by Camille Cody
Picking, harvesting, gathering, foraging; July is the time for busy hands and full bellies. Most fruiting vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, zucchini – anything that isn’t a leaf or stem) continue to produce more fruit the more the fruit is harvested. The thing is, the plant wants to create its seed for next year’s growth, seeds are contained in the fruit, if the fruit is picked the plant will try again to produce seed thus bearing more fruit. This literally translates into picking zucchini and summer squash every day to every-other day, and picking peppers and tomatoes at least twice a week.
Now for those of us who don’t have a greenhouse in which to grow such Mediterranean delicacies, July is also the time to harvest greens and root vegetables with regularity so that they don’t bolt, or go to seed.
Many things can cause a vegetable to bolt – irregular watering, not enough nutrients in the soil, hot weather – and every plant will bolt eventually. But regular harvesting, especially using the proper technique, is one way to ensure that your plants don’t start to send up a flowering stalk (which radically changes the flavor of the plant; beets get super bitter, radishes and turnips get woody, bitter and pungent, lettuce gets a bitter sharpness and cabbage and other brassicas can get pungent and sour.) Regularly cutting back lettuce equates to harvesting the greens about once a week by lopping off the tops of the plants (sharp, serrated knives work well for this) – salad mix grown tightly together is how ‘spring’ mixes are produced and are known as cut-and-come-again crops because they maintain the integrity of the leaves after being cut and will continue to grow into shapely lettuces through numerous (usually 3 or 4) cuttings.
Kale, Swiss chard, spinach and parsley are some greens that tend to grow heartier when the outermost leaves are harvested first – these are the oldest leaves on the plant and snapping them off at the base encourages the plant to grow up which both eases harvesting and can help keep disease in check as the outer leaves won’t be lying on the ground where certain bugs and dampness can lead to problems.
Herbs and greens like sage, mint, oregano, basil, lamb’s quarters and orach will readily branch out and multiply their leaves if the stems are cut back to the second set of leaves from the ground (pruning shears are better than knives in this case.) Harvesting of these plants is best only once every week to two weeks. And if flowers ever begin to form, snip them off to continue your harvesting for a few more weeks before the plant exhausts itself (perennial herbs like oregano and sage won’t become exhausted like basil will, and they can benefit from a severe pruning later in the season as fall transitions to winter.)
*A note for consideration: letting some of your sowings flower will encourage biodiversity in your garden by attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies; plus, flowers of some plants like all the brassicas and herbs are edible – a pretty addition to summer salads!
And perhaps the best way to celebrate the summer time is with in-season fruit! Washington is blessed to have some of the best fruit-growing climate conditions of the entire country and this month is the time to be on the lookout for strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, loganberries, gooseberries, currants, cherries, boysenberries, blueberries and apricots. Pull out your dehydrator and make room in your freezer because it’s a great time to stock up on bulk fruit for this year’s storage. Red Dog Farm is offering strawberries and raspberries in bulk, Finnriver boasts a Blueberry Collective and U-Pick opportunities, Spring Rain Farm will have early- and late-season berries in good quantity and Nash’s offers various berry and fruit U-Picks as things come into season.
And don’t forget to plan for your winter garden! Early July starts should include: cabbage, broccoli (both overwintering and fall-harvest), cauliflower, kale, turnips, rutabagas, radishes, turnips, carrots, green onions, pearl onions, parsley, finocchio, beets and both snap and snow peas. Towards the latter half of the month is a good time to sow Chinese cabbages, kohlrabi, more turnips, daikon radishes, chicories, lettuce, oriental greens and spinach.