8/23/2009 6:00:00 AM Enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor - Part II EDITOR'S NOTE: The first part of this column ran in the July 19 Miner.
Charlee Ware Kingman Area Master Gardener
Here are a few tips for harvesting at peak quality, along with some storage guidelines:
Let no pod ripen on the stock, so you may need to harvest daily. Young pods are both tender and more nutritious. Pick at 2 inches. Some people are sensitive to the bristles, so wear gloves when picking pods.
For a second crop during midsummer, cut plant back almost to the ground and fertilize. Store unwashed pods in perforated bag in refrigerator up to three days.
Early in the summer, whether you have hot or sweet peppers, cut when fully formed yet still green. Late in the summer, you can allow the peppers to become red, yellow or orange.
Again, these plants will stop producing when they ripen seeds. This is why the colored peppers are more expensive to purchase than the green ones.
Peppers keep best under refrigeration, although they look great in a bowl for a couple of days with those ripening tomatoes. Peppers can be seeded and cut to size and frozen, or cooked and then frozen.
A tasty idea is to flatten, pat on olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook on the grill. Then store flat in plastic bags in the freezer. Great added to sandwiches the rest of the year.
New Zealand Spinach
Cut the tender leaves throughout the summer. Rinse, dry and store in a plastic bag in refrigerator for three to four days. Eat raw or cooked, or dry the leaves to throw into winter soups.
Squashes are the most joked about and over-matured vegetable in home gardens. Pick these while very small. If zucchinis, yellow crookneck or scallops have lost their shine, toss in the compost. There will be more tomorrow.
While they can be stored for up to a week, they will taste better cooked the day they are picked. Dry slices for chips after dipping in salted water. Like the other annual vegetables, summer squash vines produce better when you remove old fruit.
Pick at any stage of ripeness once they are to size. If you want fried green tomatoes, pick them green. If you want ripe tomatoes, pick any time from half-red to fully-red.
Unless you drip-irrigate daily, I have found the best time to harvest is just before watering. Never refrigerate tomatoes until fully ripe. Ripe tomatoes will then keep refrigerated in perforated bags up to two weeks.
Harvest when the underside, "the ground spot," turns yellow or when the melon produces a dull sound when slapped. Many varieties tend to take on a dull look when ripe.
Any damaged produce can easily spoil and destroy others touching it. Eat, freeze, dry or can these immediately. Be vigilant in removing any damaged spots. Of course, all cuttings go into the compost bin.
Additional information for growing or preserving vegetables is available from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, 101 E. Beale Street, Suite A, Kingman AZ, 86401, or call (928) 753-3788.