By Linda Ly
When you grow your own food at home, the flavor and texture far surpass what you can buy at the store for the simple fact that commercially-grown produce is always picked before its prime. This happens for several logistical reasons, such as ease of harvesting, mode of transportation and transit time to its final destination. Sure, store-bought produce may look good, but homegrown produce actually tastes better.
To reap maximum flavor from your vegetables, try these simple tips and tricks during the growing season:
Great-tasting vegetables start with great soil.
Plants draw their nutrients from the soil, so it only makes sense that the better your soil, the better your vegetables will taste. Work a thick layer of compost (at least three inches) into the soil before you plant to stimulate beneficial microbes and earthworms, and use an organic fertilizer throughout the season to feed your plants and encourage healthy growth.
Grow vegetables in their proper season.
Vegetables generally fall within two categories: those that favor cool weather and those that need warm weather to thrive. While mild climates can usually grow a crop like Swiss chard year-round, most plants do best in their intended growing season.
Kale, for instance, prefers the cold. Though we typically think of this leafy green as bitter, its leaves actually turn sweeter when kissed with frost. On the flip side, pumpkins need to be grown in summer, both for the long days and the end-of-season curing process. Curing (a term that means leaving them out in the hot sun to fully mature after harvesting) concentrates the sugar in their flesh and increases storage life.
Make it a habit to check your garden daily.
If you grow a wide variety of crops, all of your vegetables (even different varieties of the same vegetable) will ripen at different times during the course of a season. Ensure you harvest each vegetable at peak ripeness; it’s easy to overlook a plant one day and find that the handful of tomatoes you’d eagerly been awaiting suddenly turned too mealy.
You’ll also want to harvest your leafy greens frequently to encourage more growth and delay bolting. When a plant bolts (sets flowers and then seeds), its leaves start to turn bitter as it winds down to produce the next generation of plants.
Water consistently, especially for plants that set flowers and fruit.
Plants that flower and fruit, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peas and squash, benefit the most from a consistent watering schedule. Too much water and you could drown the roots and affect fruit set. An example of this is when the skins on your tomatoes start to split from overwatering. Too little water and you may not get flowers at all or adversely affect the flavor. If you’ve ever harvested cucumbers that tasted bitter, this is likely the reason.
To ensure consistent watering, use a soaker hose at ground level to deliver even moisture at the plant roots. Apply just enough water so that the first three inches feel damp (but not water-logged) when you stick your finger in the soil.
To make the job effortless while only using the water you need, hook your hose up to a programmable timer. Set the watering time and duration, and you’re free to focus on other garden tasks. You can even leave it hooked up for the entire growing season to ensure that your vegetables are receiving the appropriate amount of water, even when you get busy.
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