Gardening Tips Weeks 29 & 30: Harvest Soon

What to do this week

Harvesting is really the point of it all. This week, I’d like to give you a few tips and tricks to make the harvest even more abundant.

To get maximum production from some crops, you have to pick them. The plant senses it is not going to be able to procreate, because you have picked its seeds, so it creates more. Bush beans and peas will often give a second, perhaps somewhat smaller crop if you keep picking the mature beans. This is especially the case if you pick them before they are “over” mature. You might even get a third harvest if you are lucky and the summer cooperates.

Beet greens. (Photo by Vegan Feast Catering, CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)

Beet greens. (Photo by Vegan Feast Catering, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

You have to have a different strategy if you want to save bean seed. When I started out, I once picked all of the first crop, thinking to use the second for seed, but you are taking a chance that the plants will have enough summer for that second crop to mature properly. That year they didn’t. That said, you can’t leave the first crop to fully mature until almost dried, trusting you’ll pick the second crop as fresh beans, because once the plant achieves that fully mature crop it thinks it has done its job and stops producing.

This is not so much the case for pole beans, but it is a danger for bush beans. Pole beans tend to produce beans over a longer period of time than bush beans do. They are less likely to stop producing if you leave them to mature, although they will to a certain extent. Compared to bush beans, they can be enjoyed —  and saved — with a little less worry about the summer ending abruptly.

So, you have to decide what you want from your bush bean plants. If you want fresh beans, you can keep picking them as they are ready, and the plant will keep producing. If you want seed, or even mature, dry beans for winter, it might be best to let the beans mature on the plant. One never knows, even with a heat wave in July and early August, how long the summer will last. If you want to experiment with winter beans, or seed saving, you can always plant a little extra next year so you will have a few plants, or a row, to leave while you enjoy the rest.

The other thing that you want to keep picking is, of course, the zucchini. I like to pick zucchini when it is quite small, so small that perhaps the flower has just wilted. I find it more delicious at that size. The plant will keep producing but you may find that it slows down a bit once it has produced a few the size of little torpedoes. Some people make stuffed squash from the bigger ones, and you will eventually find you have a few bigger ones no matter what you do, but picking them smaller will help keep them in check.

Swiss chard can also be picked, just the big, outer leaves. It will keep producing until the frost gets it. Kale will also keep producing, and it is undeterred by frost. You can pick kale until you can’t find it under the snow.

Beets require you to make another decision. You won’t get a repetitive picking of beet greens and still end up with big beet root. The leaves are needed to feed the root and the plant will put its effort toward growing more leaves if you keep picking them. Some varieties of beets are bred for their greens, and others more for their root. Bull’s Blood is one that produces a deep, burgundy leaf much sought after for salads. If you enjoy the greens more than the root, make a note of that for seed-selection time next spring.

Basil leaves. (Photo by Paul Goyette CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Basil leaves. (Photo by Paul GoyetteCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Another thing you want to pick is your basil. Pinch off the tips before they develop flower. Take the terminal buds down to a joint where you have two big leaves that have new growth just starting to poke out where the big leaf joins the main stem. Take those two big leaves too. That way the plant will keep branching and become more productive. I do this every two weeks, with a rather drastic pick. I also apply fish fertilizer with that frequency, to boost the plant to grow out again.

It is a bit early to pull onions, although you might be stealing one here and there to use as a green onion. It is a shame though, as they will grow much bigger bulbs if you let them be. If you can, wait until the greens start to flop over, and the neck starts to dry and shrivel up, so that bacteria doesn’t get into the bulb during storage.

If your potatoes are growing well, they may be developed enough for you to pluck out a few for a special treat. You must be careful not to damage the root system too much, but a few new potatoes will not be missed by the plant.

While you are out there, check your garlic. I think it is a bit too early still, but you never know. Wait until the plant is two-thirds yellow, leaves and stalk. If you wait too long it can be difficult to pull up without leaving some in the ground. The stalk will break off if it is too dry, leaving the bulb below. Your garlic might not be ready yet, but there is a good chance it will be before our next column, so keep an eye on it.

Featured image: Der Sommer by Abel Grimmer, 1607. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)


Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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