Backyard vegetable garden favorites in Salt Lake City and across the U.S. include tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, and squash. But how do you know when to pick them? What happens if you harvest them too soon? Or too late? Your favorite Salt Lake City garden center, Millcreek Gardens, has some advice for you.
You can get a jump on your vegetable garden every year by starting your seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost. Your veggies will grow better if you set them under a grow light, but it isn’t strictly necessary. Any tools you use to create a greenhouse effect — clear plastic lid, plastic wrap, etc. — and some sunshine every day will help your seeds to sprout.
Starting seeds indoors gives them a bit of an advantage because they are hardier when you plant them outdoors and more likely to quickly take root and grow.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your veggies grow poorly. It could be your soil (bring some to your local cooperative extension to have it analyzed), but it also could be the weather. Many cloudy days will affect your veggies’ growth, and the growth of any outdoor plants.
Too much rain is a problem, but so is not enough rain — or even sporadic rain. Have you ever had tomatoes that were growing nicely and suddenly the skin mysteriously split open? That can happen when the plants receive large, but irregular, drinks of water, causing them to have sudden growth spurts that split their skins.
In Salt Lake City, we typically have hot and dry, sunny days that our summer vegetables and herbs love! Regular deep watering of your garden will ensure your plants have the moisture that they need to thrive. If you’re conscious of conserving water, come in to get tips, tricks, and the right tools to help you be water-wise in your garden.
The best way to tell if any vegetable is ready to be picked is to gently tug on it. If it breaks free, it’s ready. If not, give it another day or three.
There are other signs as well, such as color. You likely know that most tomatoes are green until they are ripe, when they turn red. If you’re growing a tomato variety that doesn’t ripen to red, you can know it is ready if the fruit is firm but can be squeezed softly. Pumpkins are very pale as they emerge, then turn a deep orange as they ripen.
But not all fruits and veggies turn a different color when ripe. Cucumbers and zucchini are green and stay green. The trick with these is to not let them grow to a tremendous size. Pick your cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash when they reach about 12 inches in length. Vegetables are tastier when they are smaller.
What happens with many plants — especially zucchini — is that they can produce an overabundance of fruit. Gardeners may decide to leave them on the vine until they are ready to eat them. But no one will ever be ready to eat a couple dozen zucchinis.
It’s best to pick fruits and vegetables when they are ripe, even if you aren’t ready to eat them. But many fruits and veggies should not be stored in the refrigerator — put them on a windowsill or countertop until you’re ready to eat them. You can also pick many vegetables a little before they ripen and let them finish ripening indoors on your countertop.
If you feel like you have more veggies than you can eat, try to incorporate them into other foods such as spaghetti sauce, salsa or zucchini bread. You can also freeze or can them, so you have fresh veggies all winter long. You also may know someone who would greatly appreciate the gift of fresh veggies.
Regardless of whether you cook them, save them, or gift them, fresh veggies straight out of your Salt Lake City garden are a delight! Get your seeds, edible garden plants and the best advice — year-round — from Millcreek Gardens.