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Home / Lifestyle / Gardening / H A RV E S T I N G T I P S FOR WINTER VEGETABLES

H A RV E S T I N G T I P S FOR WINTER VEGETABLES

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Many Gulf Coast gardeners think of gardening as a
spring and summer activity. As I walked through the
Master Gardener Discovery Garden in Carbide Park
last week on a very cool and misty Thursday morning,
I was inspired by the abundance of winter vegetables
being grown — broccoli, cauliflower, kale, beets, Irish
potatoes, cabbages, onions, and the list goes on.
Many of the vegetables we planted in late summer
and early fall are now ready to harvest — or will be
soon. It is important to harvest vegetables at the proper
stage for best results, so here are a few guidelines for
some common cool-season crops.
Root crops are usually harvested when the top of the
root becomes readily visible at ground-level but it is
easy enough to brush aside the soil at the base of the
leaves to check on the size of the root. Harvest radishes
and carrots when the root is about 1 inch across.
Carrots can be left in the ground once they are
mature and can be harvested as needed, and the tops
can be used as a parsley substitute. Turnips should be
harvested when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and
rutabagas (a close relative) when they are 4 or 5 inches
in diameter. Beets are best harvested at 2 to 3 inches
and parsnips at 1 1/2 to 2 inches.
Broccoli heads are not harvested based on the size
of the head, but when the largest individual flower
buds are about the size of a kitchen match head. Cut
the primary crown (where the individual heads come
together) when it’s about 4 inches across. Do not allow
the heads to remain on the plant so long that some of
the buds open to produce a yellow flower. Remember
that smaller side heads will develop after the main head
has been harvested, so leave the plant in place for additional
harvest.
Harvesting cauliflower also depends more on the
appearance of the head rather than its size. The curds
of the head should be relatively smooth, very much
like the cauliflower that you buy in the supermarket. If
allowed to stay on the plant too long, the head will begin
to separate and lose quality. If you did not blanch your
cauliflower by covering the head with the plant’s leaves,
it may have a purple, green or yellow tint to it. This does
not greatly affect the quality of the head.
Leafy crops such as mustard, spinach, Swiss chard,
leaf lettuce, collards and turnips should be harvested
frequently by breaking off the lowest, largest leaves
(this is called cropping). Harvest the entire head of
semi-heading varieties of lettuce such as bibb, buttercrunch
and romaine when the head is fully developed.
Cabbage is ready to harvest when the head is solid
and hard. Cabbage is one of the few crops that may
be left in the garden after they are ready to harvest,
although the heads may split. If you are going to leave
fully formed heads in the garden, rotate the entire
plant one-half turn to prevent splitting (this slows water
uptake by breaking some of the roots).
Snow peas and edible podded peas are productive,
delicious and well worth growing. Harvest snow peas
when the pods are full size but still quite flat. Ediblepodded
peas, such as sugar snap peas, should be harvested
when the pods are full and round but before the
peas inside the pod have fully developed. Both types of
peas should be checked daily and harvested frequently.
COLD PROTECTION FOR WINTER VEGETABLES
Last week started out with daytime temperatures in the
low eighties on Monday and ended up on Thursday and
Friday with snow and freezing weather. Although winter
vegetables are generally hardy, new plantings may
need to be protected from hard freezes as will certain
vegetables near or at harvest stage.
If temperatures below 30 degrees are predicted,
young seedlings should receive special attention by
completely covering them with a 4-to-6-inch layer of
loose mulch like leaves or pine straw. The mulch may
remain over the plants for a few days, but remove it as
soon as the freezing episode is over. Other protections
include plastic coverings supported to keep them off
the plants, fabric sheets or floating row coverings may
also be used.
The following lists will give you a quick guide to the
ability of some vegetables to endure freezes.
– Protect or harvest the following vegetables if temperatures
are predicted to go below 30 degrees: broccoli,
cauliflower, lettuce and peas.
– Vegetables that can tolerate temperatures down
to the mid-20s with little or no damage: Swiss chard,
Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, mustard, spinach, radishes
and turnips (although the leaves of radishes and turnips
are moderately hardy, their roots are very hardy).
– Vegetables that can tolerate temperatures in the
low 20s and even the teens, especially if given some
protection: beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, collards,
garlic, onions, parsley, leeks and shallots.

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