Summer is the time of abundant vegetable garden harvests. A regular sized suburban vegetable garden can produce kilos of fresh herbs and vegetables each week. In my family garden I recently weighed our harvests for a two week period in order to determine exactly how much we were growing and what that meant in terms of dollar savings to our family. You can read my case study on how much a family vegetable garden is really worth here. It is a significant saving and very worthwhile considering if you are yet to start your own vegetable garden.
If you are an Instagram user (obsessive) as I am you will have surely noticed the thousands and thousands of images of glorious summer garden tomatoes, stone fruit and herbs that people who have a home vegetable garden are collecting and showing off. I am one of those show offs! It is hard not to feel proud and a certain level of satisfaction when you can head out to the garden to collect your dinner ingredients each afternoon rather than having to get in the car and head to the supermarket.
The vegetables of the summer garden are the ones most commonly associated with gluts : If you have ever grown zucchini you will probably know what I mean. The plants are so incredibly productive once they start producing that there are new ones ready to collect daily and you end up with a pile on your kitchen bench and scouring the internet for new recipe inspiration. Tomatoes are similar, although it depends how many you plant as to whether you have a lovely steady trickle or an avalanche of those. This year we have been bombarded by cucumbers – earlier this week I collected 13 then 3 the next day and another 3 the day after!! Last year it was eggplants that totally overwhelmed us. We also harvested kilos and kilos of capsicum. I am sure you can relate to one of these.
Despite the glut of a certain vegetable that summer can bring and the slight overwhelm, I have never felt like it is unwelcome. The vegetables of summer seem very versatile to me. I find them much easier to use, preserve and cook in multiple ways than I do with the vegetables and harvests of the other seasons of the year. Tomato is a prime example, I don’t believe it is possible to grow too many. They can be made into passata, tomato sauce and dehydrated for use slow cooked meals over winter, or put in oil for antipasto. Good storage and preparation of your excess produce will allow you to make many more family meals across the remainder of the year. Forget buying processed pasta sauce, tinned tomatoes, or tomato sauce, make your own from your home grown vegetables.
I love the challenge of the excess, it makes our meals creative. It means I don’t have to buy fresh food and we can reduce our outgoings.
A glut in the garden can also be a way to connect with neighbours and friends, pass them on to someone who will enjoy them when your family has reached the peak of their endurance!
Regardless of exactly how productive your summer garden is, you may have a small growing area or a few pots. The longer it lasts the better! As autumn looms closer and I see some of the plants starting to look a little tired and worn out I always feel a little sad that the (sometimes crazy) abundance of summer is drawing to a close. Here are my tips for extending your summer harvests and drawing them out to last as long as possible.
10 ways to extend your summer vegetable harvests:
Take note of each of these ten items. Some of them may not seem to have an immediate correlation to the duration of harvests but in time you will see that they are each about understanding your growing space and making it as productive and effective as possible.
- Staggered and continuous planting
- Keep plants in ground over winter so that you have a group of plants each year that are producing their second year crop
- Avoid planting so much of a vegetable that you experience a glut and can’t bear to see it again
- Keep a garden plan/journal to determine the optimum planting time.
- Feed your soil
- Monitor your plants – for pests and care requirements such as shade or wind protection
- Create a regular watering cycle
- Harvest often
- Plant a mixture of early and late varieties of plants
- Use your space wisely.
The 10 points explained:
- Staggered planting can keep your kitchen in continuous supple with no need to shop for items such as lettuce greens or herbs ever again. Plant lettuce seeds every 6 weeks.
- Capsicum, cucumber, chilli, sage and eggplant can be cut back at the end of summer when they finished producing fruit and left in the ground over winter (in areas of Australia that experience a mild winter). In their second year they will be even more productive than the first year, with larger fruit that produces for a longer period of time.
- A glut can put you off re-planting the same thing ever again so plant wisely and enjoy it.
- Notate the timing of your planting and your harvests and when your plants reach the end of their productive cycle. In the following year you can shift your planting time slightly to extend the harvest time – monitor and re-record the results.
- Add mulch and compost to the soil, as well as blood and bone, crushed egg shells, coffee grinds and other organic materials to help keep your soil healthy and subsequently your plants happy and productive.
- Implement correct actions if you notice signs of pests or heat stress. Protecting your plants will be rewarded with greater harvests. Plant companion plants to deter pests and encourage good bugs and bees.
- It is best to water regularly rather than on an adhoc basis. Avoid allowing soil to become dried out in the heat of summer as it will cause plants to be prone to stress and they will “go to seed” and stop producing.
- Pick young leaves of salad greens and herbs. This keeps the plants bushy and encourages new growth.
- Investigate numerous varieties of plants until you find the best ones for your climate. Late varieties fruit later in the season and early varieties are quick to mature. Planting a mixture of both covers the start and end of the season.
- Use vertical space. Grow climbing plant up and plant smaller vegetables and herbs under them to maximise space. Plant in containers and pots. Use window sills and areas that receive full sun for most of the day close to the house.
Each summer I implement these 10 items and we tend to keep harvesting fresh produce from summer plants well into March and often April. I delay my autumn planting to allow the summer plants to fully run their course before heading into a change of meals and cooler weather vegetables.
At some point there will be nothing more you can do with your summer garden as the weather turns cool and the plants no longer respond to your efforts. Start planting you autumn seeds when your summer plants begin to look droopy and worn out so that they will be ready to take over the space.
Do you drag out your summer harvests as long as possible?
Do you have any other tips to add to these to help others maximise the productivity of the summer months? Please add them to the comments below.
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