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Kip Anderson
Gardener Kip Anderson

October: How-tos for Harvesting

During the busy harvesting month of October, Kip gives tips on how to reap and store garden produce for future use
by Kip Anderson

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: The greatest bounty from the vegetable garden should be reaped in autumn — the fall harvest ought to be a grand finale, not a mere afterthought. The obvious reason for this is that winter looms ahead, and there is nothing like a well-stocked larder to help you get through it.

Here in New England, October spells the end of all those crops enjoyed through the summer — snap beans, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and so forth — and I trust you have already put by ample quantities of same, either by canning, freezing, drying or pickling. So now it is time to take inventory of the fall crops busting out the seams of the vegetable plot.

Winter squash should be cut from the vine and brought indoors before frost hits. If wiped with a mild Clorox solution and stored in a cool (not cold) place, it should keep deep into the winter.

The large white Asian radishes, such as lo bok and daikon, are sown about six weeks before first frost. They will keep for months if wrapped in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. Simply scrubbed and sliced, they make a splendid occasional accompaniment for the main meal — pungent finger food.

Potatoes should be dug before the ground temperature falls below 40°F, or else the potato starch will turn to sugar, which ruins the flavor and texture. Store them in pitch darkness, at high humidity, with a temperature from 40°F to 45°F.

Fall broccoli is sown from seed about July 1, or 90 days before the first frost. Harvest the main heads as they size up, and continue picking the side shoots for the next month or so, as long as the plant keeps producing them.

If you are growing cabbage for long-term storage, it can be uprooted before hard freezes hit, placed upside-down in a trench about one foot deep, and mulched heavily, enough to cover the projecting roots. I have harvested cabbage stored this way as late as St. Patrick's Day in March of the following year — yes, for the traditional corned beef and cabbage.

Kale and collard greens should be left in the field until they have gone through a month of cool nights — and several hard frosts, which mellows and sweetens them — but they should be harvested, then blanched, bagged, and put in the freezer before the dry freezing winds of late fall arrive.

Salad greens such as lettuce and chicory can be held in the garden until Thanksgiving Day if they are protected from freezing. I usually cover the plants with multiple layers of row cover and bring quilts out to the garden when temperatures in the lower 20s are expected. We sow our last lettuce in mid-August; it matures in October and simply holds steady in the subsequent cool weather.

Most carrots require several weeks of cool weather to develop optimal sweetness. They should be harvested before the ground freezes. The best way to store carrots is to imbed them in damp sand inside a pit dug into the ground. Leave at least six inches of air space above the last layer of carrots and sand, and insulate heavily with straw. Place a piece of plywood over the pit to prevent snow from turning the insulation to a mat of ice. This method of storage also works fine for beets.

This list of late crops is by no means exhaustive, but I think you get the idea. This coming winter, plan your own fall harvest for next year — no more excuses!

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published August 31, 2007