The beans, yellow squash and cucumbers are growing so fast now that they need picking almost every day. Miss a day or two, and they grow from tiny to way too big for the best eating. These vegetables are most delicious and tender well before they are fully mature and ripe. That's motivation enough to pick daily. But there're other important reasons to keep up with the harvest, too.
While vegetables are the edible roots, tubers, seeds, stems or fruits of plants, these summer staples are technically fruits, that is, ripened ovaries which contain seeds. The reason plants grow, flower and produce fruit is to reproduce themselves. The imperative for bean, squash, and cucumber plants, as well as for tomatoes, raspberries and peppers, is to mature their seeds and pass their genetic information on to the next generation.
When we let a plant fully mature many seeds, further fruiting may be slowed down. The plant operates as if it has satisfied its imperative. After all, just one mature tomato or cucumber has hundreds of seeds. The production of the tender fruits that we want (either to eat or to sell at the Farmers Market) is reduced.
Picking regularly is actually a great pleasure. Because our fields are small and contain many different vegetables, flowers and herbs with wild areas nearby, working there, surrounded by delicious food, is wonderful. The birds and the insects, our allies in organic production, are a constant delight. We don't use toxic sprays or motorized equipment, so the sounds and smells match the delight provided by the beauty and the flavors.
Sometimes it helps to eat a few beans or berries or cukes to test their ripeness. Since just paying attention is a big part of successful gardening, the discipline of regular picking provides other advantages in insect and weed control. With regular attention, we can catch most problems before they get too serious.
Much of gardening and farming is managing reproduction. The parsnips I left in the ground this spring (after they over wintered), have produced a great crop of seed. I'm told that if I plant them this fall, they will produce small roots before winter and then flower next year. But, if I keep the seeds dry and cool through the winter and plant them next spring, they will grow slowly through the season, producing fat, tasty parsnips next fall.
We're growing Fortex and Northeaster pole beans. Once these varieties start to bear, they really pump out the beans. Fortex beans are round and still tender at 11 inches. Now that's a long stringbean! The Northeaster's fruits are flattened pods, which stay tender until they're 8 inches in size. Both types are delicious. Toward the end of the season, we'll leave some of the nicer pods to fully ripen in order to get seeds for next year. Beans are self-pollinating, so they will faithfully reproduce themselves, as long as they're not hybrid.
Harvesting potatoes is another pleasure. The soil here is so soft and filled with worms, that my hands are the best tool for pulling the delicious red and yellow tubers out of the earth. Mulched with leaves and shaded by the dense tall foliage of the potatoes themselves, the soil is moist and crumbly. The worms there are enormous. I encountered a small snake and a beautiful spotted salamander living among the growing tubers.
For us it's been a great growing season. The farmers who were betting on early and pricy sweet corn and tomatoes complain that the cool and damp weather has slowed down these crops, but the even moisture and cooler temperatures have made for great broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes and garlic.
Soon the tomatoes and peppers will start producing and like the summer squash and beans will need to be picked every day, too.
The garlic, onion and new potato harvest freed up several big beds. This is a good time to plant, especially with the frequent rains Carrots, beets, turnips, kale, lettuce, beans, Swiss chard, mustard and spinach can all be planted now with a likelihood of a good harvest this fall.
Good gardening and eating to you!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1996-1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.