The first harvests of the year were some of the most exciting times on the farm. Harvesting is the culmination of all the planning and preparation that has taken place and is typically rewarding and delicious.
It also marks the beginning of a new phase on the farm where harvesting becomes a big part of the daily workload as the seeding, planting and bed preparation finish up although weeding still remains; a constant chore of farm life year round.
When to harvest
Among other things this can depend on:
- Weather – Heavy rain is not ideal harvesting weather as it affects how well the vegetables will store.
- Time of day – the earlier the better for greens such as lettuce and mizuna, while fruits such as beans and tomatoes are reputedly sweeter if they are picked in the afternoon.
- Readiness of produce – Is the produce at its optimum for tastiness? Parsnips are sweeter after the first frost while cilantro that’s left too long in the ground can start to taste bitter.
How much to harvest
Sometimes it was a matter of harvesting everything we could such as when the garlic was ready. At other times we only ever harvested what was needed to fill the weeks CSA boxes, restaurant orders and predicted market sales such as when picking chard leaves. A few things to consider:
- How much is needed
- Length of time the harvest can be stored
- Consequences of delaying the harvest (there’s no point in delaying picking arugula if it will become bitter before the next harvest or not picking peppers if there will be a hard frost tomorrow)
How to harvest
Each vegetable has a slightly different way of being picked. Typically fruits such as tomato, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, zucchini, squash, watermelon and rock melon were cut from the plant with a clean slice of a sharp knife. The root vegetables such as carrots, beets, rutabaga and parsnip were all grasped firmly and pulled although there’s always the odd casualty whose top twists off leaving the root in the earth to be dug out and added to the farmer food pile. Leaves such as chard or kale can be cut or neatly torn from the plant while our beans just needed a sharp tug and the ground cherries and tomatillos were ready when they easily came away from the bush.
Of course, it’s not just a matter of picking fruit from a vine or bush or pulling roots from the ground. Post harvest processing (washing, packing, drying and bunching) is just as important but that’s for another post.