It’s harvesttime—our favorite time of year! We have some super smart ideas to share with you to make your harvest easier and quicker—and also help your produce to keep for longer. Yum!
Harvesting the garden involves a lot of picking, plucking and pulling. In this article (with video), our gardening colleague Ben reveals 12 clever ways to make gathering in your crops both quicker and easier—as well as maximize yield to get the most out of your harvest.
Many vegetables give a second, smaller crop once the main harvest is taken if you don’t pull up the whole plant. Carefully slice through the base of leafy vegetables like cabbages and chard to keep the stem and roots intact. Continue watering if needed, and more leaves should sprout within a few weeks. Or cut heads of broccoli then sit tight for plants to grow a secondary cut of stalks.
It can be backbreaking to pull a lot of root crops directly from the ground. Instead, loosen the soil around root crops before lifting them so that they come out of the ground with less of a struggle. Use a fork so as not to damage the roots or slice through worms. Or try lifting carrots without using any tools. Twist the root as you gently pull, while rocking it back and forth to loosen.
Cleaning vegetables can take as much time as harvesting them but not if you pop a laundry basket, mesh bin or trash can inside a garden trug filled with water. Use this to rinse off harvested vegetables. Pop the muddy produce into the basket, thrash it back and forth in the water, then drain. Slosh the dirty water out onto growing crops to water them.
Potatoes shouldn’t be washed but you still need to remove the dirt, so dig them up for storing on a dry, sunny day. Leave the potatoes on the soil surface for a few hours to help them dry out. Then when the potatoes are gathered for boxing or bagging up, any encrusted soil should easily come away.
You don’t want all your crops to mature at once, so pick prolific crops like beans, summer squash and zucchini or courgettes early and often. This keeps plants cropping for longer, avoids unmanageable gluts, while giving a bigger overall yield from each plant.
It can be tricky to find crops if they’re hidden beneath the foliage. Grow beans with purple, red or yellow pods. The pods will stand out against the green foliage, making them easier to spot and pick. The same tip can be applied to yellow zucchini or courgettes, for example. Oh, and cut the trim time for beans by lining them up like this before cutting.
Do birds peck at your tomatoes? Hang red Christmas baubles among your ripening tomatoes. Birds will try pecking at them and, thwarted, will be less likely to try again.
Green, yet-to-ripen tomatoes are common towards the end of summer. If cold nights or tomato blight threaten, bring fruits indoors to continue ripening. Place them in a fruit bowl or bag with a ripe banana to speed this up. Or use up green tomatoes in chutney or as totally delicious fried green tomatoes. See recipes and more ideas on what to do with green tomatoes!
You don’t want everything maturing at once, so grow one or two plants of several types of soft fruits instead of lots plants of just one type. For example, you could plant a few blueberries, one gooseberry, five raspberry canes and two blackcurrants. Doing this spreads harvests out so you can enjoy more fresh fruit and spend less time processing and preserving. The same principle applies to individual crops. Plant a range of varieties that mature at different times to extend the harvest window and minimize gluts.
Avoid damaging plants when you’re harvesting, which also makes the job so much easier. Pick tree fruits with a twist and pull motion to cleanly detach the fruit without tearing. Rhubarb stalks on the other hand should be harvested with a swift, strong pull to avoid damaging the crown. Using the right techniques reduces the risk of disease, ensuring plants remain in better health for next season.
Can’t reach high-up fruits? Make a simple bottle harvester from an old plastic bottle. Mark out then cut out a gouge like this… then thoroughly secure the bottle to a bamboo cane or pole. You’ve now significantly extended your reach – and the fruit you can pick without resorting to ladders.
Thin gooseberries before they’ve reached full size in early summer. This will give a smaller harvest of firm berries, which are ideal for cooking. The remaining berries can then continue to swell, giving a second crop of larger, ripe berries, rather than lots of small berries. All in all, this makes for less time topping and tailing.
What’s your favorite harvesting hack? Let me know below or share your own harvesting tips—we’d love to see them!