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Harvesting Your Garden

Winter is coming fast, so if you still want to get something from your garden, the time is now.

But what's left to harvest this late in the year?

More than you might think, says master gardener William Moss.

So, how do you go about it?

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• Tender crops (tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, basil, eggplant) before 370 F
• Hardy crops (lettuce, spinach, collards, onions) before 280 F
• If you know it is going to frost and you can't harvest, then cover plants with a blanket at night until you have a chance to harvest
• Harvest herb branches and leaves in the morning after the dew dries

• Use pruners, instead of hand picking
• Leaving some stem attached to the fruit prolongs its shelf life
• Dry root crops and herbs on a screen in a dark, dry area. Some gardeners bundle herbs together and hang them to dry.
• Tomato plants with lots of green tomatoes can be cut at the base, brought inside, and hung upside down to further ripen

Fruits will last awhile after harvest especially with some stem attached, but there are options for green tomatoes:
• Let them ripen to red and use for food
• Let them ripen to red and save them for next year's seed
• Use them green to make chow chow relish, an old Southern favorite

Moss also shared his recipe for chow chow relish, with some ingredients you harvested:

3 cups green tomatoes
2 cups onions
2 cups cabbage
6 green peppers
3 red peppers
1/4 cup salt
3 cups sugar
2 cups vinegar
1/2 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon turmeric

Chop all vegetables; combine in a large kettle. Stir in salt; let stand at room temperature overnight, or at least 8 hours. Drain.

Combine vinegar, sugar, and turmeric in a large kettle. Put mustard seed, and celery seed in a 6-inch square of cheesecloth or cheesecloth bag. Tie ends or gather and tie string and add to the kettle. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add vegetables and return to simmer for 30 minutes longer. Discard spice bag. Spoon chow-chow into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner, or 20 minutes for altitiudes of 1001 to 6,000 feet. Over 6,000 feet, process for 25 minutes.

On his Web site, Moss expands on how to harvest what, when:

Harvest-Time has always been my favorite time of the year. Walking through the hills of South Carolina on crunchy, colorful leaves while periodically stopping to grab a pecan, pick a wild grape, or sneak an apple from the neighbor's yard are some of my best childhood memories. And we aren't alone in celebrating autumn's gifts. Birds, squirrels, bears, butterflies, and a host of other creatures gorge themselves on the final smorgasbord of ripening fruits and nuts. Harvest-Time was like the big dance before summer vacation combined with the last game of the playoffs before the off-season.

Now as an adult, I get that same feeling from my backyard gardens. The year's gardening labor literally comes to fruition in October. Tomatoes, peppers, winter squashes, and herbs are typically lush and loaded. It's a satisfying sight, but with frost looming it brings two dilemmas: when to harvest and how.

Tender plants (tomatoes, peppers, basil, sweet potatoes, squash, etc.) should be harvested before temperatures drop to 370F (30C). Hardier crops (snow peas, collards, kale, lettuce, arugula, and other field greens) and herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary) are best taken before temperatures fall to 280F (-20C). Fully hardy root crops (onions, sunchokes, and parsnips) are not temperature sensitive, but are easier to harvest and cure before the ground freezes. If you don't have time before a killing frost arrives, cover the plants with a blanket for the night. A good blanket can buy you a few days until you are ready to harvest.

Pruners and scissors are the best tools for harvesting. Pruning prevents any injuries from picking or pulling, and allows you to leave some stem on the fruit. Fruits with stems have a longer shelf life. With peppers and tomatoes you can even leave the whole plant attached. Simply cut the stem at the base and hang the plant upside down in an out-of-the-way inside space. Green tomatoes will often ripen this way.

Herbs should be cut in the morning after the dew dries. Discard any bad leaves. Dry them by hanging in small bundles or placing on a screen in a dark dry room. Check on leaves every three days and rotate as necessary. Once again, discard any bad leaves. In a week or two they should be dry. Store leaves whole and inside of glass jars for best flavor.

This colorful, cool time of year is the nature's last hurrah before Old Man Winter puts things on ice. Whether from a farmer's market, your garden, or the woods go experience the sweet satisfaction of harvest-Time for yourself.

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