When you should harvest your vegetables from your garden

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There’s nothing better than growing your own vegetable garden. You spend a lot of time all summer taking care of your garden in order to get the most out of it. That’s why it’s important to know when it’s the right time to begin harvesting. This not only depends on when your crops are ripe, but also the length of your growing season.

Below is a list of garden vegetables ,along with the best time for picking each kind.

  • Asparagus: When spears are 6-8 inches tall and as thick as your pinky finger, snap them off at ground level and new ones will begin to grow. Stop harvesting about 4-6 weeks after the initial harvest.

  • Beans: Pick before the seeds start to bulge. They should snap in half easily.

  • Beets: These are ready as soon as you see the top of the beet above the soil line. You can leave them in the ground longer if you prefer larger-sized beets. Also, you can harvest the green tops and eat them as well.

  • Cabbage: When the head of the cabbage is solid all the way through when squeezed, it is fully matured and ready to pick.

  • Carrots: These are harder to judge, but can be picked when the carrot shows at the soil line and you can see the diameter of the carrot. They can be left in the ground longer once matured, and a light frost is said to sweeten the carrot.

  • Cauliflower: Similar to broccoli, when the head looks full and the curds of the head are smooth. They typically will not be the same size as ones found at the supermarket.

  • Corn: Once the silk turns dry and brown, the kernels should exude a milky substance when pricked.

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  • Cucumber: Check daily and harvest while they’re young. Timing and length will vary, but the cucumber should be firm and smooth. Over-ripe cucumbers can be bitter even before they start to turn yellow.

  • Eggplant: Slightly immature eggplants taste best. They should be firm and shiny. Cut the eggplant rather than pulling from the plant.

  • Garlic: Garlic tops will start to fall over and begin to turn brown when the bulbs are ready to be picked. Try to dig them up rather than pulling them, and allow them to dry before storing. It’s best to brush off the dirt instead of washing them.10584099_797756826923284_5225641105503497678_n

  • Kale: Kale should be deep green, with a firm texture. The flavor is best in cooler weather.

  • Lettuce (Head): Harvest once the head feels full and firm. Hot weather will cause them to go to seed quicker rather than filling out.

  • Lettuce (Leaf): Harvest the outer leaves once the plant reaches about 4 inches in height. Allow the younger leaves to grow, and repeat for most of the summer season.

  • Onions: Once the tops have ripened and fallen over you can dig up the onion, allow the onion to dry completely before storing.

  • Peas: These are best to be tasted to determine when to pick. If a sweeter pea is preferred, it is best to pick before the pea pods get too large and full.

  • Potatoes: “New” potatoes can be harvested when the tops start to flower. For full-sized potatoes, wait until the tops dry up and turn brown, then dig around the perimeter of the potato to avoid slicing it.

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  • Pumpkins: As soon as pumpkins have turned to the expected color and the vines are starting to wilt away, they can be picked. As soon as a pumpkin is cut from the vine it stops turning orange.

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  • Radishes: These mature rather quickly. As soon as you see radish pop out above the soil line is the best time to pick. Don’t leave them in the ground too long, as they will become tough and go to seed.

  • Squash (Winter): Similar to pumpkins, these can be cut from the vine as soon as they turn to the expected color.

  • Tomatoes: When a tomato has reached its color and is slightly soft to the touch, gently twist and pull from the vine.

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Now that all the hard work and harvesting are done, it’s time to enjoy the end results. There are many different ways to enjoy your harvest. Depending on how good a season it is, one way to enjoy your harvest in the winter months is to freeze certain vegetables or do some canning. Making spaghetti sauce or salsa is a great way to use up all those extra tomatoes and peppers. Happy Harvesting!

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Tips to Keep Your Produce Fresh Longer and Lessen Food Waste

 

Assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables and berries. Bunch of carrots, spinach, tomatoes and red apples on chopping board, blueberries and cranberries in old colander over old wooden table. Top view

According to the National Resource Defense Council the average modern American family throws out between $1,000 and $2,200 in groceries each year  That is approximately 470 pounds of food!   With the continuous effort to eat healthier diets full of fruits and vegetables that means 25% off the wasted food is produce.

There are many ways we can help lessen waste and reduce our carbon footprint. One of the easiest ways to lessen waste is to learn how to properly store produce to ensure the longest shelf life.

Here are a few great tips on storing produce:

Do not store fruits and vegetables together

Fruits that give off high levels of ethylene (a ripening agent) can prematurely ripen and spoil the surrounding produce.

Refrigerate these ethylene releasers:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Cantaloupe
  • Figs
  • Honeydew

Do not refrigerate these ethylene releasers:

  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Tomatoes

Keep these away from all ethylene releasers:

  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce and other leafy greens
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon

For Vegetables

Before storing, remove rubber bands and trim any leafy ends. Leave about an inch of the stems to keep the vegetable from drying out. Make sure the bag you store the vegetables in has some holes punctured to allow good airflow. Pack vegetables loosely in the refrigerator. The closer together they are, the quicker they will rot. Leafy greens should be washed before storing by soaking them in a sink full of water, while soft herbs and mushrooms should not be washed until right before they are used.

For Fruits

Non-cherry stone fruits, avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, melons, apples, and pears will continue to ripen if left sitting out on a countertop, while items like bell peppers, grapes, citrus, and berries will deteriorate if left out, and should be refrigerated. Bananas in particular ripen very quickly, and will also speed the ripening of any nearby fruits.

Here is a chart that offers a quick reference for how long and where each type of produce can be stored:

Photo courtesy: www.100daysofrealfood.com
Photo courtesy: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com

Keep enjoying delicious and nutritious produce with these tips!

Healthy, Delicious, and Fresh Packed Lunch Ideas

8459976360_3c160f881d_bNow that the kids in back and school, the routines can begin again. In my house we prepare for school the night before by making sure the homework is checked, clothes are picked out, and lunch is packed. Often times, I find that we get stuck in food ruts and pack the usual sandwich and carrot sticks. To battle the food rut I look to the internet to search for new and healthy ideas, and I get overloaded with options.

Here are a few new favorite foods that are loved in our house so far:

Whole-wheat “Pita Pizza” (toasted in the toaster oven and then served cold)Pita_pizza_(17188259486)Organic Ham and Cheese Rolls

Whole-wheat waffle sandwich stuffed with fresh fruit or jelly

6995490557_690963d7ff_oPlain yogurt with a variety of delicious add ins

  • Granola
  • Peanut or Almond Butter
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Vanilla Extract and Coconut Flakes
  • Honey
  • Vanilla Extract and Mini Chocolate Chips

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Popcorn

Frozen Smoothie

Apple with Peanut Butter

8466410432_65a56dbe8a_oWhole-wheat carrot applesauce muffins

Carrot_Cake_Muffins_(4135137580)Grilled Cheese with Pesto on Whole-wheat (served cold)

Whole-wheat Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with Organic Cream Cheese

BLT on Whole-wheat

15169375890_5b513e327cAn other great choice that allows your child to have fun is packing lunches themselves. Here are two really terrific and yummy packed lunches from the Blog 100 Days of Real Food:

Build a Taco Lunch

  • Corn Tortilla
  • Shredded Pork Taco Meat with Bell Peppers
  • Cheese
  • Lettuce
  • and other desired sides100 Days of Real FoodConstruct a Pizza
  • Whole-wheat Pita
  • Organic Tomato Sauce
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Additional Desired Toppings such as Vegetables and Pepperoni, etc.

100 Days of Real FoodDon’t get stuck in a rut because there are a lot of great sources that help you to expand the food options you can pack in the lunches. Whatever you choose to pack, make sure it is delicious and nutritious!

10 Ways to Make Your Vegetable Dishes More Nutritious

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Now that summer is here, I prefer to prepare meals with a lot of delicious vegetables. After looking up some new recipes and information on which vegetables have the most nutritional value, I discovered that the way I cook and store them can actually be making them less nutritious! Investigative journalist Jo Robinson recently published the book Eating on the Wild Side, featuring pages and pages of information on how to properly store and prepare vegetables. Here are 10 ways we are making our vegetables less nutritious and the simple solutions to fix the problems.

 

1. Buying fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

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Cooking tomatoes makes them more nutritious, and the longer you cook them, the better. Heat changes the lycopene into a form our bodies can more readily absorb and — surprise! — canned tomatoes are much higher in phytonutrients, thanks to the heat of the canning process. Tomato paste, being more concentrated, is even better.

 

2. Storing lettuce wrong.

You might think that damaging your vegetables before storing them is a mistake, but when it comes to lettuce, tearing the leaves triggers a protective blast of phytonutrients that you can take advantage of by eating the greens within a day or two. Lettuce that is torn before storing can have double the antioxidants of whole lettuce leaves.

 

3. Boiling spinach — or any vegetable, really.

You may have heard that boiling vegetables is a no-no because water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C leach out of the food and into the cooking water, but you might not know that boiling also reduces the antioxidant content. The difference in spinach is especially dramatic: after 10 minutes of boiling, three-quarters of its phytonutrient content is in the cooking water, not in the vegetable itself. (Of course, if you consume the cooking liquid, as you do when making soup, you consume all the nutrients in the water as well.) Steaming, microwaving, sautéing, and roasting — cooking methods that don’t put vegetables in direct contact with water — result in more nutritious vegetables on the plate.

 

4. Eating your salad with fat-free salad dressing.

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We’ve known for a few years that you absorb more of the nutrients in salad when you eat it with fat, but the type of fat can make a difference. Most commercial salad dressings use soybean oil, but extra-virgin olive oil is much more effective at making nutrients available for absorption. Unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil is even better, as it contains double the phytonutrients of filtered.

 

5. Cooking garlic right after chopping it.

If you mince a clove of garlic and quickly throw it in a hot pan, you consume almost no allicin, the beneficial compound that makes garlic such a health star. That’s because the enzyme that creates allicin is not activated until you rupture the cell walls of the garlic — and is quickly inactivated by heat. Just two minutes in a hot pan or 60 seconds in the microwave reduces the allicin in just-chopped garlic to almost nothing. Letting the chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes before exposing it to heat gives the enzyme time to do its work, so your finished dish contains the maximum amount of allicin. Using a garlic press is even better than mincing, as it releases more of the compounds that combine to create allicin.

 

6. Throwing away the most nutritious parts of the vegetable.

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Most American recipes call for only the white and light green parts of scallions, but the dark green parts have a higher concentration of phytonutrients. Instead of throwing out the nutritious tops, you can ignore the recipe instructions and toss in the green parts as well, or explore recipes from elsewhere in the world which utilize the entire green onion. And don’t forget vegetable peels, which often contain a higher concentration of antioxidants than the rest of the vegetable. You can try roasting them and eating them like chips!

 

7. Eating potatoes right after cooking them.

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Many people avoid white potatoes because they are a high-glycemic vegetable, spiking blood sugar after eating. But chilling potatoes for about 24 hours after cooking converts the starch in the potatoes to a type that is digested more slowly, making them a low-glycemic vegetable. So potato salad chilled overnight is a low-glycemic food, as is a cooked, chilled, and reheated baked potato.

 

8. Cutting carrots before you cook them.

Cooking carrots whole and cutting them up after they are cooked keeps more nutrients in the vegetable. And speaking of cooking, carrots are one vegetable that is better for you cooked than raw — cooking helps break down the cell walls, making the nutrients easier to absorb.

 

9. Buying broccoli florets, instead of a whole head.

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Broccoli looks like a hardy vegetable, but from an antioxidant standpoint, it is shockingly perishable, quickly exhausting its stores of powerful phytonutrients after harvest. “I call it one of the ‘eat me first’ vegetables,” says Robinson. One study found that after 10 days — the time it took to get the vegetable from field to supermarket produce section — broccoli lost 75 percent of its flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) and 80 percent of its glucosinolates, the compounds in cruciferous vegetables that are associated with numerous health benefits. Cutting the broccoli into florets doubles the rate of antioxidant loss, so in addition to buying the freshest broccoli you can find and cooking it right away, you should choose whole heads rather than the bags of pre-cut florets.

 

10. Cooking beans from scratch and discarding the cooking liquid.

Dried beans are some of the most phytonutrient-rich foods out there, but the big surprise is this: canned have more antioxidants! If you prefer from-scratch beans, let the beans sit in the cooking liquid for about an hour after cooking to reabsorb some of the nutrients that have moved into the liquid. And try using a pressure cooker to cook beans; one study found that beans cooked in the pressure cooker had more antioxidants than those cooked with other methods.

 

Enjoy your extra-nutritious meals!

 

Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden In Limited Space

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With Summer approaching and fresh vegetables coming into season, we begin to plan yummy veggie dishes to share with our family and friends. Farmer’s markets begin to open, and many people will venture there to pick up their produce. However, there is another option available: growing your own vegetables. There are many ways to grow your own veggies, even if you do not have a large yard for a garden. Here are several great places you can start a garden with limited space:

Walls 

outdoor-pallet-furniture-28Hanging organizers or up-cycling pallets can create vertical garden planters that can be hung on exterior walls or fences. These hanging gardens can help keep your outdoor area clear, and can also brighten up your outdoor space with a lush look.

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Patios or Steps

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If you have a small outdoor space such as a patio, terrace, porch, or steps, you can use the space by planting your vegetables in pots. Almost any vegetable can be planted in a pot. Some even do particularly well in pots, such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, cucumbers, and herbs. There are even varieties of berries that thrive in pots.

Indoors

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Vegetable gardens don’t need to be planted outside. Many vegetables will grow happily in a sunny window. Use long plant boxes that fit in the window to create a small veggie garden. When doing an indoor garden, stay away from vegetables like squash, since they spread as they grow and they can take over the planter. Vegetables that work best in small planters are vertically growing veggies, such as tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and herbs.

Community Garden

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Many people want to grow their own vegetables, but don’t have the space to do so. To accommodate the growing demand for fresh produce, community gardens have been created. These gardens are typically on public plots of land, and you can rent a plot in the garden to plant and care for yourself. To find a community garden near you, visit the American Community Garden Association.

Enjoy all of the yummy produce, whether it’s home-grown or from a local farmer’s market!

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8 Tips For a Happy and Healthy Organic Garden

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Everyone wants their garden to be as healthy and beautiful as possible, but not everyone knows how to accomplish this without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. These harsh chemicals will contaminate your soil, plants, food, and therefore your body.

To protect your family and our planet from further exposure to harmful chemicals, an organic garden is an excellent first step. This will promote a cleaner environment for your family and pets, and healthier produce for their consumption.

There are plenty of natural ways to provide nutrients and protection for your garden. Here are some great tips for starting or maintaining an organic garden of your own!

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1. Use organic fertilizers such as horse manure, bat guano, fish emulsion and kelp meal. These natural fertilizers help your soil stay moist and aerated, promote microbiotic activity, and keep roots healthy.

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2. Make your own fertilizer by starting a compost pile for food scraps such as fruit peels, uneaten vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, or yard waste and paper items.

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3. Get your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension (a service provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). They can let you know which natural additives will be beneficial for replenishing your garden soil.

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4. Companion planting is the practice of raising different plants in pairs that encourage each other’s growth and discourage harmful insects. Do some research on what would pair well with your favorite plants, and incorporate them in your garden.

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5. Plant rotation is very important for keeping your soil replenished with nutrients and for discouraging soil-borne disease. Keep track of which plants you have in a plot and grow something else in its place the following season.

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6. Beneficial insects should be welcomed into your garden with open arms. Earthworms are wonderful for aerating your soil and bees are phenomenal pollinators. Predatory insects such as ladybugs and praying mantises are the perfect solution to problems with plant-consuming bugs, without the use of pesticides!

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7. If you are trying to deter animals such as deer and rabbits from your garden, do not poison or kill them. There are many repellents that are made from natural ingredients — like garlic, predator urine, and pepper — which will work wonders!

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8. For fungus and mildew issues there are a variety of home remedies that can be used in place of harsh anti-fungal sprays. A small amount of baking soda mixed into water can make a great anti-fungal spray for your plants.

Now there is no excuse for using toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, because there are so many natural and organic options for garden care!

Warm Up with an Organic Soup

Bean and Barley Soup

Take the chill off this winter with a nice warm bowl of soup for dinner! Here is a great recipe for a healthy and organic soup that will please the whole family.

Bean and Barely Soup

Yield: 4 (serving size: 1¼ cups soup and 1½ teaspoons cheese)

Ingredients

1 cup organic pinto beans

1 tablespoon organic olive oil

2 cups finely chopped organic red onion

1 cup finely chopped fresh organic flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup finely chopped organic celery

1/2 cup finely chopped organic carrot

1/2 cup chopped fresh organic basil

9 cups water

2 cups organic vegetable broth

2 organic bay leaves

1/3 cup uncooked organic pearl barley

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce

2 tablespoons grated fresh organic Parmesan cheese

Directions

Sort and wash beans; place in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 2” above beans; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes; remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain beans. Wipe pan dry with a paper towel.

Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, parsley, celery, carrot, and basil; cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add beans, 9 cups water, vegetable broth, and bay leaves; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes or until beans are tender. Discard bay leaves.

Place 3/4 cup beans and 3/4 cup cooking liquid in a blender; process until smooth. Return pureed bean mixture to pan. Stir in barley, salt, pepper, and hot sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or until barley is done. Ladle soup into individual bowls; sprinkle with cheese.  

Enjoy!