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Hamptons Life

Aug 19, 2019 11:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Harvest Time On The East End

Lettuces and other salad greens should be harvested and washed very early in the morning. Once air dried, they can be bagged in plastic bags then stored in a refrigerator for several days. Never store them dripping wet. ANDREW MESSINGER
Aug 19, 2019 12:15 PM

While we’ve actually been harvesting from the garden for several months, now is really the prime harvesting time. If things go right, it will continue for weeks to come.

But there’s more to harvest than the truckloads of tomatoes and baseball bat-sized squash. There are eggplants, melons, potatoes, endless greens and, shortly, the second season of radishes, peas and so much more. But there are also the apples, pears and other fruits as well as a selection of seedlings that are showing up in the garden that will become next year’s biennials and the following year’s perennials. It’s harvest time.

But just as there are crops that need to be harvested now, there are some that need to wait for the cooler days of fall as the cooler air and soil make these crops even tastier as the coolness results in sugar buildups in a chemical reaction. In this group we include beets, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, fall radishes, kohlrabi, turnips, collards, mustard greens, some of the radicchios and broccoli raab. So, patience with these is the order of the day unless it’s a special “summer” or early-season variety.

As for the tomatoes, well, I don’t have the magic answer you’re looking for. Everyone wants to know where the great tasting tomatoes that we remember from years ago have gone. I have a very unscientific answer. Every once in a while you get a good one. And just because tomato X is great this year, there is no guarantee it will be next year. We experiment, we postulate, we hope, but at the very least, in most years, we have lots of tomatoes and hopefully some will taste great.

Keep in mind that tomatoes fall into one of two groups, the determinates and indeterminates. The determinate types grow to a certain height, produce a crop, then stop. The indeterminates grow, and grow and grow and grow on vines that can be 10 feet long. This type stops producing only when the plant gives in to disease or it just gets too cold. Always keep in mind, though, that if a tomato is mature (not necessarily ripe) it can ripen off the vine. This is done on a sunny windowsill, in a paper bag with an apple, which releases ethylene gas, a natural ripener. Your best bet though is to harvest a ’mater with a tinge of color and not totally green. These can take a week to 10 days to color up and get some taste.

Cucumbers are pretty simple. Each type of cucumber has a mature size and the seed packet or tag that came with the plants should tell you this. The larger you let them get after this ripe size, the worse they will taste or be totally tasteless. A telltale sign of an overripe cuke is when it goes from green to yellow — assuming it’s a green-maturing type. If you’re looking for a handy rule, the slicer types should be about 2 3/8 inches in diameter and about 6 inches long. No yellow.

Pepper ripeness can be gauged by color. Green bells and hot types should be dark to light green with a uniform color. Red and colored peppers should be uniform in color. Just to confuse things, some green bells will also mature with some red tinges. The pepper should feel firm and heavy with the shape true to the variety.

Don’t rush the pumpkins. Color and rind hardness are the key indicators. With standard pumpkins a deep orange rind color develops, and the rind should resist the pressure of a fingernail before it’s harvested. Harvest before a frost and leave a little bit of stem attached. Allowing it to cure for a week to 10 days at 80 degrees in a dry place will prolong the “shelf life.”

Watermelons give us clues in the color of the ground spot, the condition of the tendril at the joining of the fruit stem and the vine, and the sound when the melon is thumped. The ground spot should be yellowish, the tendril withered, and the thump should resound as a dull thud.

Summer squashes are harvested by size and color. These are pretty simple, but as you know, blink twice and they can become baseball bats. Crooknecked should be no longer than 8 inches and Patty Pans less than 6 inches in diameter. Winter squashes are harvested when the rind develops the characteristic color and resists the push of the fingernail. Cure as you would a pumpkin for storage.

In the fruit department, keep in mind that depending on the apple variety harvesting can begin in mid-August and go all the way up to November with the Granny Smiths. There are scientific ways of determining ripeness, but for the most part you are going to be guided by color and ease of separation of the fruit from the spur. Most of all, know your variety and when it should ripen in our area. Wrap your whole hand around the fruit when harvesting and try not to use your fingers as this can damage the fruit.

If you use this link https://bit.ly/33DUSrB and go to the second page you’ll find a chart that will give you an estimate of when 10 apple varieties mature. We should be about a week earlier than the time given in the chart but it’s only a guide, not a rule.

Pears are a bit different, and they are the only temperate fruit that is harvested mature and ripened off the tree. The fruit should come off the spur without tearing or breaking the spur, so ease of separation from the branch is also a clue. And if you know the variety, try to keep track of days from full bloom as most pears will have a specific number of days to harvest from this point.

Now to the flower garden. A number of our perennials and biennials will drop seeds during the season, and if they don’t need winter vernalization they will germinate from midsummer through early fall. Keep in mind though that if you’re waiting for your expensive heuchera and echinacea to develop seeds it won’t happen. These are mostly hybrids and don’t reproduce sexually, from seed. On the other hand, if you are growing species such as the old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Dicentra), columbines like the native Aquilegia canadensis, digitalis, nonhybrid primula and some of the hostas, you may be in for a treat. These will all leave seedlings behind.

Columbine seedlings can look very similar to clover seedlings, and you need to be able to tell them apart. Red clover will have a small yellow flower; columbine will have no flower and a more serrated leaf than the smooth clover leaf. Dicentra seedlings will look just like the parent plants and at this time of the year can be several inches tall. Primula seedlings will be small and are often found in tight clusters near the parent plant. Any of these seedlings can be gently dug and transplanted on a cloudy day and, even better, just before rain. Water them gently for a week to 10 days and next year to the year after you’ll get your reward.

Keep in mind that columbines will easily cross with other columbine species so there may be some surprises. Primulas are not as promiscuous. Even the shrub hibiscus, the rose of Sharon, will easily self seed but these don’t show up until the following spring.

Lastly, don’t forget to harvest seed. Trollius seed is ripe now. Purple coneflower seed will ripen in about three weeks as will the rudbeckias like triloba and the biennials. No time for the weary. Keep growing.

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