Gardening

You can begin harvesting your garden - using good judgment

It is harvest time in Alaska. Wait, wait. I don’t mean you should rush out and pull your gardens just yet. A frost is most definitely not imminent. It is just that you just have food and flowers that need to be picked and enjoyed.

There are a couple of reasons why you should be harvesting that go beyond simply enjoying the benefits of your bounty (flowers around the house, snap peas in that fried rice, fresh tomatoes with that basil and a bit of mozzarella). You don’t really need anymore, but I will give you some.

The first reason to start harvesting now is because it is actually time to do so. Yes, we have lots of growing season left, but there are plenty of things out in your gardens that you need to get when they are ripe. Start with those radishes that are getting too big and your kohlrabi if it is approaching baseball size. Once they get too big, these both get pulpy. Oh, and don’t forget the rhubarb which may actually be past its prime.

Then there are the flowering mustard plants, lettuces that are in bloom, chard and spinach with blossoms. These are grown for their green parts and though flowers and seed pods are usually edible, once they start to appear, the leaf parts do not get better tasting! Sometimes they stop growing. Harvest these while they are edible.

I suppose lots of flowers fit into this category. Once most bloom, that is it for the season. Things like peonies, iris, lilies, delphiniums belong in vases unless you are trying to collect seed.

Next are the plants that you actually need to harvest in order for them to continue to produce for the rest of the season. I have already written about the need to continuously pick snap and snow peas so more will appear. Don’t let them develop big peas inside those pods. Broccoli is another plant that will produce again if you simply cut off the flowers and not the whole stalk.

We might as well include indeterminate tomatoes in this lot. These are the vining ones. Harvesting the fruit before it gets too mature encourages the vines to flower. If you have the right variety, strawberries, too, will produce more flowers if you pick the fruits as they ripen.

Similarly, removing spent flowers from annuals usually forces them to produce new ones in their quest to produce seeds. We call this dead-heading, but you and your plants might be better off if you “harvest” them before they are spent so you can bring them inside and enjoy them. This has the big advantage of encouraging the plant to start producing the new flowers earlier.

Oh, and don’t forget your basket plants. Pelargonium, fuchsia and begonia will continue to flower if they don’t end up going to seed. You can cut back lobelia and if your petunias are not auto dead-headers, you will need to do the chore.

Thinnings count as harvests. There are two ways to thin. You could simply cut back all the seedlings necessary to give the remaining ones, all at one tine, all the room they are going to need to produce. Or, and this is my suggestion, thin gradually increasing the space between plants by over time. That way you can eat the thinnings and these will get bigger every time you thin. This works particularly well with carrots, lettuces and beets. Actually, any vegetable that needs to be pulled to give neighbors room.

Jeff’s Alaska Gardening Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden: Join. Www.alaskabg.org

Water: One inch between you and Mother Nature per week. Two wouldn’t hurt. Get those raspberries.

Willow Garden Tour 2022: Five great gardens, plus artists, pottery and woodworking at various locations. Saturday July 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Download tour map and directions from willowgardenclub.blogspot.com.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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