Vegetable gardening is all the rage – but not in a trendy sense. It has become a must-have for many health and eco-conscious people. The vegetables in grocery stores are often harvested before they are ripened and shipped across the country, even the world, ripening along the way. In fact many fruits and vegetables come from seed that have been genetically modified. The seeds have been altered to produce fruit or vegetables that will withstand the early harvesting and transportation.
The transportation brings in the issue of the amount of gas and pollution required to get the produce to your kitchen. Think about it, if you live in Arizona and are eating a Texas or Florida grapefruit, how far did it travel to get to you? Most produce today travels farther than many of the U.S. population does in one year!
September marks the beginning of the fall/winter planting season in the Phoenix area. A well amended garden bed with a rich layer of compost will help ensure success. Purchase seeds or transplants at the local nursery. Several nurseries even grow their own small plants (called transplants) that are adapted to the local climate.
All vegetables take several weeks to set fruit (a vegetable forms) and mature. Seed packets often describe all the details about planting depth, space between plants, germination days and days to maturity. But planting by seed may not provide instant satisfaction! Seeds take up to a week to germinate, then at least 30 days more to grow into a plant before they even set fruit. One way to advance the timeframe to when vegetables are ready for picking is to start out with a transplant, an instant plant!
Choose vegetables with shorter maturity dates to maximize the cost savings of a home garden.. The plant with the earliest maturity date is the radish – 30 days. These plants will put food on the table in about 60 days – arugula, beets, beans (bush and pole), collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, lettuces, peas, spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes and turnips – and they are all great fall plants in the low desert!
Another way to get an early harvest is to pick “baby” vegetables, that is pick them before they are mature. Several vegetables may be picked early including lettuce, beets, fennel,kohlrabi, leeks and onions.
Culinary herbs like cilantro, dill, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, sage and thyme are always a safe bet for an early harvest as they can be cut once the shock of transplanting has worn off, usually a few weeks.
Harvesting tips – be gentle, use scissors to cut the vegetable off the plant, pick when you need it but pick when ripe, don’t pick when the plant is wilted.
Enjoy the harvest and the time spent in the garden! The plants will look brighter and the food taste fresher as a result of some tender loving care.
Doreen Pollack is the Garden Goddess and owner of Down 2 Earth Gardens, providing garden consultations and coaching. Join her for gardening how-to workshops around the valley. To find a workshop near you, visit www.down2earthgardens.com or call 623.217.6038