Urban food gardening, part 5: harvest time

Pumpkins in the rain. The harvest of my imagination.

Is November still considered “harvest time”? My North American upbringing has me associating the harvest with late August to October, with the requisite pumpkins, apples, golden sunlight (when it’s not raining), and random haystacks. An unidentified farm vehicle and a scarecrow complete the vignette. Of course, as an urbanite I don’t typically come across haystacks and threshers (I know these exist, but doubt I would recognize one) yet the mental picture is a reflex, a product of culture.

The garden at 90 days, in late October.

The restrictive notion of harvest as a particular season or time of year is much more of a romantic notion than a real one. Of course the pumpkins really are ready to pick in October, but the amount of harvesting done year round in a place like Vancouver makes every season a potential harvest season. My own urban agricultural exploits had me sowing seed in late July, so my harvest is necessarily a later one. In fact, some of it is so late it’s actually early—for 2011, that is. July was the perfect time to plant overwintering onions.

Mescluns, Cimmaron romaine, and Grand Rapids leaf lettuce are still going strong.

Despite the late start, I’ve been harvesting for some time now. I’ve been picking greens since the end of August with the cut-and-come-again technique that takes individual leaves and keeps the plant growing new ones continuously. More than any other food I had wanted to grow lettuce, and the endeavour has been a satisfying one. Growing a couple of varieties and mescluns isn’t difficult, but the sheer fact of harvesting these greens on a weekly basis for most of the last three months has given me such a feeling of accomplishment. Oh Cimmaron romaine, how you empower me!

Giant radishes inspire confidence and raise eyebrows.

Growing radish was likewise gratifying. Such speedy plants, radishes are impressive for their ability to produce a root vegetable in record time. Harvesting these hulking specimens felt like “harvest” in that sense of pulling up an entire crop at once. Kale and Swiss chard are currently being harvested in batches: not as prolific as the lettuces, these greens (though the kale is also purple and the chard is also yellow) take longer to reach maturity but can be harvested leaf-by-leaf if desired.

Lovely golden-yellow Eldorado Swiss chard.

Just coming out of the ground are the carrots. I’ve been pulling one every two weeks or so to check their progress (they’re on time, but I’m impatient) and the early specimens were sweet tasting and—no lie— carrot-shaped. After reading so much about the difficulty of growing a good, straight carrot I’m wondering if I just got lucky or if I have the magic carrot touch. Though I’m quite sure it’s the former, I feel a bit cocky and anticipate a larger planting next year.

Early carrots, Prodigy (left) and Bolero (right, planted 30 days later).

There’s still more in the ground. Depending on the weather, or when I need it, this time of harvest could extend into winter. Time to readjust my mental picture of harvest to include leeks, spinach, and snow tires.

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