Gardeners patiently wait all summer to enjoy the fruits, vegetables and herbs of their labor, but then everything seems to ripen at once. It can be a challenge to keep up with picking the bags of green beans, the buckets of juicy tomatoes and all those summer squashes that need to be harvested while they’re still small.
Gardeners can make the most of their harvest by picking ripe fruits and vegetables early and often to keep plants producing. Summer vegetables are best enjoyed while still tender and at the peak of perfection.
Here are 10 tips for preventing any food waste by using, preserving and sharing the garden harvest:
- Eat fresh at every meal. Summer meal planning is easy with a little creative thinking to find ways to add fruits and vegetables to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Baked goods make for perfect snacks or to freeze for later.
- Preserve in small batches. Cucumbers, peppers, beans and garlic can be pickled to store in the refrigerator or canned for long-term storage.
- Use herbs in different ways. Herbs are delicious mixed into compound butter and flavored herb vinegars.
- Toss a tomato tasting party. Gardeners like to mingle and share their favorite tomatoes with others, especially while gathering in the garden.
- Use herbs to create an herbal spa experience. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, lavender and lemon balm turn an ordinary bath into something special.
- Dry herbs for winter. Drying is easy by hanging herbs, placing them on a screen or microwaving before storing in airtight containers.
- Go for a blue ribbon. Enter the best of the best in a county fair vegetable competition.
- Preserve chile peppers. Chile peppers can be dried and ground into powder and flakes or steeped into hot sauce. They can also be roasted, peeled and frozen in pint or quart-size freezer bags.
- Flash freeze the extra. Strawberries, raspberries and sliced peaches are easy to freeze on cookie sheets. When frozen, store in freezer bags for making breakfast smoothies.
- Ample Harvest lists by zip code area food pantries that accept fresh produce for their clients.
To keep the garden harvest going through the season, plants need healthy and fertile soil. Regular applications of a nutrient-rich plant food gives plants what they need to keep growing bountiful, healthy harvests.
By Jodi Torpey, garden writer and author