In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2004
Regional Report

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My harvest basket is full of fresh potatoes, garlic, green beans, and cabbage.

Time for Harvest!

You've put such hard work into growing your vegetables, and finally comes the best part -- the harvest. Especially if you are a new gardener, it may not be easy to determine just when a particular vegetable is at its peak ripeness and flavor.

In most cases young vegetables are more flavorful and tender than mature ones, so pick early and often. When harvest time arrives, begin checking the garden every day to pick your vegetables at their peak and to keep your plants producing. When it comes to plants that are so abundant, like cucumbers and beans, don't be afraid to pick them small. They will taste better and you won't become overwhelmed with so many large cukes later in the season.

To avoid damaging the plants of sturdy-stemmed vegetables, such as eggplants and peppers, cut them off with a sharp knife rather than pulling them from the plants. Handle your precious vegetables carefully to avoid bruising or nicking them, especially if you will be storing them over the winter. To avoid spreading plant diseases, try to postpone harvesting when the plants are wet.

Although we think of fresh vegetables as a staple of summer meals, some vegetables can remain in the ground for harvesting through winter if they have a very thick layer of mulch. These include carrots, horseradish, parsnips, salsify, and turnips. You can also harvest these vegetables in fall after the first frost, put them into a trench 1 to 2 feet deep, and put a whole hay bale over the trench.

If you have the proper humidity, temperature, and ventilation, some vegetables can be harvested in fall and stored indoors for winter enjoyment. There are three general types of storage conditions. Temperatures and humidity may vary slightly, but the most important aspect is to keep vegetables from freezing. To monitor conditions in your storage area, set up a thermometer for temperature and a wet-dry hygrometer to measure humidity.

Warm-Dry Storage
Warm-dry storage should be around 50 to 60 degrees with 60 to 70 percent humidity. These conditions are found in most basements. In addition to being ideal for ripening green tomatoes, warm-dry storage is ideal for gourds, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Many of these will keep for up to six months.

Cool-Dry Storage
Cool-dry storage ranges from 32 to 40 degrees with 60 to 70 percent humidity, found in unheated storage areas in winter, such as attics, closets or sheds. This type of storage is suitable for dried beans, peas, and popcorn. Also, onions, garlic, and shallots will keep in cool-dry storage as long as they have plenty of ventilation. Hanging in mesh bags or braiding works well.

Cool-Moist Storage
Cool-moist conditions are from 30 to 40 degrees and 80 to 95 percent humidity. Found in true root cellars and refrigerators, these conditions are the best for most other vegetables. Some gardeners have luck by adding moisture to the floor of a very cool basement, but this is not always practical. If you want to build your own special area for cool-moist storage, there are plenty of references available on how to do this.


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