Okay, you prepared your soil and planted your vegetable garden with all kinds of wonderfully flavorful, nutritious foods, you’re watering and watching them grow, and wondering ….. When can I start to eat them, how do I harvest them, and how do I get the most out of these plantings? Here are some tips on vegetable crops harvest timing and techniques that may not be self-evident. Even if you’re a seasoned gardener, you may not be aware of some of these procedures!
Fruit and Food
These are native plants that we often have for sale. Availability does change every year, but we grow and buy a wide variety of natives because they are so successful in our gardens.
KEY: t = tree, s = shrub, v = vine, gr = grass, gc = ground cover, p = perennial,
b = biennial, a = annual
Abronia fragrans (Sand Verbena) (p)
Acer glabrum (Rocky Mt. Maple) (t)
Acer grandidentatum (Bigtooth Maple) (t)
Achillea lanulosa (Native White Yarrow) (p)
Agastache cana (Hummingbird Mint) (p)
Agave parryi (Hardy Century Plant) (s)
This year’s tomato tasting was a great success, with a total of 41 tomato varieties present over the 3-hour event!
Participants brought in some wonderful new varieties this year, including Pink Bumble Bee Cherry, Gajo de Melon, and Blue Cream Berries. We always take people’s votes into account when deciding which tomato varieties to carry, so look for the most popular varieties from this year and previous years when you come to buy your organic tomato starts next spring at Harlequin’s Gardens. Every year we grow 80+ great varieties for all kinds of uses and growing conditions! A huge thank-you to Growing Gardens for providing our the location, helping us publicize the event, and for bringing us some fabulous volunteers. Thank you also to the volunteers of Slow Food Boulder County. We couldn’t have done it without you!
2019 Taste of Tomato Vote Tally
Whoever heard of Goji Berry 20 years ago? Now, with the current interest in superfoods, phytonutrients and antioxidants, Goji Berry juice and dried fruits can be found in many urban grocery stores. The 70+ species of Lycium are found on most continents and one species, Lycium pallidum, is native to Colorado. But the best known and most grown Goji is Lycium barbarum, the Chinese Wolfberry, also known as Matrimony Vine, Desert Thorn and Boxthorn. What is not commonly known is that this exotic superfood can be easily grown in Colorado.
This year’s Taste of Tomato was a blast! We love the new location at Growing Gardens’ Barn, with its’ beautiful view of the Flatirons, easy access, and wonderful staff. The tasting featured 44 different varieties of tomatoes, with Aunt Ruby’s German Green winning the greatest number of votes. Participants brought in some wonderful new varieties this year, including Brad’s Atomic Grape, Thornburn’s Terracotta, and Indigo Cherry. Look for the most popular varieties from this year and previous years when you come to buy your organic tomato starts next spring at Harlequin’s Gardens. Every year we grow 80+ great varieties for all kinds of uses and growing conditions!
Here are a few harvest guidelines for summer crops:
Eggplants should be picked while they are still firm and glossy. Once their skins have become dull, they will be softer and have dark seeds, which can spoil the flavor. Eggplants don’t keep long, so use them soon after harvest.
Bell peppers and sweet frying peppers are sweetest when allowed to ripen fully to their mature color, yellow, orange, red, purple or mahogany. Bell peppers are often picked green, but their flavor will be a lot more pungent and they may be more challenging to digest.
Some of the hot peppers are traditionally enjoyed green – poblano, mulatto, jalapeno, Anaheim-type, while most of the rest are allowed to ripen to red (cherry, habanero, cayenne, lanterna, any chile dried for a ristra, etc.) orange (Bulgarian Carrot), or dark brown (Pasilla).
Usually when we talk about xeriscape gardening, we think of rock garden kinds of plants or natives, but there are a lot of herbs that survive and even thrive in low water conditions. I learned about this from my own herb garden which went from low water irrigation to next to no watering. It had been established for ten years and then three years ago, I had to cut back the watering to only a couple times a year.
According to some reports, Colorado weather in 2014-2015 has resulted in the deaths of 80% of our cherry, plum and peach trees. How did this happen? Does it make sense to replant? And if so, how can we reduce future losses and increase fruitful successes? This article will focus on cherry trees.
Colorado is said to be the worst state in the US for fireblight, and 2018 was considered by many to be one of the worst years in Colorado. Fireblight is a serious disease affecting apples, crabapples, pears, Mountain Ash and hawthorn, and sometimes quince and pyracantha (supposedly up to 73 species of plants).
Elderberry is a remarkable shrub or small tree of several species and many forms and colors of foliage, flowers and berries. It has been found in Stone Age and Bronze Age excavations, was one of the sacred trees of the Druids, and has been used as a medicinal herb by early Europeans, native Americans and modern herbalists. However it has not been popular in landscapes until recently when selections have been made for special leaf colors and textures. And now home-food and food-medicine gardeners want elderberries because scientific research has verified herbal lore that elderberries have major health benefits. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pictured elderberry with seven other berries as “nutritional royalty.”
Most of us think of gooseberries as the small, green, sour fruits in a gooseberry pie. I remember, as a kid, thinking that they were only fit for a goose. But now I have had the pleasure of eating several varieties that are delicious, right off the bush, when fully ripe. Europeans have had a couple centuries to cultivate and breed Ribes uva-crispa (grossularia) which is the European Gooseberry.
One spring day, my wife Eve and I were taking a walk along a stream when suddenly Eve picked up the sweet scent of something unusual. I sniffed the air and recognized a distinctly grapey aroma, and we realized that near us was a wild grape growing up a tree. It was the native Vitis riparia, the Riverbank Grape. In my 20s I had helped extract the seeds from the very small and abundant fruits to make a wild grape pie, that clings in my memory as one of the best pies I have ever eaten.
What is the big deal about heirloom tomatoes? Hasn’t modern science brought us big improvements with hybrids that are bigger fruiting, higher yielding, resistant to many diseases and low in acid and high in vitamins? Yes, there are many hybrids that do boast these benefits. However the varieties that have earned the designation of “heirloom” have been treasured and saved through many years of growing and eating. Presumably they have endured for two main reasons: the success of the plants through many varying seasons and locations, and the big reason, FLAVOR. It was probably in reference to heirloom tomatoes that the song was written “Only two things that money can’t buy: true love and home-grown tomatoes.” There is something about that genuine tomato flavor that has made the tomato America’s most popular vegetable, and the tomatoes in the supermarkets don’t even come close.
Many fruits can be grown successfully here on the Front Range of Colorado. At one time, there were commercial apple orchards in Boulder and Fort Collins, commercial sour cherry orchards and canneries between Loveland and Fort Collins and commercial raspberry production in various places. Cheap shipping, more reliable weather and harvests in other regions, and a raspberry disease chased these operations to other states. However there is great potential here for the home gardener to grow tree- and bush-ripened fruit that is delicious, organic, fresh and economical.
Even if the economy doesn’t drive us to foraging in the wild, there are some native fruits that are good to know, to eat and to grow at home.
Wild Plum, Prunus americana, is blooming all over Boulder and much of the Front Range as I write. It is easy to identify with its early spring clouds of white blossoms and waves of sweet perfume that carry across the yard or the ditch. It is quite happy in a ditch where it gets a little extra water, and is not at its best in very dry conditions where it will grow more as a shrub than a tree.
I enjoyed the article by Renee Galeano-Popp in the fall 2016 Aquilegia, but I would like to take exception to her statement that in terms of alternate hosts of gooseberries and currants that “just about any Ribes species will do.”
Currants and gooseberries have been increasing in popularity among gardeners because their fruits are high in immune-building phytochemicals, because they take up less space than a fruit tree, are easier to pick the fruit, are productive even with late freezes and recent introductions are better flavored and less resistant to diseases.
Tomatoes are claimed to be the most popular garden vegetable. More than 35 million gardeners in the US grow their own tomatoes. And with world production at 170 million tons, they have become the world’s most popular fruit, surpassing bananas, apples and oranges. Some people believe the reason is the versatility in ways to eat them, some say it is the flavor or the beauty. But one thing is for sure: you can’t buy a tomato that tastes as good as a ripe one fresh from the garden. As the Guy Clark song goes: “Only two things that money can’t buy; and that’s true love and homegrown tumatuhs.” The poor taste and lack of sugar in commercial tomatoes is both the result of breeding for uniformly red fruit and the fact that they are picked green so they don’t bruise in shipping.
“You can join the fight to save the honeybees by planting a pollinator-supporting garden.” This is a recommendation made by a Penn. State Master Gardener program. Is this weird? Not at all. The European Parliament has approved creating bee “recovery zones” across the Continent. These recovery zones will provide bees with nectar and pollen in areas that are free from pesticides. Why is it a big deal that honeybee populations around the world are declining? One reason is that one third of the human diet comes from plants that are pollinated by honeybees. Another reason is that honeybees may be the “canary in the coal mine”; just the first to show that there is a problem that hasn’t yet surfaced in other pollinators and other beings.