Late Summer Harvest

August is a time for plenty of rewards in your garden

Let the garden be your guide to a homegrown menu throughout the year.

by Charlie Thigpen

October is known as the harvest season, but in August we also reap the rewards of planting all those vegetables and herbs back in the spring and early summer. Proof is in the overflowing baskets of produce and the knee-high mounds of basil in the garden. Go outside in the morning while it’s cooler and celebrate the harvest.  Then dine on all of the flavorful, homegrown bounty.

Surplus Vegetables

Right after Cindy and I got married and bought a house, I grew my first vegetable garden. I was over zealous and made the mistake of planting 12 zucchini squash plants. That summer we dined on zucchini spaghetti, zucchini lasagna, zucchini bread, fried zucchini, boiled zucchini and baked zucchini. We’d had our fill of this productive squash by the end of the summer, and so had our neighbors, who began to lock their doors and turn out their lights when the crazy gardener came by with a wagonload of zucchini. That summer we learned to be creative cooks. To enjoy all of that produce, we planned our meals to use what we could and shared the rest.

Before you go shopping, check your refrigerator and don’t forget the garden. Plan to use what you have on hand and what’s plentiful on the vine. You can easily look up recipes online when you run out of ideas. Think of your neighbors and people that might enjoy or really need fresh produce. To me one of the most rewarding aspects of growing a vegetable garden is sharing the bounty with family and friends. And remember to can or freeze some vegetables to enjoy later in the fall and winter.

Herbal Overflow

When all those basil plants begin to flourish, it might be time to make a versatile, flavorful pesto sauce. A trick that I’ve learned is to pour the prepared pesto into ice cube trays until frozen. Then empty the basil cubes into tightly sealed freezer bags to use one or two at a time as needed.

Drying herbs is simple and another great way to preserve fresh flavor. Favorite and often–used herbs such as basil, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme can be clipped from the garden and used for years. Dried herbs are three to four–times stronger than fresh–clipped herbs because their flavors are more concentrated.

To harvest herbs from the garden, use sharp clippers, then rinse and pat dry the cut foliage until no moisture is present. Avoid drying leaves in sunny areas, where they will quickly loose flavor and color. Instead, place the herbs in a dark, well-ventilated area to dry slowly. You can tie herbs such as basil, rosemary and oregano in bunches of three to four stems and hang them. Small-leafed herbs such as parsley or thyme dry best when laid flat on a screen rack. After three weeks, all the moisture from the foliage will evaporate and the leaves will turn crunchy. Then the herbs may be stored in an airtight container. Leaves can be crumbled and stored or stored whole and crumbled when used.

Tonight you can enjoy fresh produce and herbs from the garden, but don’t forget to preserve and savor the flavor. Summer’s harvest won’t last forever. •

Charlie Thigpen  is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

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