You’ve sweated and strained to get your garden the way you want it. A lot of time, effort and money was invested in getting your garden into the ground, and now it’s time for a harvest hoedown. Read on for some harvesting tips, and what to do when you find you have more produce than you can possibly eat fresh.

Harvesting Tips & Tricks

Some plants can be harvested slowly over time. Leafy greens can be plucked and eaten while still allowing the rest of the plant to continue growing—in fact, even when a head of lettuce is sheared off, the roots of the plant will grow another head. The same goes for harvesting tomatoes, peas and cucumbers.

Use scissors to harvest without disturbing the plant’s roots. Also, rather than harvesting with a bowl or basket, use a colander so you can rinse your produce with the hose before you even get it into the kitchen sink. Harvesting in the early morning is a good idea, before the plant has had a chance to dry out during the day.

Many plants benefit from frequent harvesting, as it will prompt them to continue putting out blossoms during the growing season. The exception is plants like winter squash, which only produce one harvest. With winter squash, cut late blossoms to ensure the plant focuses all of its energy on growing the already-established squashes. This may apply to many of your plants towards the end of your growing season if you live in an area with a shorter growing season.

Carrots can be harvested as you want them, and overwintering your carrots in the ground will make them taste sweeter if you have any left over. Determining the optimal harvest time of your favorites can help you enjoy the best harvest.

Preserving the Harvest

There’s nothing better than enjoying fresh produce you have just picked from your garden. But what if you have too much to enjoy fresh? That’s where options like canning, freezing, drying, storing and donating come into play.

Canning has seen a revival in recent years as more people try to avoid processed foods. There are many canning recipes out there, but keep in mind that instructions need to be followed exactly.

Freezing is a great option for those who don’t have the time or interest in canning. There are plenty of recipes that focus on getting the best taste out of your fresh harvest for months to come. For example, herbs can be frozen in ice cubes to add to soups and stews throughout the winter.

While canning and freezing are good ways to preserve some fruits and veggies, drying or curing might work better for some crops. For example, winter squash can be cured so it lasts weeks longer than if it had not been cured. Once your squashes are ready to harvest, wash the skins with a mild bleach solution and allow them to dry in a warm place. Apples can be dried to last well into the winter.

Dried herbs also last a long time. Beans you plan on using for soups can be dried right on the vine. A root cellar is an excellent place to store tubers like potatoes and other parts of your harvest. More out-of-the-box ways to preserve your harvest include making fruit jerky, fruit roll-ups and other non-traditional treats.

Donating is another option for backyard gardeners. In some communities, fresh produce can be donated to food banks, food pantries and other organizations. It is a good way to give back to your community and help someone in need at the same time.

Many people garden as a way of relieving stress and communing with nature, but the final product, whether it be blooms or veggies, is the ultimate goal. The tips in this article should help you maximize your harvest, and once you’ve got the harvesting part figured out, it’s time to decide how to use your fresh goodies. Experiment with what works best for what you grow and how you like to enjoy your produce.