Enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor!

KINGMAN - It starts in January. Each year, our New Year's Resolutions include a lot of dreaming about fresh summer vegetables, especially real tomatoes. We buy seeds. We buy compost. We buy hoses or irrigation system parts and maybe a new colored-handle hoe.

In February and March, we dig the compost into the soil and lay out planting beds. We rush the season. Even though we have seeds, we buy the first pepper and tomato plants showing up in the market and put them into our new beds.

They freeze and we remember that our high desert plays weather tricks on us. We take a step back and start again. In April and May, we plant those starts along with beans and squash and cucumber seeds. We mulch and we water. We daily observe and marvel at the quick growth. We grumble when there are pests, or the wind or rabbits destroy a plant.

Summer is now here and it is time to eat!

Yet our job is not done. For the homegrown flavor and freshness we have been anticipating, harvesting our crop at the ideal stage is essential. Here are a few tips for harvesting at peak quality, along with some storage guidelines.

Beets

Harvest when 1.5 to 3-inches in diameter. Carefully hand pull to avoid bruising. Leave 2 inches of stem when you twist or cut off tops. The younger leaves are also edible in salads or steamed. Store beets cold and moist for up to five months.

Cabbage

Use a sharp knife to harvest when heads are still compact and firm. Store cold and moist up to five months.

Cantaloupe-type melons

When ripe, these melons slip off the vine easily. If they hang on tightly, they are not yet ripe. Keep in the refrigerator and eat within a week. Chunks can be easily frozen.

Place on a non-stick cookie sheet until frozen and pack in bags.

Carrots

Can be pulled for eating as soon as they are big enough to eat. They can also be left to grow and harvested all at once. A general guideline is to pull when the tops are 1 inch. Watering a few hours before harvest makes them easier to pull. They will keep in cold storage for up to eight months.

Corn

As soon as silks begin to dry, start checking ears for ripeness daily. When ripe, go back into the house, start water for boiling, then pick ears to rush to the table. Do not even attempt to store.

Cucumbers

Pick frequently. Know the characteristics of the variety you planted. Pick them on the young side, for instance if they are to be 6-inch cukes, then pick at 5.5-inches. Leave a half-inch stem.

Do not let any mature on the vine. The vine will believe it has met its purpose in life, to produce seed, and will die. Store picked cucumbers in perforated plastic bags in refrigerator away from apples or tomatoes. They can be sliced and dried.

Eggplant

Pick when the skin has a high-gloss and before the color becomes dull. Leave a bit of stem. Store like cucumbers.

Green beans

Harvest beans daily to encourage continuous production. Pick when the pods are immature, just before the seeds inside form bumps. Be especially observant to remove any old or mature pods. If you don't, the vine will stop production.

Best eaten raw or cooked the day they are picked but will keep about a week in a plastic bag in refrigerator. Can also be blanched and frozen if processed the day they are picked.

... To be continued