Growing your own fruit, herbs and vegetables ensures that they’ll be at their very best when it comes to eating them moments after they have been picked or dug up. Flavour, texture and nutritional value are all at their peak when produce is fresh-picked or harvested. Generally it works out that you can leave your food plants growing until you need to take produce from them – this guarantees that all-important freshness. Knowing how much you will need for any one meal prevents any waste and allows you to plan what you’ll do with your harvest. There are many vegetables – like carrots, beetroot, leeks and parsnips that store well in the ground. Others such as pumpkins and potatoes can be stored for months indoors with the right handling. Apples, garlic and onions too have a good ‘shelf life’. Some harvests are a more of a glut and a time for feasting – grapes, avocados, feijoas and asparagus are all delicious fresh. However, with the right recipes even these fresh treats can be transformed into a resourceful long- term food store by freezing, preserving and pickling. The most important thing of all is knowing when plants and produce are ready and how best to harvest them.
equipment Secateurs or strong scissors
Lemons can usually be harvested year round depending on varieties grown. Plants often have flowers and ripening fruit on them at the same time. The main harvest is between June and November, fruit are ripe when they turn from green to yellow and soften slightly. Fruit do not ripen off the tree so wait till they dislodge with a gentle twist. You can snip them with secateurs if you are sure they are ready. Fallen lemons don’t last long so use them straightaway.more
equipment Bare hands and knife
When the first flower heads show you can cut them after they have reached fist size or larger. Don’t think the game is over when you cut your first head because the side shoots beneath will then go on to generate further deliciously sweet, peppery shoots - ensuring continuous production (a tip is to cut the heads on a slant so that the exposed stem doesn’t collect water and begin to rot). If you are growing sprouting broccoli then it’s a different game all together. As soon as you see the first flower spike in the centre of your plant pick it out. This will generate the huge number of side-shoots that produce a rolling harvest of succulent spears for many weeks – as long as you keep picking them.more
equipment Hands, scissors or a sharp knife with a firm blade.
You can use Mizuna in one of four different ways: Cut and come again – this means you cut all foliage down to an inch or so from the ground and then wait whilst the plant regenerates in the coming weeks before repeating. Plants need to be thinned to a spacing of about a finger’s length between each other. Young plants can be harvested when small to be added whole to recipes. Grab a leaf and run – plants are grown for regular harvesting of young, outer leaves whilst the centre of the plant remains un-touched. Plants need to be spaced about two full finger-lengths apart from each other. Mizuna that is grown to be harvested as an entire plant when fully in its prime will appreciate a bit more space. Give seedlings a spacing of around a hands’ length from each other. Once picked mizuna will keep for up to five days in the fridge but the idea of growing it yourself is that you only pick it when you need it so you can eat it super fresh.more
Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables and if you plant in the early autumn, you should have a steady supply over the winter. This is a great accompaniment to slow cooked meats or just a general side dish. Fennel has a beautiful, gentle aniseed flavour. Its versatility means it can be eaten cooked or raw and is easy to grow.
Cavolo nero (black cabbage) is easy to grow, tastes wonderful and looks beautiful in the garden. It is a simple variety of cabbage which doesn't form a head, just leaves which you can pick individually. It belongs to the same family as kale. It originates in Tuscany. A great robust accompaniment to braised meat dishes.