Growing your own crops is so satisfying, not forgetting about all the health benefits of eating fresh vegetables too. We spend a lot of time caring for our crops, protecting them from frosts, fighting off pests and disease and generally nurturing them until they are ready to harvest. However, knowing when to harvest your crop is an even bigger challenge. Pick them too soon and they may taste terrible; leave them too late and they are past their best! So how do you know if they’re ripe yet?
Most soft fruits, tomatoes and peppers change colour on ripening, signalling that they are ready to pick. Courgettes can be cut when they reach the desired size, and many salad leaves can be cut as and when required, without too much cause for concern. But other crops can leave you feeling uncertain.
Here are some tips on knowing when to harvest your fruit and veg.
Many of our favourite vegetables are roots or tubers that are produced beneath the soil. But, how do you know what’s going on down there?
Onions and garlic – Around June and July, the leaves of onions and garlic will begin to yellow as the bulbs mature. Harvest them a week or two after the leaves die back. Choose a dry day to loosen them from the ground with a fork. After lifting the bulbs, you will need to leave them on the soil surface for a day or two until they have fully dried in the sun. Once dry, remove the top foliage and store them in a well ventilated, dry position.
Potatoes – As the tubers mature, potato stems and leaves will yellow and die back. This is a useful indicator that your crop is ready but you don’t need to wait for this to happen. Potatoes can be harvested earlier. Loosen the soil with your fingers and dibble around the roots to explore what is down there. If you can feel tubers of the size that you want then go ahead and harvest them. If the tubers are still too small for your liking then leave them for a few more weeks.
Sweetcorn – Sweetcorn will let you know when the cobs are ready! When the silky tassels at the end of each corn turn brown, peel back the outer sheath and insert a thumbnail into a kernel. The cobs can be harvested when the juice is a milky colour. If the liquid is clear then the cob needs a little longer, but if doughy then the crop is over overripe.
Fruits can be just as tricky. Here are some of the fruits that often raise concern when it comes to harvesting.
Medlar – The fruits of medlar are unpalatable immediately after picking, but you can use them if made into jellies or wine. Leave medlar fruits on the tree until late autumn and harvest them in dry weather when the stalk parts easily from the branch. To eat them raw they will need to be stored for 2 or 3 weeks on slatted trays until the flesh has become soft and brown. This process is called ‘bletting’ where the flesh becomes soft and brown, but not rotten.
Mulberries – If you are lucky enough to have a mulberry then the fruits are best harvested by shaking branches over a sheet spread on the ground. The ripe fruits will drop from the tree and can be easily gathered up from the sheet.
Pears – Unlike apples which can be eaten on the day of harvest, pears require a period of storage finish ripening them off the tree. If allowed to fully ripen on the tree, the core will begin to break down becoming soft and mushy, so they are best harvested slightly under-ripe. Most varieties are ready to pick if the fruits part easily from the tree when given a gentle twist or tilted horizontally. Finish ripening them on slats in a cool, dry place. The early varieties will be ready in just a week or two while later varieties can take months to fully ripen.
A relish generally consists of fruit or vegetable pieces within a sauce and a superb way to make use of those spare fruit and veg in your garden. There is no fixed recipe on how to make relish however, the most popular condiments are jams, chuntneys and sauces. Tonight on The Big Allotment Challenge, showing on BBC Two 8pm, we will watch the remaining 8 allotmenteers make their own relish with the products grown on their allotments. Wendy Eldridge kindly provided us with her quick relish recipe of sweet chilli sauce, which is the perfect condiment for a summer salad. So why not hold on to this recipe and make your own sweet chilli sauce? If you have any other recipes please send them in and help a fellow gardener make use of their fruit and veg!
- Chillies – mixed, as many as you have
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 5 cloves garlic
- Red peppers – if you want a milder sauce, replace some of the chillis with peppers
- Chop the chillies in halve and remove seeds and pith, don’t worry if any seeds are missed, it adds to the overall effect.
- Put the chillies and garlic in the blender with the rice wine vinegar and pulse until desired consistency is reached.
- Put the mixture in a preserving pan with the rest of the ingredients.
- Check the consistency, if it is too thick add another cup of water, another of rice wine vinegar and 2 of sugar, plus the paprika, fish sauce and salt again – you are basically doubling everything up.
- Cook until the chilli’s are cooked through and a syrupy consistency is reached. Don’t worry if it seems a little runny it will thicken up once cooled.
- Pour into sterilised bottles and seal.
Wendy says “I have been looking forward to making this since a friend gave me a recipe last year. This is a good sauce, tastes just like the sweet chilli sauce you can buy in the shops but without the sometimes chemically taste you can get with it.”
A new season in a new growing year. Spring, my favourite time of year.
This will be my sixth season at my allotment in Southampton. It is eleven rods long, quite a big plot. I decided to section everything up with raised beds; it has no grass but wood chip paths. After the storms and wet weather the wood chip that had been there for four years had rotted, so needed topping up. Now, me being a complete weed freak had to go around digging out every single weed and teasel seedling that had taken root in the paths, this took me about two hours, but with the help of my mum the back breaking process of walking up and down hill with the shovel and wheelbarrow, fetching wood chip, (fifteen trips in all), was completed.
It has been a family project which took four years to complete. My sons were eight and ten when I took it on, they have helped over the years with digging, watering and picking crops, but the best fun for them has been having water fights with the hose. My husband on the other hand is not a keen gardener, he has been a great help with the construction of the raised beds. My parents have been fantastic help since their retirement, but I am the overall boss and everything has to pass through me. My husband and my dad thought I was crazy and had took on too much what with being a working mum of two boys, but I was stubborn and determined to prove them wrong, and with their help; they ate their words. I suppose that is why I’m so paranoid when it comes to weeds, but this is my favourite time of year, spring .The new beginning of the growing season.
This season I plan to grow more flowers and veggies, normally I grow sunflowers, sweet peas, marigolds, dahlias and poached egg plants. Poached egg plants are wonderful, they self seed incredible well, give a superb display of flowers. Then they can be dug up and the space can be reused, seeds are left in the ground when the seed pods explode, then they pop up again the next year without any TLC.
Three weeks ago I seeded up Black-eyed Susan, sweet peas, cosmos bright & white, and Pom Pom dahlias. They are all growing well. Tomato seeds planted in March are just about to grow their second leaves. This week I plan to seed up courgettes, butternut and runner beans. The sooner we are eating our own veg the better, at the moment we are only eating home grown purple broccoli, which is delicious.
Because March was so mild everything in the garden is moving on at long last, but because the soil is still quite wet and cold below, night frosts are still around so it is important to take great care.
So far on my allotment I have direct sowed onion sets, making sure I sow them into the driest soil. I followed with a sowing of radish seed. The radish germinated after 14 days, showing some warmth is finally getting into the soil. Other vegetable sowings will be made from April when the soil is warmer; sowing seeds into cold soil is pointless as germination will be erratic and poor. The first things sown will be parsnips, carrots, beetroot, peas and broad beans.
Next month I will be planting my seed potatoes! I have already planted a few early-maturing potatoes such as Maris Bard in potato bags in the greenhouse. I also have a few pots of carrots growing in the greenhouse to ensure an early harvest until the ones sown next month are ready later in the year.
The plot is also harvesting a lovely crop of sprouting broccoli, especially over the last month but it is surprising how much you can harvest from only six plants. The rhubarb Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise is beginning to shoot, so it won’t be long before we can pull some sticks for a crumble.
I have one batch of lettuces large enough to plant out under cloches, plus I may put a few in the polytunnel for an early crop, and the second batch is already pricked out. Talking salads, the first tomato seedlings have germinated and will require pricking out in a few days time. I also have spring onions germinating in multi-sown cell trays, for an early start.
The geranium cuttings are growing into good size plants and I have pinched their tops out to encourage more side shoots. The carnations and lobelia cuttings taken earlier in the year have been potted up. My fuchsia plants that were kept from last year have some good growth and are ready to have some cuttings taken, as are the chrysanthemum stools I kept, these have some nice shoots ideal for rooting shortly.
There’s a vegetable revolution going on, one which is set to change the face of allotments, and engage a whole new audience. It’s rainbow veg!
Get on board with the rainbow veg movement and you’ll find that carrots are not only orange, but also purple, yellow, even white. You can experience a more gourmet taste, and really show off to your friends. Just think how this could change the look of your Sunday roast!
Carrot ‘Rainbow’ F1 Hybrid
A lot of these vegetables aren’t new, they’re simply being rediscovered. Another great example is with beetroot seeds, look out for our rainbow mixture, with mind-boggling yellow beetroot, and – for the complete wow factor – red and white striped beetroot.
Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’
It doesn’t end there though. Think golden courgettes, which will be much easier to pick and harvest at a young, tender stage than the camouflaged green ones. Some rainbow vegetables have additional goodness too, for example pea Shiraz has more antioxidants in its purple pods, so eat them raw or stir fried, to avoid diminishing that goodness!
Pea Shiraz (mangetout)
Every now and then, you might spot a unique vegetable in your local supermarket, but supply is always quite limited, and you could easily miss them. The only way to guarantee trying these tasty novelties is by growing your own!
Courgette ‘Sunstripe’ F1 Hybrid