“How can I tell when an underground veggie (onion, potato, etc) is ready to harvest. I have tried growing onions and I get large green growth above ground and there is basically a marble-sized onion bulb underneath — or smaller!” Question from Naomi of Oakdale, California
Answer: It’s an excellent question. In most cases, it is pretty easy to tell because most root crops bulb up at the top. You can expect this to happen with beets, onions (see image below), radishes, turnips, and rutabagas. It also happens to carrots and parsnips, though sometimes their bulbous tops are less prominent.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic are different matters. These tuberous (or bulbous in the case of garlic) crops remain underground, so you need to gauge how the plants up top are growing to determine harvest time. Here are guidelines for harvesting each.
Potatoes: “New Potatoes can be harvested as soon as the plants begin to bloom. Wait for larger potatoes. These can be harvested after the plants have fully died away. You can harvest all of your potatoes at this time for storage, or just harvest them as needed. Be sure to get them all out of the ground shortly after the first frost of the season. Otherwise, they will develop an unpleasant sweet flavor.” (Click here to read the full Ask a Garden Expert.)
Sweet Potatoes: “Sweet potatoes are harvested 90-120 days after transplanting or immediately after a frost has blackened the tops of the plants.” (Click here to read the full article.)
“I have lots of fresh herbs in my garden. What is the best way to dry and store them?” Question from Anne of Bloomington, Indiana
Answer: It’s an excellent question. Some herbs are best stored and used dry while others taste best when frozen. That is because some herbs do not retain their full flavor when dried. Here are some methods of preservation for different herbs. (Click here for an overview about how to grow different herbs.)
Basil, chives, cilantro, dill, and parsley are all herbs that retail their best flavor when frozen. For basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley, I like to macerate them canola or olive oil and freeze them in containers. Labeled lidded ice cube trays are a great option (click here for a good lidded tray). That way, the herbs can be used cube by cube for cooking. It is also a great way to store garlic. Reusable freezer squeeze tubes are another option for later use from freezer to fridge. Fresh dill and parsley stems are easily stored in freezer bags and broken up in the bag after freezing for later use.
Stems or oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and bay leaves retain their flavors beautifully when dried. Dill can also be dried. Here are three great methods for drying them.
1. Hanging Herbs
Gather bundles of six stems for quick drying (larger bundles dry more slowly and may develop mold). Hang them upside down in a cool, dry, shaded spot (the sun will bleach leaves and reduce flavor). After a couple of days, the leaves should be crisp, dry, and ready for storage.
2. Dehydrating Herbs
Food dehydrators provide the fastest drying method for herbs, but not everyone owns one. If you do, space the stems apart on dehydrator racks and let them dry until crisp or leathery. The time needed depends on the machine and the herb drying. Check your herbs every couple of hours to assess dryness. Once dry, slide your fingers down each stem to separate the leaves. Then store them.
3. Oven Drying Herbs
Oven drying speeds the process without the need for a dehydrator. Preheat the oven to 140°F. Space the leafy stems apart on a pan lined with parchment paper and place the tray in the oven until leaves are crisp. It often takes an hour or two, but fleshier herbs may need more time.
“I planted a passion fruit last year and have lots of fruits on the vines. When do I harvest the fruit?” Question from Susan of Florida
Answer: The fruits of different types of passion fruit (Passiflora spp.) vines differ in color when they are ripe. Some turn to purple, reddish-brown, or gold on the outside. When ripe, the fruit will color up from green and develop a wrinkled or dimpled exterior. Some will drop from the vine when fully ripe. If yours have changed color, but you are not certain whether they are ripe, smell the outside. It should be fragrant. Then pick one, and cut it open. The pulpy seeds within should be yellowish, fragrant, sweet, and juicy. At this point, it’s time to harvest and enjoy them.
“How do you know when herbs are really ready to pick for use? I never seem to get it right.” Question from Jim of Peoria, Illinois
Answer: By in large, the best time to harvest many herbs is when their leaves are healthy and lush in spring and midsummer. This is particularly the case with chives, chamomile, lemon balm, mint, parsley, and oregano.
In many cases, herbs taste best before they have flowered, although the flowers of some herbs are edible (Click here to learn more about edible herb flowers.). This is especially important with basil. Once the plants have flowered, the leaves turn from sweet, aromatic, and lightly fragrant to strong, pungent, and kind of unpleasant. That’s why gardeners pinch their buds off to keep them from flowering. (See the video below.)
Many evergreen herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and sage, continue to taste great all season and mellow out in the cool weather of fall. This is when I like to harvest them most.
Here are a few other articles about growing herbs:
Do you think that you don’t have the time or patience to grow vegetables? Then check out these 10 really fast-growing vegetables. These provide harvestable produce in as little as 20 days. The list includes everything from zucchini to carrots and kale.
The summer harvest has certainly arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. With our very dry and hot summer, many fruits and vegetables have ripened several weeks earlier than the norm. I have heard from many gardeners that they are harvesting heirloom tomatoes that usually do not ripen until mid to late August. Those vegetables that love the heat, and have adequate moisture, are thriving with this weather. Beans, melons, squash, and other heat-loving vegetables seem to be producing bumper yields. I had a listener call me last week on my radio program to report that her pumpkins were bright orange and looked like they were ready to be harvested. She said it looked like Halloween!
Often, I will caution gardeners about planting some of the large beefsteak tomatoes or other late-ripening varieties because if we have a cool and early season fall, they may not ripen. That has not been an issue this year. Last week two listeners reported that some of the heirloom tomatoes they harvested in late July were varieties such as ‘Azoychka’, ‘Black Krim’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Brandy Boy’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’. Another listener sent a photo of his Roma ‘San Marzano’ with the notation that they were as big as red bell peppers. They also had the added benefit of organic-rich Black Gold Garden Soil to encourage their success.
In my own garden, I have a very small tomato with small fruits that have proven to be ideal for growing in a pot on our deck. It is called ‘Red Robin’ and even though the plant is small, it has been loaded with tomatoes for several weeks. This is the first year that I have planted it, and I would recommend it for someone with very limited space. I also have some of the Indigo™ series from Oregon State with fruits that turn purple (high in anthocyanins) and then red when ripe.
Asian pears seem to be in abundance this summer. I recently visited a garden with several trees, and they were all loaded with fruit, much of it ripening now. This same garden had crops of plums so heavy on the branches that some limbs were cracking.
We often think of raspberries as early summer crops, though many varieties produce in June. However, everbearing varieties are ideal for a late summer crop. The raspberry ‘Summit’ is excellent for producing a good crop in the spring and a repeat crop in fall. They are excellent tasting too and manageable for row planting. If you have abundant space, consider the thornless blackberry ‘Triple Crown’. I say “abundant space” because this plant can have canes reaching 15 ft in one season. The berries are now just beginning to turn black and will be ready for picking shortly.
Beans are well known in the summer vegetable garden. They are easy to start from seed and make a great plant for young children to grow as an introduction to gardening. The seeds are large, for easy handling by little hands, and they germinate quickly and grow fast. I like the Romano types which have pods that are somewhat flattened with a rich bean flavor.
When planting any vegetable or fruit-producing plant, be sure to plant something that you like. Then take a moment to consider what you will do with excess production. A row of beans can produce far more than most families can eat. Many large-scale gardeners will have a small food dryer, which is another good way to preserve your yields. When there is excess, check in with a local food bank as fresh produce is almost always welcome.
This is such a great time of year to be eating fresh produce that we and/or our neighbors have grown. A tomato picked fresh from the plant is nearly impossible to imitate from a store bought one. Check with your neighbors and see what they are growing and what they might appreciate receiving. As I was leaving a garden visit last week, the owner came out and told me they had a new rule on visitors. One could not leave without taking a zucchini!