GARDENER: Harvest greens and root vegetables

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As summer warms up, it’s time to harvest those early season greens and root vegetables and put them on the table.

In my garden I see a lot of greenery and a lot of beet tops that are visible in the ground.

When it comes to harvesting greens and root vegetables this year, I’m trying to be more strategic and prepared. Before harvesting, I gather my supplies—pruning shears, a salad spinner, and a small tub of cold water.

In warmer temperatures, vegetables and root crops can wilt quickly after harvest. To prevent this, vegetables should be harvested in the morning hours – before the heat of the day sets in.

A tub, bucket or bowl of cold water filled with cold water to soak the veg in will cool it instantly, removing bugs and garden debris and helping to extend the veg’s shelf life. Spinning them quickly in the salad spinner will dry leafy greens, further extending their shelf life.

Harvest know-how

For soft, regrowing greens, like lettuce and arugula, cut off the greens to 1 to 2 inches and allow them to regrow. The more you cut leafy greens and lettuce, the more they grow. Immediately place veggies in a cold bath or take to the kitchen sink, spin in a salad spinner, and wrap airtight and refrigerate.

Tougher leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, and bok choy should be harvested by removing the outer leaves of the plant. To harvest, pull down the outermost, lower leaves and let the center grow.

This keeps leaves off the ground and helps control pests and diseases. The middle stem will thicken and grow upwards and you can proceed to harvest the outer leaves. Be sure to harvest symmetrically and leave enough leaves for photosynthesis.

This method of harvesting was a revelation to me as I used to grow these plants larger leaves and then cut down the entire plant. That was the end of them and I had a lot of yellowed and insect damaged leaves in my crop. Now I keep harvesting greens when the leaves are smaller and more tender.

These plants also benefit from a cold bath. Spinning is not as necessary with tougher leafy greens like kale or collards. Just shake them well to remove excess water. I like to pop some straight into the freezer for a ready-made supply for smoothies or stir-fries.

In addition to the edible root, the tops of beets and turnips are delicious and very nutritious. Before the root is ready to harvest, I generally cut off a few leaves to add to my vegetable harvest.

I don’t take too many as I want the growing power to be channeled into the root. Beets grow quickly and when I harvest the root I cut off all the greens and prepare them like hardy greens.

I’m harvesting some root vegetables sooner than I used to – tiny carrots and beets are a gourmet treat, and thinning out gives others more room to grow.

Small root vegetables need only a gentle tug on the leaves or a garden fork to rock the root back and forth to harvest, loosening it up and less bothering its neighbor.

Use a hose spray nozzle to remove any soil – root vegetables do not need to be soaked. Store your root crops in gallon bags in the refrigerator’s fresh food drawer.

After a morning of summer harvest, you might be inclined to a cold water bath yourself!

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Christina Zampich is a certified master gardener from Idaho. The University of Idaho Extension, Kootenai County, Idaho master gardening program is located at UI Research Park, 958 S. Lochsa St., in Post Falls. Learn more at https://www.uidaho.edu/extension/county/kootenai/garden or on Facebook. Visit us in person, email [email protected], or call 208-292-2525. IMG services are free to the public.

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