Category Archives: Harvesting & Eating
What we’re harvesting
“The fruit derived from labor is the sweetest of pleasures.”
This quote from Luc de Clapiers perfectly sums up harvest in the Demo Garden! Our wonderful team of Extension Master Gardener volunteers has figured out how to navigate the difficult circumstances due to COVID and still have a very beautiful, productive garden. The fruits of our labor are gratifying to see and it is rewarding to pass on the fresh produce to those in need – more on this later!
So, what’s being harvested right now? Cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers galore and more! This past week in the garden, I picked a small sample to bring home and taste test.
The peppers in the garden are starting to produce exceedingly well. There are many varieties being grown in the Demo Garden, but I tried just four. Since I’m not personally a hot pepper fan, I left those varieties alone and focused on some of the sweet pepper varieties: ‘Cornito Giallo,’ ‘Ajvarski,’ ‘Mad Hatter,’ and ‘Eros.’
‘Cornito Gaillo’ is a 5” yellow orange pepper that is outstanding raw, but roasting especially brings out the sweetness of this pepper. ‘Eros,’ a mini bell pepper, was remarkably tasty. The 2” orange fruit was distinctly sweet when roasted, and had an enjoyable taste uncooked. ‘Ajvarski’ is a sweet red 5” pepper. While this traditional Macedonian roasting pepper was quite tasty when roasted, it was also particularly delicious eaten fresh. ‘Mad Hatter’ – such a fun name – is so charming to look at that it could even be grown as an ornamental plant! Who can resist its 2” uniquely shaped pepper, best picked when red. (Picked green, it was slightly disappointing in flavor.)
Horticulturally speaking, our peppers have not yet endured any pests or diseases in the garden. They have tolerated the heat well, have set an impressive amount of fruit, and are all together going strong! Not every pepper variety grows easily in Kansas, but in general, they do very well here, as evidenced by the plants in the Demo garden, and the plethora of peppers you can find at the farmers markets right now. There are SO many varieties, we could probably fill the whole Demo garden trying different kinds!
Cucumbers have produced marvelously in the garden this season. ‘Sweet Success’ is a 12” cucumber that has a nice crunch and mild taste. The seeds are so small, they are hardly detectable. ‘Summer Dance’ is a 9” variety of cucumber. The seeds are extremely small and not obvious when eating, and it also has a pleasing crunch. ‘Salt and Pepper’ is a unique white variety that turns slightly yellow the longer it is left on the vine. Normally, cucumbers that turn yellow have passed their prime and can be quite bitter and off-putting, but that’s not the case with ‘Salt and Pepper!’ Even though the seeds are noticeable in more mature, yellow fruits, the flavor remains phenomenal despite the color.
‘Salt and Pepper’ fruits are not only very tasty, but their vines have been very healthy and prolific producers this season. ‘Summer dance’ has also grown well, but I think ‘Salt and Pepper’ takes the cake. We have not had many issues growing cucumbers in the Demo garden this season; they get ample water through our irrigation system, which can sometimes be a hindrance for other growers – cucumbers are thirsty plants!
I’m not usually a big fan of eggplants, mostly because I don’t care for the soft texture, but I might change my mind after sampling ‘Orient Charm,’ an oblong purple eggplant about 5” long. There were no detectable seeds; when roasted, it had an enjoyable flavor and remained a slightly more firm than most eggplants do. ‘Annina’ is another unique eggplant currently producing very well. The variegation on the skin makes it a delight to the eyes, rivaling some flowers in its beauty! When roasted, it was soft like most eggplants are but did have a pleasing flavor. If you like the soft texture of eggplant then this variety will not fail to please.
Overall, our eggplant plants have grown very well. We had a stint of eggplant lace bugs earlier in the season, but a few rounds of forceful water sprays on the under sides of the leaves has kept the population in check. This pest usually only causes significant damage in very large numbers; the population is low enough now that there is some of the characteristic stippling on the leaves, but not enough to hamper eggplant production.
We will have an in-depth post about the tomatoes we trialed this year in the coming weeks, but I sampled a couple varieties and will share briefly about them here. ‘Chef’s Choice’ is an AAS (All-America Selections) winner that comes in a variety of colors. ‘Chef’s Choice Orange’ had great flavor with pleasant tomato tang. ‘Chef’s Choice Red’ had a bit more sweetness to it that was pure delight to the taste buds. ‘San Marzano II,’ an Italian heirloom variety, is great for canning because it doesn’t have quite the water content of the other two varieties, which is typical of a good paste tomato. I found that ‘San Marzano II’ raw was rather bland; paste tomatoes are not usually eaten raw since their flavor is enhanced with cooking.
So, what do we do with all this wonderful produce we harvest? Besides some samples that the Master Gardeners occasionally take home, the majority of our harvest is donated to a wonderful organization and community partner of the Extension Office, Common Ground Mobile Market.
The Mobile Market delivers fresh, locally grown produce to seniors in the greater Wichita area. They make eating healthy accessible to folks who otherwise might find it difficult to get to the store or afford high quality produce. We are so grateful to be able to add our harvest to their wonderful work in the community, as they are providing an incredible service during this especially difficult time. You can learn more about the work they do here: https://www.commongroundpg.com/.
Author: Maureen Wilbeck
Beans: from garden to plate
Beans are a Kansas favorite in the vegetable garden. These warm-season plants are well acclimated to our tough Kansas summers. Once planted, they grow very fast and most varieties are ready to harvest in seven to eight weeks.
In the Demo Garden, beans are starting to produce. It is best to harvest when the pods are firm and crisp, but the bean seeds are not yet bulging. If at all possible, don’t pick them in the early morning when there is dew on the plants, as blight, a common bacterial disease, can easily be spread from one plant to another via splashing water droplets. So, make sure the plant foliage is dry before harvesting.
Green beans are typically grown for their immature pods. Beans such as navy and lima beans are allowed to fully ripen and then the bean seeds are removed from the pods; these types of beans are harvested much later in the season.
On April 28th, we planted four different varieties of bush style green beans (also called snap beans) in the Demo Garden: Heavy Harvest, Tenderette, Royal Burgundy, and Tendergreen Improved.
‘Heavy Harvest’ is a 53-day bean. This medium green-colored bean is also slender and grows about five inches long. So far, it is not living up to its namesake in that it has only yielded a small amount of beans so far.
‘Tenderette’ is a 58-day variety of bean. It also grows about five inches long and is slender. It is medium green in color. As with Heavy Harvest, this too only had a few ready to be picked.
‘Royal Burgundy’ is a 55-day variety that generally grows about five inches long. It is a slender bean with a deep purple coloring that is very beautiful and makes it very easy to see against the green foliage. Again, there were only a handful of beans to be found, but we are hopeful that with a little more time, they will start producing more.
‘Tendergreen Improved’ is a 52-day variety. The coloring, although still green, had a bit of a lighter, yellowish undertone compared to the other green beans. These beans are a little longer, growing up to six inches in length and is also plumper than the other varieties. The thing that is most impressive about Tendergreen so far is the yield. While it makes sense that there are more harvestable beans of this variety right now because its “days to maturity” (DTM) is shorter, this variety is still likely to out-produce the other varieties – but we will keep you updated!
So how do they cook up? Using a quick, identical technique on each variety, we tested them “tender-crisp” style. After the ends were trimmed, a ¼ cup water was added to a skillet along with the beans and cooked covered for three minutes. Then the cover was removed to allow the water to fully evaporate. A touch of butter was then added to each.
My personal favorite is the Tendergreen Improved. It was the most tender of the four varieties tested as well as the most prolific producer. Tenderette and Heavy Harvest where just slightly tougher than Tendergreen. Although the most unique to look at, the Royal Burgundy was the toughest of all the varieties, but interestingly, it turns from purple to green when cooked.
One final note: there was some significant stippling on the leaves of the beans, which is an indicator of spider mites. Spider mites are tiny, barely visible spider-relatives that suck juice from the underside of leaves and are common during hot, dry weather.
As a first defense against this garden pest, after harvesting the beans, we used the garden hose with a jet spray setting and shot the underside of the leaves with as much coverage as possible, and we plan to repeat this process a few times a week. Hopefully these pesky critters won’t ruin the harvest!
Click here to learn more about growing beans or spider mites.
By: Maureen Wilbeck, Master Gardener
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Broccoli is one of those vegetables that can be a little bit “hit or miss” in Kansas, especially in the spring. The cool parts of the growing season, spring and fall both, can sometimes be too short and too erratic to have great broccoli. Over the years we have tried several kinds of broccoli, some that performed well and others not so much.
This year, we chose to plant ‘Burgundy,’ a variety of purple sprouting broccoli. Sprouting broccoli is selected for high quality, uniform, and prolific side shoots. Many older “heading type” broccoli varieties would produce some side shoots, newer varieties not as much. Sprouting broccoli is designed to have the center “head” shoot pinched out at a small size to encourage more side shoots.
We started these plants from seed in mid-February and transplanted them into the garden on March 17th. They are supposed to take about 37 days from transplant to maturity…but the weather was definitely not helpful on that front this year. About a week ago, the plants were showing the development of the center shoot. (About 60 days after transplanting – thanks, cold snaps!)
I snipped out the center stalk, and you can already see the side shoots starting to grow.
This is what the shoots are looking like now. I love the purple color! So often with purple vegetables, the color is disappointing, but this is beautiful. It is important to note that the color will fade to a beautiful dark green once it is cooked.
From a flavor standpoint, this broccoli is strong. The little bit that I have nibbled on, it has a very strong mustard flavor. Most homegrown broccoli is that way, and once it is cooked, it has great flavor – but it is not the mild and water flavor you maybe have come to expect from even fresh grocery store broccoli.
The idea with the side shoots is that they should continue to develop and be produced until it gets too hot, potentially having a higher yield for a single plant than with a heading type.
If you wanted to give this plant a try (and you can find the seeds available!), you should start the seeds indoors in mid- to late June, then transplant outside in late July. With some luck and decent weather, you should have some awesome broccoli sometime in September!
June & July in the SNAP-Ed Garden
We have had some very successful harvests from our SNAP-Ed garden in the past two months! Our tomato cages made from tree branches and twine seemed to hold up for our giant Juliet tomato plant, which was a big producer!
We also had a good turn out from our zucchini, regardless of a squash bug appearance. Our SNAP-Ed educator was able to use the zucchini for multiple of her nutrition classes making zucchini bread, and cooking with the high schoolers making a pasta with zucchini in it!
Our other varieties of tomatoes are coming in quite nicely as well! Green beans and cucumbers were successful this growing season. Our peppers were wonderful, garden salsa peppers, big bertha peppers and carmen peppers were among the few that we have harvested so far!
We found this guy and had him make it out alive! 🙂
As mentioned in our previous post about the SNAP-Ed garden, we have been weighing all the produce after each harvest and comparing it to grocery store prices. Below is how much you would be paying at the grocery store for how much produce we’ve grown so far:
Green Beans – 3 lb 11.8 oz – worth $6.63
Zucchini – 11 total – 10 lb 6.3 oz – worth $15.48
Juliet Tomato – 135 total – 8 lb 15.4 oz – worth $31.70
Big Bertha Pepper – 11 total – 2 lb 3.8 oz – worth $10.89
Garden Salsa Pepper – 20 total – 15.2 oz – worth $1.90
Phoenix Tomato – 11 total – 4 lb 4.6 oz – worth $6.44
Marconi Pepper – 1 total – 3.2 oz – worth $0.99
Carmen Pepper – 1 total – 2.2 oz – worth $1.79
Solar Fire Tomato – 8 total – 3lb 4.9 oz – worth $4.96
Bush Goliath Tomato – 5 total – 1 lb 9.0 oz – worth $2.35
Cucumbers – 15 total – 10 lb 5.8 oz – worth $10.35
Oregano – 4.7 oz – worth $17.80
Thai Basil – 10.9 oz – worth $41.28
Sweet Basil – 4.2 oz – worth $15.91
Parsley – 4.7 oz – worth $2.79
Year To Date: $249.44
This bowl of blackberries represents the importance of horticulture. The importance to our families, our communities, and our state.
On the surface, we might sometimes be tempted to boil down our impact as horticulturists to something like the following statement:
“Through educational programming, this family learned the appropriate fertilization and pest management practices to grow blackberries in Kansas, resulting in an increased yield and higher productivity.”
That’s great. But does it tell the whole story? I would argue that it doesn’t remotely touch on the whole story.
This bowl of blackberries is from a variety that was bred and selected for heat tolerance and thrives in our Kansas climate. It represents a wide range of trees, flowers, grasses, fruit, and vegetables that have been developed for the harsh climate we live in. We may live on the prairie, but there is still a value to our community in having beautiful green spaces, safe athletic fields, shade, and healthy produce. We shouldn’t have to move to Oregon, Michigan, or Maine to enjoy these things. Even knowing that water quantity and quality is a current and future concern, we can still find a way to have a green world around us through a commitment to horticulture science and research. A commitment to these things helps keep young families in our community, adds value to our properties and landscapes, and makes this a better place to live. This is community vitality.
This bowl of blackberries is about $50 worth of fruit. (Probably another $10 worth was already eaten!) That is $50 that I do not have to spend on groceries this week, which I can save for another purpose or use to buy higher quality food. It represents family resource management and nutrition.
This bowl of blackberries is a healthy snack for my kids that enables them to eat fruit when they want it, rather than having it portioned out or eating crackers for snacks. We are supposed to make half our plate fruits and veggies – we are well on our way at this point! It represents health and nutrition, as well as healthy habits that are for a lifetime.
This bowl of blackberries represents learning by doing, an appreciation for our food system, and how food is grown. My kids learn practical skills like watering and harvesting, but also that some bugs are good for our garden – that we should protect and care for them. They learn about the circle of life, that actions have consequences and sometimes bad things happen – with a dead bird in the netting covering the fruit.
This bowl of blackberries teaches my children about family time and relationships. We work together to reach a goal and learn about patience and persistence. This is part of our family culture.
This bowl of blackberries teaches my kids about community service and giving back. That our bounty is to be shared with neighbors and friends. It is part of being in a community and in relationship. These are some of the key 4-H life skills.
For those that lack a green thumb, this bowl of blackberries represents a local farm that they can visit with their family to still gain some of the same benefits of growing the fruit themselves, while supporting our local economy in a way where the money will benefit another family business and be reinvested in our community. This is part of global food systems and community vitality.
These blackberries were grown in my backyard, but they could have been grown at a school, in a community garden, or on a local farm. The value and impact of just this one “act of horticulture” can have wide-ranging and diverse benefits to a family, a community, and our state.
Underpinning it all is the basic science of horticulture, explored and taught by horticulture scientists, researchers, and educators for decades as part of the land grant mission at state universities across the country. While yield, productivity, and resource conservation are important, they aren’t the whole story and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t share the bigger story of why horticulture.