Once the summer season winds down, it is time to reap the benefits of your harvest. Vegetables are always best when picked early in the morning. They are more hydrated and crisp than later in the afternoon. This is particularly important for lettuces and other leafy crops. To retain optimal flavor, store your vegetables in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use.
Remember to stagger harvesting. Vegetables, in particular peas and corn, lose their sweetness if not used immediately. If you have taken the time and trouble to grow them, make sure they are fresh when eaten.
Many vegetables can be eaten at different stages of development. Summer squash can be harvested from infant stages (with blossoms intact) to large specimens. If they get too large, they will be tough. A good rule of thumb is: the more you pick, the more growth you encourage, the more you will harvest.
It is always possible to get a late-season crop in the vegetable garden. Timing is important. Read the seed packet for the days to maturity and count backwards from the first frost date in your area. Remember that the fall is cooler so everything grows more slowly. Your vegetables will be a little smaller, but small means tender. In some cases of cool weather, add a week to 10 days to your count.
Lettuces and other leafy crops can be planted several weeks apart in the spring. When the heat of the summer kicks in, these vegetables generally slow down or start to bolt. Planting them in slightly shady areas is one way of keeping them cool. An alternative is to wait until the middle or end of August to sow a late-season harvest.
"Cole crops" (cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and broccoli) can withstand a light frost. They grow well in the fall and can be planted as a second crop either from seed or transplanted in July to late August. By the time these vegetables are maturing, it is nice and cool.
Turnips and beets make superb late-season crops. They are tender when young. Young beet greens are delicious in a salad or steamed. In mid- to late July, a second crop of zucchini, summer squash and early maturing cucumbers can be started from seed.
Bush beans are best when harvested young. They will continue to produce more beans but will eventually exhaust themselves. Pull them out in late July and you will have enough time for a second sowing. They take about a month and a half to mature.
One of the questions that all vegetable gardeners are faced with at this time of year is "Who's eating my vegetables?" The best way to keep animals out is to build a fence. Deer are excellent jumpers, so the fence needs to be at least 8' tall. Alternatively, wire fences that are slanted at a 45-degree angle are effective in keeping deer out. They need to be 4 to 5' tall with the same depth. The double fence method - two 4' tall fences at a 4' distance - also works.
Raccoons often require electric fences to keep them away from corn. Alternatively, try surrounding your garden with squashes- animals don't like the prickly leaves. For rabbits and woodchucks, a 3 foot-high fence is sufficient. Make sure that the mesh of the wire is small (e.g., chicken wire) so that young ones can't squeeze in. Your fence will need to go underground for maximum protection. For rabbits, bury the fences three to four inches deep. For woodchucks, bury the fence 12 inches. If you leave the top of the fence unattached, it will make it difficult for a woodchuck to climb over.
Another alternative is to try some of the home remedy, hot pepper treatments. Sprinkling hot pepper, Tabasco sauce, or garlic flakes around susceptible areas weekly or bi-weekly will often do the trick. Store-bought, pepper products are available in garden centers.