How to Harvest Your Garden Efficiently!

It's getting to that time of year when we're all closely monitoring our gardens in great anticipation of that first harvest of some yummy produce. I'm talking the stuff we have to really wait for – beans, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, corn and potatoes – not the quick-to-grow veggies like lettuce and radishes!

The Harvest Issue

It seems to take FOREVER to get everything in to harvest and process! From about mid-late July until we pull the last of the potatoes out in September or October, I'm busy picking, blanching, freezing, canning, and preparing. Phew!
Since we try to use every last bit of produce and not let any go to waste, it can get pretty crazy 'round here trying to get the harvest done and processed before it spoils.

Over the years, I've slowly become more and more aware of the craziness, and more and more adamant about efficiency (in every aspect of our lives).  So, I've figured out a few ways to save some time and stress during garden harvest.

A Little Fore-Planning

Now, I'm far from an expert at garden harvest, nor is my system perfect, but each year we get a little closer.

To be fair, this year I planted a smaller garden due to the fact that I'll be about 9 months pregnant at the end of the season, and likely won't feel like processing as much as I usually do.  The extreme weeding and maintenance throughout the summer wasn't appealing to me either.

Though she be small, she is mighty.  My garden, in this case.

In-Season Doubts

Although we've had a challenging year for crops and gardens, there's still enough out there to cause some work!  Much to the surprise of us all.

A lot of my corn didn't come up.  None of my radishes.  None of my (2) zucchini plants.  And none of my peas (seriously! and they're our absolute favourite!)

But, the rest seems to be chugging along just fine, albeit slightly behind.  So this leads us to the start of the harvest.

A Slow Harvest

Some of you may prefer the rush of having to harvest, haul, and process everything at once.  Me, not so much!  My kitchen usually ends up a DISASTER, and I become perpetually sore and cranky!

Enter the slow harvest.

Every day I go out to the garden and walk the rows.  Taking a basket with me, I harvest what is ready then and there.  If this cleans a plant right out, and it won't be producing more, I pull it and toss it to the side to dry out and be picked up later.

Early in the season, there's maybe a few handfuls at a time.  But later on, it starts to get to be a lot – especially when the tomatoes start turning!

The Harvest Plan

So, some days, I have all my counters, tables and floors full of bins of produce! Now what?!

We eat as much fresh as we can.  Whatever is ready and not getting eaten, I make a plan for.

Usually I know what I want to have in the freezer/storage room for winter (salsa, tomato paste, beans, pickles), but sometimes I have more than I know what to do with!  I'll get into that more in my preserving post.

Now, just because my house looks like a supermarket, doesn't mean I can stop the harvest!

So, I continue to go out to watch and pick as necessary.

If you do your harvest bit by bit, little by little, it won't seem as daunting.  Also, the preserving will be a simpler task, even though it will feel like your canner has become a member of the family.

Something I recommend to make your harvest a little easier is a nice garden cart. We have the one pictured here.  I like it better than a wheel-barrow because it's easier to move around, and the sides can fold down.

Clean Up

As I eluded to earlier, when I have plants that are at the end of their useful life, I pull them.  They get left to be picked up and hauled out, or tilled under with the rest of the foliage at the end of the year.

It makes the task less enormous if I clean as I go.

This goes for the strings and cages, too.

When I seed, I have to have pegs and strings, otherwise my “rows” would look more like a chevron pattern, or worse.  About mid July, once the plants are big enough to distinguish that they're a row, I take them down.  It makes it easier to till and weed.  It's also nice to be able to clean as I go, so there's not so much work at the end of the season.

I also like to plant my peas on a fence – they love to climb.  So, once the peas are done, I yank the fence out, roll it up, and put it in the shed.  Since I didn't have peas this year, the fence was put away a lot earlier!

Final Harvest

Once the garden is nearly finished, I'll make sure all the plants are pulled, break the corn stalks down, and give everything a once-over.

Then it's time to bring in the late season crops.  Potatoes get dug up, pumpkins picked, and zucchini, brought in.  An easy way to keep dirt out of your house or garage is to brush everything off as best you can in the garden, then leave them out to dry off a bit before hauling them in.  This is especially helpful for potatoes and onions!

Clean Up and Enjoy

Now that all the produce is in, it's time to do the last of the processing and cleaning.

We like to let the weeds grow up a bit, if there's time, then till everything under with the tractor.  In an idea world, we'd get a good spray onto the weeds first, but usually there isn't time before freeze up.

Interesting note: I've been told that tilling in the fall helps to prevent potato bugs!  We've never had a pest issue here.  I can't say for sure if it's from the fall till or because the garden has only been in re-production for a few years now.  Worth a try, anyway, if you have pests.

Once the fall work is done, you can sit back and relax.  Then crack open some of those cans, and get to the enjoying!

Until spring planning time!

Do you have any tips and tricks that you use for a stress-free harvest?  I'd love to hear them!  I'm sure others would, too.  Let me know in the comments, or send me an email!

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