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. 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 Sharp, strong-bladed knife
Just as you may be sowing seeds of Florence fennel in the garden you might also be harvesting the last of your autumn-sown crop. Fennel bulbs can be harvested once they have swollen and are anything from the size of your average mandarin to a large, juicy mango. Generally spring-sown fennel produces the fattest bulbs and autumn sown fennel produces a slightly leaner crop. Simply cut across the base of your bulb and leave the ‘stool’ or bottom part in the ground to re-grow more bulbs from side-shoots. Trim the foliage back – the green stems are normally too tough to eat, it’s the swollen white base that has the crisp and delicious flesh. We always let one or two of our plants elongate their stems to form flowers and then set seed that we dry for cooking and baking. The seeds are quite a tasty chew on their own - rather sweet and aniseedy – kids love them.more
equipment Knife for cutting at base
In the third spring after planting you can start harvesting delicious, fresh asparagus. As your plants will still be young you should try to take only a few spears from any one plant in this first year of harvesting. When spears are about a palm to a full hand’s length above ground cut them carefully about a finger’s length below ground with a sharp serrated knife. Try not to make any sweeping movements with the blade underground or you may sever or damage other shoots that are on their way up. The first harvest should be kept to a 4 week period. Remaining shoots should be allowed to mature as before. In subsequent years all shoots can be harvested during a 6 week period. You can expect between 15 and 20 shoots per plant. After this harvest period any subsequent shoots should be allowed to mature, as before, to nourish the crowns below ground. Keep beds weed free at all times and feed heavily with rotted compost and fresh seaweed every autumn.more
equipment Secateurs or a sharp, a serrated knife with a firm blade.
With globe artichokes, harvest is all about timing. The edible part of a globe artichoke is the ‘unopened’ flower bud in its immature form before it bursts into striking purple flower. Usually this means harvesting when buds are tight and about the size of a clenched fist. With regular harvesting, plants will usually continue to produce flowers for about 8 or so weeks. Start with the top or ‘terminal’ bud, once this has been taken it will stimulate plants to produce lots of side shoots and buds. Using secateurs, or a sharp serrated knife cut each flower bud about a thumb’s length below the head and eat as soon as possible. The heads are boiled in acidulated water (water with vinegar or lemon juice added to it to stop the artichoke from turning a muddy brown) for around 30 minutes or until an outer leaflet comes away from the head with only marginal resistance.more
This is a twist on a classic but you will find the verjus definitely has a real affinity with the asparagus, a spring classic.
My favourite way to enjoy these is on a blanket in the sunshine fresh out of the pot and dipped in some butter – with a glass of white wine.