When to harvest vegetables

21 August 2009

We had a lovely day yesterday. Thank you for your warm wishes for us.

This question is from slakermom: "what do you do with your extra produce? Obviously a lot can be preserved, but what about things like lettuce? There's only so much salads I can eat."

Harvesting is one of the most important parts of the entire process and you have to get it right or you'll waste food. We eat tomatoes almost every day that are freshly picked and eaten in salads or on sandwiches. When there are too many, and that is a truly joyful occasion, I'll pick the excess - usually when they're still green - and ripen them in the shade. Temperature ripens tomatoes, not sunlight. When they're ripe, I'll make relish, sauce or chutney, process it in a water bath and store it in the cupboard. I do a similar thing with cucumbers and beetroot - we eat them fresh but when we have a lot of them, they're picked, pickled and then stored in the fridge.

Cabbages are also eaten fresh in coleslaw and cooked and we probably eat one cabbage every week or two during winter. Like the tomatoes, we grow more than we eat fresh and at some point in the season, I'll make sauerkraut.

We plant vegetables for our chooks and dog too. The chooks eat cabbage, silverbeet, lettuce, broccoli, radish tops, corn, peas and anything with a bug in it. Alice has anything that we would eat from the garden made into her stew that we cook for her each week.

Vegetables like corn, beans, peas, silverbeet, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots are all good to freeze. To do that effectively, wait until you have enough for at least a serving for your family, pick, blanche then bag them up for the freezer. Never skip the blanching step, it makes a difference. Some days you'll only have enough excess for one or two bags for the freezer, other days you have a lot more than that. Just take it as it comes, it will only take you a few minutes to process a bag or two. Don't think it's too small an amount to worry about. You'll be happy to have it later when you can just take the frozen vegetables from the freezer and have them on the table to eat that night.

Potatoes, pumpkin and onions can all be stored in a cool dry place and will last for a few months if you find a place that is rodent-free. I know many of our American and Canadian friends can and freeze pumpkin but as far as I know, this is never done in Australia.

Don't look at the current crops as being only for that season. If you can spread the availability of produce over a wide time span, you'll be getting the best from your plantings. So with that in mind, try to plant a few extra plants so you'll be able to freeze or preserve some produce for later in the year.

Steelkitten, we do use straw to mulch our plants. It's cheap and easy to get here. When we buy ours, we buy about 12 bales and store them in the shed. We usually don't have a problem with seeds in our mulch. If you can get the chooks to sort through it, they'll eat all the seeds for you. Otherwise, you'll just have to pull out the green shoots when they grow - and if you do have chooks, they'll love to eat the grass shoots and they'll be full of Omega oils.

Maxine, Hanno will pick a lot of the kale to have in one of his seasonal pork meals. He cooks the kale with smoked pork sausage and meat. I don't eat it but he feasts on it for a few days because he makes a big pot. There will be kale left after he picks, so a couple of days later, we'll pick it all to clear the area for tomatoes. That kale will be processed in a water bath and stored in the cupboard.

Avalon, we tilled the original soil, added a lot of manure and compost and then enclosed the beds with the besser blocks. The soil is higher than the surrounding soil because we added a lot of nutrients and continue to add them between every new crop.

Linda, there'll be a post about the bush house soon.

Karyn, I forget the exact size, it's something like 2 metres x 6 metres (6'x20').

Trina, Heather has been a very healthy girl since we brought her home as a two week old chick. However, in the flock we bought with Heather, about six of them died. They were a mixture of rare breed chooks, Heather was the only Faverolles. There was a Barnevelder, some Plymouth Rocks, Sussex, Hamburgs. From what I have read, it is quite normal to have a portion of a flock died when they're relocated and we've certainly found that to be true. If they survive the relocation and settle in, usually they live for a very long time. We often have old chooks here. At the moment Cocobelle is our oldest at five years.

Evelyn, bok choy bolts in the heat. So does lettuce, broccoli, coriander (cilantro), spinach and cauliflower. Tomatoes don't set their fruit well in the heat either. Over around 30C (85F), tomatoes often stop producing flowers or setting them to fruit if they're already there.

Courtney, don't give up, love. You're doing the right thing, even though a lot of people around you don't know it ... yet. :- )


  1. Great blog, many hints and clues.

    I have added it to my Blogger's Cafe:
    in Library 2 - Green Blogs

    Good luck


  2. Have a great day. You and I were along the same lines of thought today. I posted over at Bee Bliss Gardens for the 1200 ft zone and two posts and the needs of Herbs and a list of culture whether to transplant of set seed.

    Hope your resting up and recovered the flu you had

  3. Hi Rhonda,
    Just thought to let you know that I found you through a page in 'Notebook:' magazine on a page called 'blogs we love'. I think it was a month or 2 ago, and they loved you!! Didn't know if you were aware, so I thought you'd like to know! Have a great day

  4. hi rhonda, i continue to enjoy your posts and read everyday. thank you for explaining about the bricks around you garden beds. i was interested in that. in our back yard, we have a big swimming pool that has been filled in by the previous owners. i am in the process of separating areas with bricks but i am afraid that the bricks are going to sink as i lay them on the soil, not sure what to do about that. i have just been outside and found our cat laying on the net curtain cover i had put on the strawberries!!! he was enjoying the sun. i guess i will have to think of some other method to protect the strawberries. keep up the good work and hope you have a lovely day.

    sophie in new zealand

  5. We roast excess pumpkin and then freeze it - great for pasta sauces or adding to lasagne.

    Another great thing we do with excess pumpkin is turn it into soup and freeze that. Yum.

  6. Hi Rhonda,

    Just thought I'd let you know how excited I am to have stumbled across your blog!!!

    You are living exactly the way i have been dreaming of ever since i was a little girl and mum would read the "Little House on the Prarie" books to me :)

    It's so encouraging to know that it is possible to do although it doesn't feel that way to me right now... I am just newly married with a tiny baby just arrived and the dream seems so far off at the moment - we're living in a tiny house in suburbia with no yard space and i feel in a constant tired haze of dirty nappies, feeding and sleepless nights!!!

    I can't wait to be able to afford a lovely property in the country to grow my own vegies/chickens etc and to be able to start getting organised enough again to cope with the house work and cooking dinner etc. which i seem to be failing miserably at at the moment :( ... is there any way that i can start living 'the simple life' right now even without the ideal circumstances?

    Enjoy your day ... Abbie

  7. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who cooks veggies for my dear dog. He was getting fat on dog food, but since I added veggies he is slimming up.

    I bake my winter squash (would do the same with pumpkin, if we had it) and freeze the pulp. Great for baking breads or serving buttered with a meal.

  8. Hi, Rhonda...When you have a minute, and if you don't mind, will you please share about how you make/what you put into Alice's stew that you make for her?

    If you've mentioned it before, I must have overlooked it.

    Thank you.

  9. Hi Rhonda. The Gardener in our family is very happy to plant and grow but expects me t harvest which is fair enough. I have a bad habit of leaving things for too long. I don't know why -- it's not laziness I just seem to think another day or two would make it better. Next thing I have flowering or bolting...this is a heads up for me! Enjoy your weekend.

  10. Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you so much for all the info. I have kale and am not doing much with it. Could you tell me how to can it in water bath and then how to cook it when I use it out of the can? Thanks so much. Nancy D.

  11. Oh dear...I had no idea that chickens had a hard time with relocation. Our hope is to move in the next year or so...to country property. I hope the chickens can handle it! I'd be so sad if they didn't make it. I have to admit I've grown quite attached to my sweet chickens!

  12. Thank you for the information on harvesting. Was glad to hear that tomatoes will ripen from heat because our tomatoes turned into monster tomatoes. Lush and green but thankfully they do have alot of tomatoes. I worry about the ones that the sun never touches because there is so much green around them. I finally have two that are starting to turn pink. It seems to be a common problem in our area because we have had such a cool summer. This is our first little garden and we are already writing down things NOT to do next year!!! Like spread the tomatoes out more!! Thanks for all your advice, I enjoy your blog.

    WV USA

  13. Hello Rhonda,
    I am so glad to be blogging myself again and to have come across your terrific place. You share so much info and great advice. I am an avid gardener and am trying to go as green as possible too. I am hoping to share my vegetable garden next year and wil be sure to visit you here often. Thanks so much for the great tips.

  14. Mmmm, it sounds lovely! I wonder where in Queensland you are? I'm in Noosa and living the suburban lifestyle at the moment but still dreaming of chickens and a veggie garden. So busy writing and raising the kids that I don't know how I could fit it all in. At least now I can live the good life vicariously through you:)

    I'm writing to inspire people to live their dream and it's wonderful to find women like you who are already doing that.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. I love your Blog...I look forward to it each morning now that I've found it. I gone back and followed threads and read and read until I can't soak up any more wisdom for the day, I'm so full. You have been able to put words and direction to a feeling I've had for quite some time and now I've been able to start acting on many things.
    I'm in the middle of an overhaul of my home and purging the unused and useless items we have outgrown and cannot repurpose for other things.
    I have a garden that I've been slowly developing, mostly flowers but this year I added veggies.
    I have a question.
    I'd like to add a couple of more beds near the perimeter of our yard next year. Should I be removing the grass this year to prepare the bed for spring? It's still summer here and I'm not sure how to proceed from scratch in this. It's just lawn right now and nothing has been grown there other than that. How do I prepare this area for planting? I would love some advice on this if you can offer it.

    Thank you for your response and for this blog. :)

  16. Love your blog but have only had time for a quick look around this visit, will be back.

    We are just dipping our toes into growing our own vegetables and actually began the process to involve our 18 month old daughter. She loves it as you can see here, http://childhood101.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-does-your-garden-grow.html

    I have a question, can you point us in the direction of a good seasonal planting guide for Australia as we are such amateurs and our planting is so hit and miss!

    Thank you

  17. Hi Christine, thank you. The best online guide I've found is the Eden Seeds one:

  18. Great post, very informative. This is an excellent explanation of how to get the most out of plants and the land they grow in. Thanks!



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