In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Air-dry potatoes for a week so skins won't break when handled.
Harvesting Winter Keepers
We still appreciate those last remaining tomatoes and squash and cucumbers from the first spring plantings, although we're getting sated since we've been gorging ourselves since June. The late plantings are just coming into production so they will keep us going until at least Thanksgiving. I'm always intrigued and thankful that my bell and pimiento peppers start bearing heavily now and last through spring if we don't have frost. They're the bright, zippy-tasting additions to winter salads of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi.
Potatoes, White and Sweet
Both can be harvested as the vines die back. In my sandy loam, the ones I miss will survive well over the winter since they have good drainage.
When you're harvesting potatoes, be careful not to cut or bruise them. You can dig them now or leave them in the soil for harvest through the winter. Take care not to expose them to sunlight or soil cracks, however, or they'll develop inedible, bitter green areas. After cutting off these areas and discarding them, you can eat the remaining potato. Hold the potatoes at 75 to 85 degrees for a week after harvest, then store them at 50 to 60 degrees with high humidity. They should keep for six to fifteen weeks. Refrigerating them at 36 to 40 degrees will turn some of the starch into sugar, making them taste oddly sweet and cook dark.
Harvest sweet potatoes when the vines yellow. Try to get them before the leaves are killed by frost. Air dry them for a day, keep them at 85 to 90 degrees with 90 to 95 percent humidity for one to two weeks, and then store them at 55 to 60 degrees and 90 to 95 percent humidity. The flavor improves during storage, as part of the starch content turns into sugar (what you didn't want to happen with the white potatoes).
The Squash Family
Harvest winter squash, pumpkins, and decorative gourds when the vines are dry and the rinds are hard and resist easy puncture by a fingernail. Cut the stems rather than breaking or tearing them, and leave 2 inches of stem attached to the squash to lessen the chance of spoilage. Gourds will dry quicker if you drill a small hole at each end. Let them cure in a dry, well-ventilated area at room temperature for two weeks. Store cured squash at 50 to 60 degrees in a dry area. Check them weekly for mold. If any appears, wipe it off with a paper towel moistened with vinegar. Squash should keep up to six months.
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