The Pueblo West View

High Plains Gardener: Harvesting vegetables treasures

Summer whizzed by rapidly, cooler than last year and finally some decent moisture.

Those of us with vegetable gardens are now looking forward to harvesting our treasures.

The garlic and onions have been pulled, cured and stored by now.

And for several weeks we have been picking tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and green or yellow beans, but in just a few short weeks the season will end.

Possibly your beans have already quit.

Bush beans bear abundantly only so long before slowing down to an inevitable halt.

If you have climbing beans, they should continue until killed by frost as long as they are kept picked.

Some of your tomato plants may have quit already too.

The variety you planted may have been a determinate tomato which sets its fruit pretty much all at the same time, and when all are ripened the plant is finished.

If you have indeterminate tomatoes the plant will continue to set fruit until it is killed by frost. So you should be picking ripe tomatoes until the end of the season and have a supply of green tomatoes at the end of the season.

To prevent an abundance of unwanted green tomatoes, pull off the smallest ones in about a week and let the plant concentrate its energy into ripening the larger tomatoes still on the vine.

Or you can ripen green tomatoes inside.

A traditional method of ripening them is to pull up the vine before frost and hang it upside down in a garage or basement.

The tomatoes will gradually ripen on the vine.

I have not tried this method, but I am sure the vine-ripened flavor should be great.

Another recommended method is to store the green tomatoes in a shallow box or container (something that will not leak should one or more of them rot) not more than 2 layers deep. First of all, wash them under running water and let them dry thoroughly.

Lay them in the container with newspaper under them about two inches apart. Lay more newspaper on top and do the second layer. Store them at 50 to 65 degrees, as in a basement, and check them every two to three days.

The very dark green or really tiny tomatoes may not ripen and so should be kept apart from those that have begun to turn color or have lightened in color.

If peppers are overwhelming you, try leaving them on the plant until they turn red, orange, yellow, purple or chocolate brown (depending on the variety).

The mature, brightly colored peppers have even more nutrients than when green. The plant will slow down its production of new peppers, but that is okay if you are oversupplied with them anyway.

Carrots and beet can stay in the ground for quite some time yet. Pull them as you need them as they can stand freezing temperatures up to mid to late November.

If the weather gets really cold before then, go ahead and pull them, remove the tops and store them in the refrigerator in plastic bags.

Some people leave carrots in the ground with a heavy mulch over them and pull as needed. Placing them in plastic bags and burying them about a foot down in the ground will preserve them also.

Winter squash and pumpkins will be reaching maturity in a month or so.

Since there is no way to ripen immature squash, you should pick off the smaller fruit as it will not ripen off the vines.

Harvest after the first light frost but before a hard freeze. A mature squash or pumpkin will have dull, dry skin, a dry stem and the vines will probably be totally brown. The rind will be hard enough you cannot puncture it with a thumbnail. A pumpkin will be uniformly orange.

Pumpkins should be washed with soapy water and dried well. Cure at 80 to 85 degrees F. in high humidity if possible for 10 days.

If you cannot manage these requirements, just store them; however, they may not keep as long. Opinion varies regarding curing squash.

At least wash and dry them thoroughly.

Storage times for squash are: acorn, five to eight weeks; butternut and buttercup, two to three months; hub bards, five to six months.

Pumpkins should store for at least a month in a cool, dry location. Handle both pumpkins and squash gently.

Be sure to pick up every bit of the vines, summer squash also, and either burn it or put it in the trash since squash bugs will overwinter in the debris.

Brussels sprouts and late cabbage just get better as the days grow colder.

Don’t let cabbage go through really hard frosts, but brussels sprouts can tolerate weather well into November most years. he flavor of kale improves greatly after a frost and the plant is hardy enough to leave in the garden well after the first hard freeze. Chard will survive some frosts, as well.

Marilynn Chambers is a master gardener and native plant master, and a member of The Gardeners of Pueblo West, who designed the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden at Cattail Crossing park. You can e-mail her at jchamlyn@msn.com.

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