By: Amy Grant
There are many types of leafy greens available, so it’s no excuse to say you don’t like greens. All of them are easy to grow, rich in nutrients (although some more than others) and some can be eaten both fresh and cooked. Read on if you’re interested in learning how and when to harvest garden greens.
When to Harvest Garden Greens
Most leafy greens take very little time to mature and can be eaten at most any stage of their development. They can be harvested whenever there is enough of the crop to make it worthwhile picking.
Most greens are cool season veggies that are planted in the spring for an early summer harvest. Some of them, like spinach, can be planted again late in the summer for a fall harvest as well. Kale can be picked even later. Imagine, picking fresh leafy greens until the first hard frost!
A leafy green harvest of vegetables that are usually eaten uncooked in salads can be picked early in the spring when leaves are young and tender or the gardener can wait a bit until leaves are more mature. Other crops,such as Swiss chard, tolerate warm summer temperatures. This means that picking this leafy green can continue from July all the way through October!
How to Harvest Greens
A leafy green harvest may consist of different types of lettuce, kale, cabbage, beet greens or collards. Leafy green lettuces can be picked as micro-greens when the leaves are tiny. They will be milder in flavor than when the leaves are mature but simply delicious.
As the leaves mature, the larger outer leaves can be picked off leaving the majority of the plant in the earth unscathed to continue to grow. The same method can be used on other greens such as kale.
In the case of cabbage, wait to pick until the head is firm, and the same goes for head type lettuce. Beet greens can be picked when the root is mature and eaten, or picked when the root is very tiny, as when thinning the beets. Don’t throw out the thinnings! You can eat them too.
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Fast-growing leafy greens
I want to keep harvesting fresh vegetables in late summer and fall too, so it's time to start adding some fast-growing leafy greens to the mix! Hopefully, it won't get much colder than this in the near future. One potential problem with planting in summer is that the plants might dry out if we don't make sure to water properly. We should be fine as long as we get a little rain now and then though!
After harvesting the garlic, I just even out the soil and add two watering cans of comfrey tea fertilizer to give the soil an extra boost.
I made the bed with grass sod I turned upside down, and then added a layer of grass clippings on top. Then I just flattened the soil a little after harvesting the garlic.
I'm going to fertilize my fast-growing leafy greens with comfrey tea.
I'm putting a nice mix of vegetables in this bed. Parsley, a few lettuce varieties, kohlrabi, beets (grown for the leaves), chicory and bok choy. I also broadcast-sow lamb's lettuce between the plants, to really utilize the entire space.
Read more: 10 Cabbage varieties and how to use them
Equipment and Storage Safety
After cooling with water, place leafy greens in a refrigerator to maintain a temperature of 32 to 36 F. The refrigeration unit should be kept clean. Do not store leafy greens in a closed container with other fruits or vegetables that produce ethylene gas as they ripen, such as apples, tomatoes, bananas, mangoes, onions and pears. High humidity (90 to 95%) needs to be maintained to minimize wilting, but avoid direct contact with standing water, which can serve as a source of cross-contamination. Clean moist (not soggy) paper towels can provide sufficient moisture if coolers are not equipped with humidifiers.
Harvesting equipment should be inspected daily during use. Make certain all knives, scythes, harvesting containers, etc. are properly cleaned and sanitized before use. That means washing in hot soapy water, rinsing thoroughly and dipping in a bleach solution of 100 ppm (1 tablespoon of bleach per two gallons of water) for 10 seconds and air-dried. Or, use a dishwasher to adequately clean and sanitize. Larger containers must be cleaned with hot soapy water, thoroughly rinsed then sprayed with a sanitizing solution and air-dried. All containers and harvesting equipment must be stored in a manner that will not contaminate the equipment. Have a system in place to maintain and monitor harvesting equipment. Consider the equipment used in harvesting fruits and vegetables to meet the same sanitation standards to safely prepare food in the home or restaurant.
Containers used in harvesting leafy greens and other produce should be labeled clearly for their purpose. This will not only reduce the risk for contamination by pathogens but chemicals as well. If you have several people working on your farm, communicating the risk factors and how to address these through best practices will improve morale in your growing operation as well as establish a culture of food safety.
Those harvesting the produce need to be certain they are not wearing clothing and shoes that contribute to cross contamination. For example, shoes and boots should be dedicated to working in the garden, not in areas where livestock are located. Workers need to always wash their hands before harvesting. Clothing should be clean. And if workers are sick, particularly with diarrhea and/or vomiting they should not be handling produce, or clean containers and utensils. The risks of contaminated food by workers with a foodborne illness is critical at every step of the food delivery system from growing, harvesting, marketing, and preparing and serving.
At the Market
At the market, use tongs or disposable gloves if bagging leafy greens for customers and avoid setups that allow customers’ hands to touch raw produce. Vendors also need to develop systems so they don’t directly touch produce after handling credit cards or money, which are often contaminated with potential pathogens.
When harvesting, continually survey your growing operation to make certain you are implementing good agricultural practices from the field to the market.