In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Recycled plastic grocery bags help to camouflage ripening fruits so you get to enjoy them before the critters do!

Fall Vegetable Gardening

The luxury of fall harvesting is that the timing isn't as important as it is during the summer. Picking one day or the next doesn't make much difference -- the succulence will remain, and the color and flavor will get even more vibrant. Plus, you appreciate them more because you're not flooded with produce! This is when I love my bright red, sweet, meaty pimento peppers best!

Harvesting Over a Long Season
The most important consideration is to beat the slugs and snails to the harvest. Beyond that, here are some other tips:

Harvest leaf lettuce a leaf at a time. Pick only the outer two or three leaves, and leave the two or three innermost ones to continue growing. This is why, during fall and winter, you can plant many seedlings more closely together in a small area for tasty, high-quality salads over a long period of time. Be sure to compost the outer leaves that are damaged or overmature so snails and sowbugs will not be attracted to the area.

Harvest leafy crops, root crops, and peas early in the morning when they're cool and crisp from the previous night and at their sweetest and most tender. At the end of the day they've been stressed by growing and evaporation, and their taste will be less succulent and tender.

Harvest broccoli by cutting the center stem at an angle with a sharp knife. Snapping, cutting flat across the stem, or cutting too far down the stem where it's hollow leaves a surface where rain or irrigation water can collect. A callous can't form, and decay results.

Get two harvests on heading broccoli by cutting the first head high on the stalk. The lower buds will then form secondary heads. The more you pick, the more the plant will produce over many months, until it gets hot in the summer and the plant flowers.

Jerusalem artichokes, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, and kohlrabi taste sweetest after the first hard frost because the chill initiates the change of starches to sugars. (This is why you shouldn't keep white potatoes in the refrigerator; the starches change to sugars and the potatoes taste oddly sweet.)

Harvest sweet potatoes when the vines yellow or immediately after frost kills the leaves. Air dry them for a day, place them in a warm and humid area for one to two weeks, and then store them. The flavor improves during storage as part of the starch content turns to sugar.

When harvesting late-season winter squash and pumpkins that will be stored, choose ones whose skins cannot be penetrated by a fingernail. Retain a 2- or 3-inch stem when cutting them from the vines. Be careful not to nick or otherwise bruise the fruits, as these areas will be especially prone to decay.

Allow ornamental gourds to dry completely before picking them (the seeds should rattle inside when the gourd is shaken). Wipe the harvested gourds with a mild solution of bleach and water, and pat them dry with a towel. If you prefer the glossy look, give them a coat of varnish or shellac, and let them dry for a full day, turning them once or twice to assure complete drying.

Leave fruit on citrus trees until it is needed. Many varieties become sweeter the longer they are left on the tree. Recycled plastic grocery bags help to camouflage ripening fruits so you get to enjoy them before the critters do!


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