It is Thanksgiving weekend. Do you know where your veggies are? More to the point, do you know where they came from?
As you prepare your table for a gathering this weekend, be aware of what you might find in your garden. There are many plants producing fruits to beat the band this time of year. If you can’t find them in your own yard, you will find many of them at your local farmer’s market.
Here are our tips for the freshest and healthiest selections:
Apples. If you grow them, pick them. Otherwise they will rot on the ground or while hanging on the tree. You have waited all year for this, don’t miss it. Our favourite varieties include Cortland and Wealthy. Both are great eating apples that keep for a moderate length of time.
It is still early for Spy’s, the best cooking apple, but most other varieties are ready for picking and eating.
Squash. In our opinion, the appeal of winter squash increases by the amount of brown sugar it is cooked with. Acorn and Hubbard squash, among others, keep very well in a cool, dark place. The price is low this time of year, so stock up.
Summer squash, like zucchini and marrow, are soft skinned and do not store well. Refrigerate.
Garlic. The new crop “came in” about two months ago, but it is still very much “fresh”. If you buy it from a farmer, obtain more than you need and plant out some cloves now, the tear-drop shaped segments that compose the garlic bulb. Space them about 15 cm apart in rows about 70 cm apart. Preserve fresh garlic in a cool, dark, well ventilated room.
Onions. Onions are ready to pull when the tops collapse. After that, harvest at will but don’t leave them in the ground too long, especially if we have a wet fall, or they will rot.
Potatoes. We dig all of ours before the frost arrives. The longer you leave them in the ground, the more susceptible they are to scab and blight. Once dug, leave some dirt on them. Let them “cure” in the sunshine for a day or so and then place them in a cool, dark place until you can use them. Darkness is important otherwise they will turn green, bitter and mildly poisonous.
Carrots and Parsnips. If you have carrots or parsnips in your garden, pull only what you need and leave the rest in the ground until you are ready for them. Carrots eaten fresh are a joy of the Canadian garden. As evening temperatures drop, natural sugars are concentrated in the root and taste is enhanced for both parsnips and carrots.
If you buy carrots fresh be sure that the green, feathery tops are intact. This ensures freshness much longer.
Beans and peas. Pick them as they become ready in your garden. Both peas and beans can become overripe in a day while on the plant. Once you have picked them, refrigerate them to keep them longer. Note that peas are somewhat frost hardy while beans are very frost sensitive. If there is a frost warning in your area, pick your beans.
Lettuce, arugula and Mesclun mix. Cooler temperatures and shorter days slow the growth of most plants. With lettuce, arugula and mesclun mix this can be a good thing. Pick what you need, when you need it.
Frost damage. It is impossible to know when a killing frost of about minus four Celsius will occur in your area. Keep a keen eye out for it and when frost is called for, cover your tender veggies with a row cover, a white spun-polyester material that insulates the plant up to eight degrees below Celsius.
Whether you are browsing the rows of your own veggie garden or the aisles of a local market, the bounty of our rich land provides much for us to be thankful for.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.