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Early-Summer Harvest Tips: Picking the First Garden Vegetables | Almanac.com

Early-Summer Harvest Tips: Picking the First Garden Vegetables

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What's working well so far—and what isn’t!

The Editors

It’s early summer and the first vegetable crops are ready to harvest. How fun! See what crops are ready for picking and enjoy wonderful harvest tips and tricks.

Fortunately, we have an expert gardening editor—Ben—to show us what’s really happening in a real garden! Let’s open the garden gate and take a look at what has worked so far this growing season—and what hasn’t. Plus, Ben will share some of his gardening secrets.

In the Garden Beds

The lettuce bed is now doing nicely and the Romaine lettuce is ready to harvest. As you harvest and gaps appear, re-sow lettuce seeds to keep the harvest coming.

  • In the same lettuce bed are clusters of salad onions that were started earlier in the spring in plug trays; they’re coming along beautifully. Some of the bigger ones can be carefully picked and the rest can continue growing.
  • Behind the lettuce are beets which were direct-sown. A couple can be pulled to enjoy today to add color to a salad!
  • Tip: Plant pretty alyssum amidst the lettuce rows; the flowers attract bees and beneficial bugs to deter pests.

The carrot bed is starting its harvest. Some carrots are ready to be pulled. One pest to keep an eye out for is the carrot fly. To avoid them, cover the plants with a row cover. Or, plant something now that will help to mask the scent of the carrots, such as chives. This perennial herb also makes a really attractive edging along here once they’ve established, and bees love their flowers!

The last of the pea pods are ready to be harvested. The peas were sown direct a couple months ago as the first crops planted. The peas are perfect! At this point, as the weather has warmed, the pea plants should be completely pulled.

Companion flowers (which are highly recommended) are also starting to bloom. For example, marigolds are planted among tomato plants to help with pests. Garlic is planted to protect potatoes from peach aphid.

The onions that were started off in sets (very small bulbs) are a late variety, so the onions will grow on and be harvested at the end of summer.

The tomato bed is doing well, with beefsteak tomatoes growing in stunning obelisks. See tips on growing trouble-free tomatoes by taking the right steps early in the season!

The Swiss chard is going to bolt as it’s beginning to flower, so time to harvest it! Chard is wonderful in smoothies and steamed in the same way you cook spinach. In fact, it’s really not necessary to try growing spinach if you’re growing chard, which is much easier to grow and so prolific.

In the herb bed, thyme is growing and some herbs are already flowering, specifically the parsley. But this is great news for pest control because parsley attracts beneficial hoverflies.

Broccoli, planted earlier in spring, is rapidly approaching harvest time. It’s peak caterpillar danger time, so it’s best to keep them covered with insect mesh right now. A couple broccoli heads are ready to harvest, so just remove the mesh and cut the main heads off so the side heads continue to grow.

Fava beans are flowering like crazy now and should be ready in a few weeks.

The climbing beans are just reaching the top of the arches and should be ready soon.

The summer squashes (zucchini) are absolute monsters already. They’re not ready to harvest, but very close.

The potato beds may be close to harvest. They’re an early variety. When they start to flower, it’s a cue that it’s worth having a look. Carefully pull one plant out and see if the potatoes are ready! It’s fun to unearth potatoes in the garden! 

The cucumber bed has sweet gherkins; only the first cucumber is ready to harvest.

The sweet corn is planted in a big block (for wind pollination) and looks close to “knee high on the 4th of July,” which is a good sign.

Food Forest

If you have the space, consider planting a “food forest” next year. This is a garden that mimics the layers of plants found in a natural forest environment. Take a look at the video to see Ben’s food forest:

  • The apple tree behind the arbor forms the main canopy—the overstory tree layer—and then there is a shrub layer of currant bushes. They will take a few years to establish. 
  • The herbaceous layer is made of non-woody plants which are mainly edible, including rhubarb, perennial Babington’s leeks, comfrey for organic plant tea, and perennial Daubenton’s kale. All were started from cuttings late last autumn and planted earlier in the spring.

This area was planted into what was quite a weedy area. The entire area was covered in the fall with a few layers of plain cardboard over which went wood chips to smothering out the weeds. It worked but still needs a weekly pass at weeding any stray weeds that make it through. Leave the nettles which caterpillars feed on; this will help give life and color to the garden. Young nettle leaves can be used for a refreshing tea.

See a video showing the installation of the Forest Garden.

More Squash! 

Winter squash needs a lot of room. The ‘Delica’ winter squash and a couple pumpkins are growing—as well as more zucchini plants!

Some of us never tire of zucchini. Just remember to harvest zucchini when they are tender and small (6 to 8 inches) and check daily once harvest begins, as zucchini will grow too large very quickly.

There are so many ways to enjoy zucchini. Here’s a great zucchini and parmesan soup recipe that is fantastic! 

  1. Chop up a large onion and a couple of garlic cloves. Cook until soft in a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan.
  2. Dice 2 to 3 medium zucchini. Add to the pot, together with 3 cups/700ml of vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Blend the soup till smooth before adding 3 to 4 ounces/100g grated parmesan. Whizz again to combine then serve with a warm, crusty bread.

Hot Stuff 

If you’re fortunate to have a greenhouse, it’s a great place to grow chili peppers!  They really do love the heat and now it’s much warmer overnight as well as during the day, they’re thriving.

In the greenhouse are also tomatoes planted in straw bales and being supported on string supports. Just check for suckers, or side shoots and remove those; this is only necessary for indeterminate tomatoes in cooler climates. In hot climates, gardeners often don’t pinch out side shoots at all because they have a long enough growing season to get all the fruits to ripen. 

With everything growing away so fast, it’s all too easy to rest on your laurels and cruise through to harvest. But don’t forget those autumn and winter crops too. Winter staples include cabbage, more kale, salad onions, beets, and some broccoli. 

Space for Wildlife

Gardening with wildlife in mind is so important. Without the intricate network of life that’s all around us, growing healthy, organic food would be nigh-on impossible!

  • Take some wildlife-friendly measures, such as a mini wildflower meadow area, with path mown through it. Late spring into early summer is the best time of year for the meadow. The flowers are in full bloom and the insect life is incredible. 

Stay tuned! We’ll go for another stroll around the garden later in the summer so you can see how things have progressed – and maybe there’ll be a chili to taste test!

2023 Almanac Club