Ripe vegetables and fruit wait for no one. Always harvest your crops when they are ready and if they cannot be eaten straight away, dry them or freeze them for use later.
It is unlikely that the harvest from your container kitchen garden will be large enough to cause any major storage problems. However, that said, there is every reason to do what you can to ensure that nothing is wasted and that you are able to make the most of your harvest and enjoy all the fruit, vegetables and herbs that you have grown when you want to eat them.
Planning Your Kitchen Garden To Avoid a Glut
Take care when planning your kitchen garden not to grow too many of one type of vegetable that will ripen all at the same time. Do not overestimate your requirements.
Try to time your planting to produce a staggered harvest. For example, in the summer you may only wish to eat a lettuce every other day, seven in a fortnight, don’t therefore plant a dozen F1 hybrids that will mature at the same time, instead plant six and another six a fortnight later.
Drying and Storing Vegetables From Your Kitchen Garden
If you have sufficient space then a number of vegetables, such as onions and potatoes, can be dried and stored in a cool dry, dark place for several weeks. Carrots and beetroot can also be stored in boxes of sand.
Most other vegetables can be frozen. They usually need blanching first, so plunge them into boiling water for a few minutes, drain and then freeze them. Follow a specialist cookery book for precise instructions on how to freeze each vegetable.
As much fruit as possible should be eaten when it is ripe even if you have to have a large dinner party in order to do so. This particularly applies to strawberries that are very unsatisfactory when frozen, although they can be pulped, frozen and then used as a purée at a pinch.
Apples can be stored in a cool dry place provided they are absolutely free from all blemishes, some varieties keep better than others, generally the later varieties will keep, the early ones, such as ‘Discovery’, won’t. Pears too can be kept for a time wrapped in paper in a cool dark place.
Most other fruit, all the currants, berries, even plums, freeze perfectly well and the kitchen container gardener should take the trouble to do this. Frozen fruits can bring a welcome taste of late summer into a winter’s day. It is very satisfying to eat your own poached plums, or gooseberry crumble, on a dark day in midwinter when all thoughts of summer are passed.
The easiest method of freezing most fruit is to freeze them individually on trays and then put the frozen fruit in bags. Larger fruit, such as plums, should be rinsed in clean water first, smaller berries and currants should be frozen dry as they are picked. Remember to top and tail currants and gooseberries before freezing.
Many herbs can be dried, and this was the traditional way of preserving them. The most practical way to dry herbs is to pick them and lay them on paper on a table in an airy room, turning them over once a day; the roots of a number of herbs, particularly medicinal ones, can be dug up and dried.
A number of herbs that do not dry well can be frozen. These include basil, tarragon, fennel, chervil, parsley and chives. Store them in plastic bags.
Quick Tips for Harvesting and Storing Produce from a Kitchen Garden:
Harvesting vegetables, fruits and herbs:
- Harvesting at the right time is crucial for flavor and nutritional value.
- Different plants have different signs indicating they’re ready to be harvested, like color changes, size, or texture.
- Use clean, sharp tools like shears or knives to avoid damaging plants.
- Harvest early in the morning when plants are hydrated but before the heat of the day.
- Gently handle plants to minimize bruising and damage.
- Fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and berries should be fully ripe before picking.
- Leafy greens can be harvested by snipping outer leaves, allowing the inner ones to keep growing.
- Root vegetables are usually ready when they’ve reached a desirable size; gently pull or dig them out.
- Beans and peas should be harvested when pods are firm and crisp, but before they become tough.
- Herbs can be harvested frequently by cutting stems just above a leaf node.
- Zucchini and cucumbers should be harvested while young and tender to avoid bitterness.
- Onions and garlic are ready when their tops start to yellow and fall over.
- Clean produce gently to remove dirt and insects before storage.
- Some produce can be stored at room temperature, while others require cooler conditions.
- Store fruits and vegetables separately, as some fruits release ethylene gas which can accelerate the ripening of nearby veggies.
- Use breathable containers like mesh bags or perforated plastic bags to store produce.
- Leafy greens can be stored in airtight containers with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
- Refrigerate most berries and delicate fruits, but let them come to room temperature before eating for the best flavor.
- Root vegetables can be stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place like a root cellar or a cool basement.
- Potatoes and onions should be stored separately in a dry, cool environment to prevent sprouting.
- Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature until fully ripe, then can be refrigerated if necessary, but they may lose some flavor.
- Herbs can be stored in the fridge with their stems in a glass of water and covered with a plastic bag.
- Consider preserving excess produce through methods like canning, drying, or freezing to enjoy it later.
- Regularly inspect stored produce and remove any that show signs of spoilage to prevent spreading.
- Use the “first in, first out” principle – consume the oldest produce first to prevent waste.
- Some fruits and vegetables, like apples, avocados, and bananas, can be used to help ripen others.
- Label stored items with the date to keep track of freshness.
- Don’t wash produce before storing, as excess moisture can lead to mold and spoilage.
- Plan your harvesting based on your consumption needs to minimize waste.
- Learn about the specific storage requirements of each type of produce in your garden for best results.
Successful kitchen garden harvesting involves careful timing, gentle handling, and proper storage techniques. By respecting each plant’s unique cues for readiness and following best practices, you can savor the flavors of your homegrown produce through the winter and minimizing waste.