Overnight from before 32F till after sun shines on plants
Set sprinklers Roma paste tomatoes and peppers Ditto
Set sprinklers Other vulnerable crops Ditto
Frost is more likely on our farm if. . .
Date is after 10/14
Daytime high temperature is less than 70F (21C)
Sky is clear
Sunset temperature is less than 50F (10C)
Dewpoint forecast (Louisa minus 5) is less than 43F (6C).
Wunderground 3.30pm forecast for Louisa low temp is less than 38F (3.5C)
Little or no breeze (But see last point in list)
Soil is cool and dry
If temps are falling fast, the sky is clear, and it’s windy (esp from NW), it may be polar air moving in and we could get a hard freeze.
Savoy cabbage with frost.
Photo Lori Katz

Frost protection: fundamentals, practice and economics.
Photo FAO

If you want to understand frost  much more than you do, see

Frost Protection: Fundamentals,  Practice and Economics FAO.pdf

126 page resource on methods of frost protection, frost damage physiology, frost forecasting, passive and active protection methods, appropriate technologies, and reference material.

 

 

 


If you are pondering hoop systems for rowcover, here are our winter double hoops. The inner hoop is from 9 or 10 gauge wire, bent round a jig to make eyes. The outer hoop is 22 gauge wire and has the ends bent into hooks. We set the inner hoops every 6′ (2 m) along the bed, fit the rowcover, and roll its edges around wood stakes. then we add the outer hoops, hooking them into the ground-level eyes of the inner hoops. Lastly we tension the rowcover lengthwise. The outer hoops stop the rowcover from blowing away, and hole it in place when we push the edges up to harvest.

Double hoop system for winter rowcover.
Pam Dawling
Frosty rows of greens.
Photo Bridget Aleahire

Getting ready for frost, harvesting sweet potatoes

Sweet potato harvest. Photo Nina Gentle
Sweet potato harvest.
Photo Nina Gentle

Our average first frost date is October 14. Actually from our own records it has averaged 10/22 over the last 11 years. So any time now, we could get a frost. We had a very light patchy frost 10/10 with a recorded overnight low of 36F, but now we are having a warm spell (very nice). It’s good to be prepared. We harvested our sweet potatoes (not a good yield, too many deer). We are getting ready to harvest our white potatoes.

DIY weather-forecasting

I recommend learning the local weather patterns by keeping records and watching what happens. Here’s what I’ve learned about ours:

  • Our mid-Atlantic climate is controlled by three weather systems,
    • mainly by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico,
    • the Bermuda High Pressure area in summer,
    • recurrent waves of cold Canadian air in winter.
  • Rain (fairly evenly distributed throughout the year in our county)
    • has slight peaks in January, February and March
    • and again in early June and August.
  • Some parts of our area can experience long periods of drought.
    • September-November is the drier season but it’s also the hurricane season, so the net result is very variable.
  • We use Wunderground.com but subtract 5F° from their forecast night lows for our nearest town, and mentally downgrade the chance of rain by 10%, as rain often passes us by as it scoots along the river valley north of us.

Local Information

According to  a Freeze / Frost Occurrence Data pdf for Virginia which I have, in Louisa County the threshold of 36F has a 50% likelihood on Oct 3; the 32 F threshold has a 50% likelihood by Oct 13 and the 28F threshold is as likely as unlikely by Oct 27. The 90% chances occur by Oct 14, Oct 28 and Nov 13 respectively. The data for spring are available here. probably the site has the fall info too, but I’m out of time to look, due to three hours without internet this afternoon.

Frosty daikon leaves. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Frosty daikon leaves.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

Help predicting frost

We keep this reminder list handy at this time of year, when trying to make our own frost forecasts:

Frost is more likely at Twin Oaks if:

  • The date is after 10/14 or before 4/30.
  • The daytime high temperature was less than 70°F (21°C).
  • The sky is clear.
  • The temperature at sunset is less than 50°F (10°C).
  • The dew point forecast is low, close to freezing. Frost is unlikely if the dew point is 43°F or more.
  • The Wunderground 3.30pm forecast low for Louisa Northside is 37°F (3°C) or less.
  • The soil is dry and cool.
  • The moon is full or new.
  • There is little or no breeze, although if temperatures are falling fast, the wind is from NW and the sky is clear, then polar air may be moving in, and we’ll get a hard freeze.

We also make for ourselves a Frost Alert Card, so we can quickly know which beds we need to attend to if we decide a frost is likely. (RBs means raised beds)

Task Crop Notes
Harvest all edible Asparagus beans
Harvest all edible Eggplant
Harvest all edible Okra
Harvest all edible Tomatoes Incl green
Harvest all edible Peppers exposed to the sky
Harvest all edible West Indian gherkins
Harvest all edible Pickling cucumbers
Harvest all edible Corn
Harvest all edible Beans #4, 5 Uncover once mild again
Thick row cover Beans #5,6 Ditto
Thick row cover Squash Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Slicing Cucumbers Spring hoops or none. Ditto
Thick row cover Celery
Thick row cover Last Lettuce bed Double hoops – leave covered
Set sprinklers Slicer tomatoes Overnight from before 32F till after sun shines on plants
Set sprinklers Romas and peppers Ditto
Set sprinklers Other vulnerable RBs Ditto

FrostProtectionFundamentalsPracticeandEconomicsFAO.pdf

is a 126 page book which includes explanations of freezes and frosts (both radiation frosts and advection frosts), and a chapter on recommended methods of frost protection for food crops. probably none of us will need the information on wind machines and helicopters (maybe little drones work for small scale growers?). The publication includes frost forecasting and frost damage physiology (for growers not in a panic about immediate frosts, who want to understand what the plants are going through).

Potato harvest November 2015 Photo Lori Katz
Potato harvest November 2015
Photo Lori Katz