Garden Groove: Harvest Time for the Backyard Gardener
Getting in the Garden Groove with John Schroeder: The ‘Rush’ of the Harvest
The idea that your vegetable garden harvest happens mostly at this time of the year is a bit of a misnomer. If you grow a variety of crops you are harvesting to some extent all season long. The spring months bring asparagus, radishes, peas, greens and more. By mid-summer you’re seeing cabbage, broccoli, beans, onions, potatoes, cukes and other enjoyable fare. But starting around early to mid August and continuing into September the tomatoes and peppers mature – and I think that’s what most of us associate with harvest time.
In our garden it’s all about this time of the year. I always feel a bit sad when we get into late August, contemplating how the summer is winding down. But the flip side is that reaching this point of the year means it’s time to reap (in a big way) the one crop I favor above all others – tomatoes. I started with 21 tomato plants this year. I inadvertently killed one of them, so I have an even 20 at this point. I have multiple pepper plants (jalapenos, poblanos, bells and a few others.) Over the years I’ve learned a few tricks about making these particular things grow pretty well. So right now it’s “hammer time” in the garden as the tomatoes and peppers arrive in droves.
At this time of the year I’ll fill a couple of five gallon buckets with mature produce twice a week. Check out the result of one night’s picking. When I was younger this time of the year would almost overwhelm me at times. I would get so many tomatoes and peppers that I’d give a ton of them away and I’d still end up having a fair amount of them that would spoil and go bad. You can only eat so much of any particular crop, and I wasn’t into preserving and canning very much at all back then. I would blanch, peel and freeze tomatoes for use in the fall and winter months. But I’ve finally come around to the idea of canning so that we can preserve more of our crops for a longer period of time.
This past week, we intentionally set out trays of tomatoes and timed the ripening so that several dozen of them were ready for processing by the weekend. On Saturday my wife, a friend of ours and I spent nearly eight hours chopping, simmering, sterilizing, jarring and water bathing plain tomatoes, marinara sauce and salsa. We used a combination of quart and pint jars, favoring the smaller ones for salsa which is great to not only use ourselves but also to give away as gifts.
We used a ton of our own peppers during the day, as well…especially with the salsa. In addition to an occasional tray of jalapeno poppers the other way we tend use our bounty of peppers at this time of the year is to smoke them. We put dozens of japalenos (which after they’re smoked are known as chipotles) and poblanos (which after this process are called anchos) into our smoker for three or four hours. We finish the drying with very low convection heat in our oven. These dried out blackened peppers are great ground up or re-hydrated for use in chili, cooked greens and other dishes.
I know people who have entire sections of their basements filled with shelf upon shelf of canned produce. We’re not into canning quite to that degree. But taking the time to get some of this valued harvest put away into jars is making our season-long efforts in the garden more rewarding.
Next week: What DIDN’T go right this year.
John Schroeder is a sales guy at Townsquare Media St. Cloud, but in his past life, he was an on-air personality specializing in sports. But what really turns his crank is getting out in his 28 x 15 foot vegetable garden several times a week nurturing, eventually harvesting (and sometimes sharing) homegrown food.
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