Alive & Digging: Get your harvesting on
By Paige Slaughter
There’s a great saying, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
In gardening, we get the gift of paying close attention to life. It’s subtle—the way plants grow, how a bud turns into a flower, into a fruit and then into seeds. We learn how to tell the difference between one leaf and another. We appreciate worms and cloudy days. As gardeners, we embody this idea of slowing down and taking care.
By July, our gardens are playgrounds. We are tending, harvesting and sowing seeds for continued bounty. So let’s talk about how we harvest. It might inspire us to cook up a special dish or make sun tea in a mason jar.
How to harvest basil
Basil can be so productive! Or it can flower and turn bitter. The trick is in the harvest.
Instead of pinching off leaves when you’re ready to make a Caprese salad, cut basil at the main stem, right above new leaf shoots. This allows the plant to grow out more fully. As with all herbs and vegetables, especially the tender ones, the best time to harvest is in the morning while it’s still cool.
Keep your harvested basil in a vase of water, as if it were a bouquet of fresh flowers, and leave it on the counter in your kitchen instead of in the fridge. Now, you can pinch off leaves as needed. Storing basil in a vase this way will keep it fresher for much longer! Plus, you’ll have it ready at hand so you can garnish every summer meal if you so desire.
In spring, cilantro grows slowly, but as soon as the weather warms, it quickly starts to flower.
Harvest by pinching off portions of the upper stem; the plant will fill out and grow more leaves. Cilantro flowers are edible and tasty, too!
In hot weather, your cilantro will always want to flower. The best way to enjoy fresh cilantro all season long is to keep sowing seeds. Every three weeks, you can direct seed cilantro, lettuce and green onions throughout your garden for the continual harvest of all three.
Another way to enjoy cilantro is by letting it go to seed. Eat the seeds green, or let them dry and turn brown and you now have homegrown coriander!
Harvest broccoli crowns while they’re still tightly in bud before the florets begin to open up and lose flavor. You can also harvest the lower leaves of broccoli and cabbage plants, slice into strips and simmer in saltwater to enjoy as a midsummer dish.
Lettuce tastes best when you harvest in the morning. Soak greens in cold water before putting them in the fridge. This process of hydrocooling your lettuce and other greens makes for crisper, longer-lasting greens that are ready for you at lunch and dinner time.
Now that your squash plants are growing, check for squash bugs and eggs regularly. These pesky bugs hang out on the underside of squash leaves, and they lay their eggs along leaf stems. Prevent squash bugs from overtaking your bounty by removing eggs from the leaves as much as possible, and squashing the adult bugs.
Squashing squash bugs is a bit creepy and definitely stinky, but later on, your abundant harvest of summer and winter squash will make it all worth it.
A note about weeds
Nature is a problem-solver. Her goal is to create life. Weeds are no exception in nature’s connectedness and resilience.
Weeds give us insight into our gardens. Identifying weeds by soil type can help you determine what your soil might be lacking. Clover popping up across your lawn indicates a low level of nitrogen (clover is a nitrogen-fixer); compacted soils invite grasses, whose strong central taproots and wiry stems are really attempting to aerate heavy soil and build structure within it.
So before cursing the weeds in your garden, identify them, look at their roots and see what you can learn about the little ecosystem in your backyard.
Midsummer Garden Checklist
- Seed a succession of tender herbs like dill and cilantro, bush beans, lettuce and green onions.
- Direct sow carrots, beets, bush beans, lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, turnips, parsnips and rutabagas.
- Plant cover crops in bare sections of the garden to keep the soil happy and alive.
- Start broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in trays, preferably indoors.
- Continue to trellis tall plants like peppers and tomatoes, pinching off suckers from indeterminate tomato plants.
- Deadhead annual flowers and spring-blooming perennials.
- Water plants in the cool of mornings, especially if using overhead watering systems, so as not to damage leaves.
- Water perennials and your lawn deeply, not daily, to encourage deeper roots and healthier growth.
- Harvest tender summer squash and cucumbers before they get too big on the vine.
- Harvest vegetables, flowers and herbs in the cool of the