Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Building Blocks: Summer Harvest

The best part of growing your own fruits and vegetables is, of course, in the harvesting and eating. But when it comes to harvesting the fruits and vegetables that ripen in the Summer heat, a little extra caution is in order.

Conventional gardening wisdom tells us to harvest early in the day, when temperatures are cooler and plants are full of moisture. But right now, when daytime temperatures in the Desert Garden are consistently above 100° and night temperatures are not much lower, "cooler" hasn't much practical value.

For the most part, our fruits and vegetables do just fine in the extreme heat as long as they're attached to, and receiving moisture from, the plant. It's interesting, really: that pepper out in your garden, for instance, may itself have a "body" temperature of 85°, but it's fine. If we think about it though, we realize that the moment we sever that pepper from its stem, it becomes a piece of fruit sitting around at 85°. And if you've ever left fruit sitting out on a warm kitchen counter or, even worse, in the back seat of the car, you know that warm produce deteriorates very quickly.

We can lose a lot of our harvest in that fast transition from growing fruit to harvested produce; what we call "field heat" starts to degrade fruits and vegetables almost instantaneously. I once lost a dozen apples through just leaving them in the basket, figuring they could handle the couple of hours until they became pie; every one of them turned brown on one side in the interval and were unusable.

There are two easy methods for dissipating field heat, and cooling your produce. The first is to simply place the produce in a sink full of cold water until it's cool, and then drain. The second method is to lay the produce in a single layer on a refrigerator shelf; use a single layer with no container so the heat dissipates more quickly. Fill the sink or clear a refrigerator shelf before you head out to the garden to harvest in any quantity, so you can pop the stuff right in. Our tap water is often warm this time of year, so you may need to add a few ice cubes to cool it down, but don't make it freezing. Leave the produce long enough so it's cool all the way through, and then store or use it.

There's an even better harvesting method for use with tomatoes: stand in middle of tomato patch; pick tomato; eat tomato right there and then. Repeat as needed.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. regarding your comments about cooling newly harvested produce: I lived in Yuma and the huge cooling shed are there along highway 8. I worked odd hours then and remember coming home at about 2am, passing the cooling sheds full of cantaloupe harvest, heavily scenting the air, under a moon the shade of cantaloupe.

kim in Mohave Valley