Ron Kujawski: Peak time to harvest vegetables


There's a distinct smell in the air. I showered this morning so it's not that. It's an aroma that reminds me of my youth, working in the onion fields on the family farm, and it's not the scent that most people associate with onions. This is the smell of ripening foliage of onions, of corn, and of other vegetables in the garden -- the smell of maturity.

Up to this point in time, the primary focus of my efforts has been on nurturing plants in our gardens. The focus has now shifted to the harvest. It is essentially a daily task. The best flavor and optimal nutrition of individual vegetables occurs at the peak of ripeness. Beyond that point, plants go into a phase that plant scientists refer to as senescence. In layman's terms, this is the phase when the plant begins to break down. With that breakdown comes the destruction of proteins and other components of plant cells, which account for their flavor and nutritional value.

The gist of my message is: Get off your whatchamacallit and tend to the harvest each and every day. If the harvest is more than you can consume or preserve, harvest anyway but give the surplus to friends or to an area food pantry. The worst thing to do is let these vegetables go to waste.

While you are up and off your ... here are some harvest tips and other tasks:

 Harvest cantaloupe when the stem attached to the fruit breaks free when gentle thumb pressure is applied to the stem. You may also notice some small cracks on the fruit where the stem is attached, another sign that the fruit is ripe.

 Pick sweet corn when the silks are dry and brown, and when the ears feel firm right to the tip of the ear. A sure sign that sweet corn is at its peak is the appearance of a milky juice when a kernel is punctured with a thumbnail. If the juice is clear, the corn is either under-ripe or over-ripe. The milky stage only lasts about a week so you have to be on top of the harvest.

 Harvest peaches and nectarines when the underlying or ground color of the fruit changes from green to yellow and the fruit is slightly soft to the touch. Allow the fruit to ripen fully on the tree since they do not ripen further after they've been picked.

 Tug on the brown grass in your lawn. If clumps of sod come up easily, it's because the roots are dead. Root kill may have been caused by disease or grubs. If it is grubs, they'll be noticeable when the sod is lifted. Application of a grub control will be necessary before reseeding can be done.

 Seed new lawns before the end of this month. This is the best time to construct and seed new lawns since the weather is cooling down and soil moisture levels are high -- conditions that favor growth of grass.

 Control poison ivy now. Why now? Decreasing daylight and cooler nights are signals for poison ivy to begin storing food in its roots for next year's growth. A herbicide applied now will be absorbed by poison ivy leaves and move with the food to the roots, killing the entire plant.

 Put on your track shoes if planning to get rid of a wasp nest. Wasps, including yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps, are most aggressive and at peak numbers at this time of year. When attempting to spray a wasp nest, be sure you have an unobstructed escape route; otherwise be prepared to hurdle chairs, picnic tables, bicycles or fences that may be in the way. Early morning is the best time to spray since wasps are in their nests and are a little lethargic -- hopefully, you're not!


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