Sunday, September 6, 2015

Harvest Time Is Well Worth The Wait

CFLocalLivingFairNCBountyfoodonlyBPWhattamNorth Country gardeners are a patient, hardy lot. Our growing season is short enough in a good year, and this year got off to a very slow start with endless rain and cold temperatures well into July.

While there are many cool season crops that do well up here, most home gardeners spend the summer waiting for the royalty of crops to ripen: tomatoes!

I didn’t set up any kind of extra protection for my tomato plants this year so they really didn’t start to grow until mid-July when temperatures finally got warm enough for them. I picked my first ripe slicing tomato on August 21. This will not be a banner year in my garden but at least we’re getting enough of our own tomatoes to have them in every meal. Ah!

My Sun Gold cherry tomatoes started to ripen a couple weeks earlier and those beauties will keep cranking out until a hard frost strikes, but the larger, slicing tomatoes are the crowning glory for most home gardeners.

Of course ripe, local tomatoes have been available for many weeks now from our neighboring farms, thanks to the protective tunnels that many of our growers are using. These tomatoes are delicious and so much better than the grocery store fare. But there’s a real thrill in having your very own tomatoes on the table.

Keep a close eye on your tomatoes now so you don’t lose them at the last moment. I like to pick my tomatoes when they start to color up and let them finish ripening indoors where they are safe from birds, slugs, armyworms, hornworms, stinkbugs, crickets, hail, you name it. I can’t tell the difference in the taste and, by taking off the partially ripe fruit, the remaining fruit will ripen that much more quickly since the plant will have less to focus on.

If your summer squash and cucumber plants have faded away, don’t despair, that’s typical this time of year. Some gardeners will plant a second crop for a later harvest but that often succumbs to various leaf diseases in late summer. You can plant a short row of bush beans every two weeks to keep a fresh crop coming all summer. They need warm temperatures but they only need about 55 days from seed to harvest so we can usually get a few crops in before the first fall frost.

I have a good crop of green peppers right now, but I really love them best once they’ve turned red. All colored peppers start out green then ripen to their final color (red, yellow, orange, even purple). You can eat any of them green but I find they are sweeter and more mellow flavored once they fully ripen. Of course that takes longer and with our cold start I’m not sure if I’ll get my peppers to color up this year. Again, our local growers have lots of peppers in every color, so this is really just a personal challenge that I think I share with many home gardeners. If I had given them some extra protection in June they would be coloring up by now.

And last of all, the apple season has begun! McIntosh and Honey Crisp will be ready soon, but meanwhile there are all kinds of lesser-known varieties being harvested. The Champlain Valley is a premier apple growing region so take advantage of our location and visit our local orchards often to see which varieties are ready. Each variety has its own flavor and qualities; try them all and see which ones you like best.

Photo of North Country Bounty by Brian P. Whattam.

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Amy Ivy is a Regional Vegetable and Berry Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program. Amy also often leads local foods production research funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. She can be reached at 518-570-5991,

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