Fall is less than two weeks away and––if your garden is anything like mine, half of it is over and waiting for cover crop season and the other half is still spitting out its best stuff. Green peas, artichokes, fava beans, and many ornamentals have been long since spent, yet many late season performers such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, and berries don’t seem to be slowing anytime soon. Although you may be anxious to get your summer garden completely harvested and cleaned up for winter cover crops, one of the worst mistakes we can make as home gardeners is to rush the unparalleled flavors that can only come from the patient vine ripening process.
We all know that nothing on Earth tastes quite like fruit freshly picked and vine ripened. I’ve often told people that I’ve never really tasted peas or green beans until I tasted them fresh off the vine. Until then, my only experience with many fruits and vegetables was underripe store-bought produce lacking in any authentic garden fresh flavor. Commercial fruits are intentionally picked prematurely so that they ripen while in transit, thus arriving at the grocery store “ripe” and, most important, not spoiled.
You’ve worked too hard all season patiently tending your garden for it to be ruined by rushing to harvest your fruits and vegetables before they’re ready. The hardest work of the season is behind you––prepping the soil, building garden boxes, germination, watering, pruning, pest control. Don’t spoil all that hard work here in the final stretch. Although there are some fairly universal tips on knowing when to harvest fruits (e.g. falling off the vine, smell, color), each variety has some very specific tips that would be too broad to cover here. Even an easy crop such as tomato has very different cultivars within it that have different color and size requirements.
However, nature can be indifferent to our garden needs and bring summer to a halting end. For many of us here in the Intermountain West region such as Utah, Colorado, and Idaho, we just got a cold and windy brush of winter, forcing many of us home gardeners to harvest our crops early in fear of losing it to 50-70 mph freezing winds. Civilizations all over the world have had to learn to adapt to early cold snaps and harvests, often finding many different ways to preserve their year’s work.
Pickling and canning have been some of the most popular ways to keep our farm-grown food fresh and ready to eat throughout the cold winter. Sometimes, we’re not even faced with inclement weather but, rather, blessed with an abundant harvest and are not quite sure what to do with the excess. Canning can be an involved, sometimes tricky process to learn but, once confident, you may never let another season pass without making a jam, pickle, or salsa out of your proudest highlights from the garden.
Homestead mentor and founder of ThePrairieHomestead.com, Jill Winger, has been teaching home gardeners, preppers, and homesteaders about the fundamentals and convenience of DIY canning for years. She is proud to be teaching the same basic steps to canning that were understood by past generations to best build our home food supply, while creating an emphasis on safety and sanitation. If interested in canning and building your food supply, check out her course!