The second week of September is a time of harvest in the vegetable garden.
Gardeners in Western Washington had a bumper crop of tomatoes, squash, beans and herbs this summer and local food banks have been welcoming the bounty. It is best to call before dropping off perishable products at local food banks to make sure they are not overwhelmed with too much produce.
Be kind and deliver fruit and vegetables that are clean and not rotted or overripe. Here are the most asked questions about when to harvest:
Q. I grew acorn squash for the first time. How do I know when they are ripe?
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A. Winter squash like acorn squash and pumpkins have the sweetest flesh when fully mature. Look for a rind or skin that is very hard and no longer with any shine. Use your fingernail to scratch the skin — it should be so hard that you cannot puncture the skin, but leaving a scratch is okay. To store squash, cut it from the vine and place in a warm, dry place for 10 days. Once it is cured or dried in this way the squash can be stored in a cool dry spot all winter without rotting. This is why our ancestors called them winter squash — they provided nourishment all winter long.
Q. How does one know when corn is ripe for the best corn on the cob?
A. The silks or tassels on the end of the corn ears should be brown but not dry yet and the husks still green. Open an ear and puncture a kernel with your fingernail – the liquid should look like milk. If it is clear it needs more time. If it is thick and yellow the corn is too ripe as the sugar has started to turn into starch.
Q. When are eggplants ripe?
A. When it comes to eggplants, it is all about the shine. The skin needs to have a sheen to it. The size and color of the eggplant does not indicate the ripeness – letting the eggplant stay too long on the plant will allow the seeds to turn bitter and then the flesh loses flavor. If the eggplant skin becomes dull then you waited too long and missed that bright and shining moment of peak harvest time.
Q. Why are my cucumbers bitter?
A. Perhaps you waited too long to harvest. Cucumbers are best when the skin is green, glossy and still firm. Bigger cucumbers are often older and bitter from the hard knocks of a longer life. Pickling cucumbers may not have smooth skin as some varieties come with prickles. Pay attention to the mature size listed on the seed pack as different varieties ripen at different times and grow to different sizes.
Q. I pulled up my carrots and most have forks and twists. What happened?
A. Crooked carrots mean rocky or lumpy soil. The carrot roots are just taking a detour around an obstacle. Next spring work the soil well or grow carrots in soil that has been amended with sand and drains well. You can still enjoy your creative-looking carrots as the shape does not affect the taste or nutrition. Another option is to grow carrots in a large container filled with loose, stone-free soil.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.
If you go
Step-by-Step Landscape Redesign with Marianne Binetti
What: You will take home a plan for your garden. Bring a photo or diagram of your landscape to help Marianne make specific recommendations for your garden. Enter to win door prizes. Seating is limited.
When: 10 a.m.-noon Sept. 17.
Where: Point Defiance Pagoda, 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma.
Admission: $20, includes light refreshments.
Supporting: The Point Defiance Flower & Garden Show.
Information: metroparkstacoma.org/fallgardenfest or 253-305-1000.