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Gardening

Why wait for frost to start harvesting your garden?

This time of year I push readers to harvest and enjoy the fruits — and vegetables — of their labors. Too many have this idea that they can wait until a frost hits.

The problem is you never know when the “end” will hit Alaska gardens. We are getting better at guessing, however, and so I will guess it looks like we have several weeks left, at least.

If you want to wait to harvest, fine, but of utmost importance are peas, beans and snap peas. If their pods are not harvested continuously, but rather left to mature, they stop flowering and concentrate on maturing the seeds in those pods. Remove and eat them, and the plants will then go back to square one and produce more flowers and hence more pods to harvest — before the frost.

The same advice goes for those sweet peas. Only this time pick the flowers so that no pods form. Remove any that do. You grow sweet peas to enjoy the flowers.

Your raspberries are another thing that can’t wait for the frost. When they are ripe there is a window to harvest them. When they pull off their bases, they are ripe. Remember, these plants are biennials. They grow every two years. New plants will only have leaves this year. These will fruit next year while those fruiting now will die and should be removed later in the fall.

Ever the optimist, I suggest you continue to harvest off the broccoli stalk; don’t remove the entire thing. New, smaller, but nonetheless edible florets will form. There is enough time.

Cauliflower doesn’t work the same way. Once harvested, the plants are done. In general, the later kohl crops are harvested, the more likely the slugs will share them with you.

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Next, figuring out when to harvest your potatoes can be confusing because we are told to wait until frosts hit. These are tubers. They are designed to store the sugars of above-ground photosynthesis during dormant months. This is mostly in the form of starch. Once potato plants turn yellow, the above-ground sugars have turned to starch and are in the below-ground tubers.

So, if the tops are dying back and it is before a frost, so be it. You can harvest. If you want a few “new” potatoes in the meantime, go ahead and dig some with your hands.

You might want to prune the growing tips off indeterminate tomatoes unless you heat your greenhouse. This way plants will finish developing the existing fruits and not waste energy on flowering and producing new ones.

Chickweed is in full bloom right now, soon to produce seeds. Pulling it up is really easy. This is a nitrogen accumulator. Toss it in a cardboard box, let it die and dry and then use it as mulch or toss it on the compost pile. Check for seeds, of course.

It is also “butter and eggs” season. Those pretty little yellow snap dragon-like flowers turn into seeds; lots and lots of them. They are extremely invasive so pay some attention to not letting them go to seed and spread. Weed-eat them if the flowers have not set seeds. Or, collect them in a bag and let them die back before tossing them on the compost pile.

Finally, this spring, readers commented on the high numbers of spruce cones that developed due to our crummy winter. Take a look at the upper reaches of your spruce trees now. You will notice that some of them are developing lots of seed cones. Now is when they form; it has nothing to do with how horrible a winter might be.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Go and see! Nursery is open. Join. Check out and register for upcoming events.

Lawns: My annual “I bet your lawn is pretty green even if you didn’t fertilize” checking weekend. How is yours?

Support the tall ones: Sunflowers, delphiniums — any tall flowering plant that can collect rain should have some support.

Compost pile: It’s a good time to start one as we all have debris to deal with. Must be at least 3 cubic feet to heat up properly. Grass clippings provide the nitrogen. Twigs, leaves, old mulch provide the carbon. There are many good internet sites with info, including www.morningchores.com/compost-calculator/

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.

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