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Galveston Monthly

The Winter Harvest

Jan 05, 2020 10:34PM

Reap your rewards now! The soil in the fall garden has been prepared with the addition of nutrients, tilling of the earth, and the planting of fall favorites - seeds and transplants. They have been watered and nurtured and now the plants grow and thrive in anticipation of “The Harvest.” But when is the most suitable time to gather and collect the yield? Is the fruit mature enough, is it at optimum growth? A look at the research regarding this issue is well-timed for the upcoming months. 

Cole Crops

Cole crops are cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and several green leaf species. They should be harvested at the proper stage of maturity for the best quality. To maintain freshness for as long as possible, these vegetables are best stored in the refrigerator in a perforated bag. 

Broccoli - harvest when the head is fully developed before the yellow flower buds open; the head should be tight, blue-green in color and measuring six to seven inches in diameter. Broccoli may be stored in the refrigerator for up to ten days. 

 Brussels Sprouts - from the base of the plant collect the buds when they are an inch or so in diameter, continuing up the plant as they mature. Store for up to a month. 

Cabbage - harvest when the head is solid and tight and about the size of a softball. If cabbage is properly stored, it can last from three weeks to up to two months in your refrigerator. 

Cauliflower - loosely tie the outer leaves over the heads with twine when they are two to three inches in diameter for optimum quality as less sunlight will keep the heads white and tender. Harvest when the heads reach full size at six to eight inches across. Store for up to four weeks. 

Collard greens - gather the large, lower leaves intermittently. To maximize the shelf life of raw collard greens, refrigerate in plastic bag and do not wash until ready to use. Properly stored, raw collard greens will last for four to five days in the refrigerator. 

 Kale - collect the oldest outside leaves as needed. To maximize the shelf life of raw kale, refrigerate in a plastic bag and do not wash until ready to use. Properly stored, raw kale will usually keep well for about five to seven days in the refrigerator. 

Fall Favorites

Winter Harvest tip: The early morning is the best time for harvesting of most vegetable crops especially for leafy greens. 

 Beets - most varieties of beets will mature in fifty to seventy days. Harvest the greens at six inches in height. Loosen and gently pull the fruit when the size of a golf ball for best taste and texture. Store the leaves in a separate plastic bag and use within two days. The root bulbs should also be bagged and stored in the refrigerator’s crisper for seven to 10 days. 

Carrots - harvest your carrot crop when the shoulders are one-half inch to three quarters in diameter sixty to seventy days after planting. Loosen the soil with a garden fork to avoid damage to the fruit by pulling them from the ground; cut off the foliage a half inch from the top, rinse and store. Carrots can be left in the ground for several additional weeks if you have an extensive crop. To maximize the shelf life of raw carrots, refrigerate in a plastic bag. Properly stored, carrots will usually keep well for about three to four weeks in the fridge. 

Cilantro - when the plants reach six inches in height, they are ready for harvest (three to four weeks). Pinch portions of the upper stems so the plants will branch out and grow more leaves. Make successive sowings of cilantro in late spring for continuing harvest. You can store cilantro in the refrigerator for up to two weeks by placing it into a jar, making sure only the stems are submerged. Loosely cover the leaves with a plastic bag to keep in moisture. You can also secure the bag to the jar with a rubber band. Replace the water every two to three days.

 Green Beans - pole beans are ready to gather in fifty to sixty days from sprouting while bush beans should be set in fifty to fifty-five days. Store unwashed fresh beans in a reusable container or plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. Whole beans stored this way should keep for about seven days. 

Lettuce - snip a few outer leaves or clutch a bunch of leaves gently and cut them with scissors or a sharp knife, an inch or more above the crown of the plant. Do not cut into the crown itself. Head lettuce will likely die back but other varieties should continue to produce offering a second harvest in about two weeks. Loose leaves can last seven to 10 days when properly stored in the fridge, preferably in the crisper drawer with paper towels to absorb moisture. 

 Snow Peas - edible pod peas can be pinched off the plant at two to three inches long before the seeds begin to swell (about sixty days after planting). The shelling types are ready when the pods have swollen and are nearly cylindrical in shape. To maximize the shelf life of fresh snow peas, refrigerate in plastic bag and do not wash until ready to use. Properly stored, fresh snow peas will typically last for three to four days in the refrigerator. 

 Swiss Chard - gather the Swiss chard leaves when they are large and tender. This is about thirty days after sowing if “baby” leaves are preferred or forty-five to sixty days for full-sized leaves. To maximize the shelf life of Swiss chardrefrigerate in plastic bag and do not wash until ready to eat. Properly stored, Swiss chard will usually keep well for about two to three days in the refrigerator. 

Turnips - turnip greens and young turnips are best at a smaller size, with a light taste and tenderness, but they can be harvested at larger sizes as well. Once turnips are harvested, immediately twist or cut off the tips to keep them from pulling moisture from the roots. Rinse the greens in cool water, shake off excess moisture and store for up to four or five days in plastic food storage bags in the refrigerator. Small roots can be refrigerated for two or three weeks.