Thursday, August 2, 2012

Top Ten Plants for August Harvest

Red Poppy Blossom and Green Pod
My Seed Poppies in June

Happy First Harvest!

It’s Lammas, the ancient Anglo-Saxon festival celebrating the first harvest. On this holiday, halfway between summer solstice and autumn equinox, ancients gathered grain and baked bread to share in hopes that later harvests would be bountiful. In ancient Celtic tradition, Lughnasadh is a time for harvest wild caneberries as well as grains.

Here in the Santa Cruz mountains, we have little corn and no wheat to harvest. But I do have seeds from poppies planted back in early April, and a perfect dry summer day for harvesting. Blackberries are beginning to ripen along rural pathways, so like the Celts we can graze in nature. August is a rich month for harvests, and the easiest time of year to eat locally on a budget. Below are a few foods to look for from your local farm this month.

Ripe and Unripe Blackberries on Vine
Wild Blackberries: the Promise of More
1. Caneberries: raspberries, blackberries, ollalieberries, and other hybrids: Look for these at farmers markets and farm stands, or in the local produce section of your grocery store. Or check the phone book for You-Pick farms for best price and optimum freshness. As noted above, you can also scope out roadsides and byways for wild blackberries.

Hand Picking Ripe Cherry tomato
Backyard Picking
2. Tomatoes: They’re just starting to come in. Many varieties ripen all at once, and have limited shelf life so by the month’s end you’ll be able to pick them up inexpensively. For the best deal, try visiting the farm stand or farmers market late on a hot day. You might be able to pick up a great deal on a huge quantity, if you don’t mind getting a few squishy ones. To preserve the bounty you can dehydrate them or make tomato sauce to freeze.

3. Peppers: Both sweet and hot peppers are coming in like crazy, and will be for awhile. They love hot weather, and hot varieties get hotter as the season heats up. They pair famously with in-season tomatoes and eggplant. The latter is a bit more fussy crop than tomatoes and peppers, so is rarely cheap. However, the latter part of the month holds promise for eggplant-loving bargain hunters.

Thawing Frozen Basil for Winter Cooking
4. Basil and other Italian herbs: Oregano, thyme, marjoram, and chives are readily available. Now is the time to make pesto. In the wheel of the seasons, basil will never be cheaper or more plentiful. Pesto can be frozen, or freeze basil leaves or chives themselves for use in winter soups and stews. Basil also pairs perfectly with in-season tomatoes, whether they’re cooked or raw. Marjoram, thyme, and oregano can be hung upside down and dried, then crumbled for use during the winter. Or use large quantities of them to perk up your palate.

Green Squash with Blossom in Neighbor's Yard
Tell Your Neighbor: I Like Squash!
5. Summer squash: All sorts of varieties will be available this month. You might employ the technique above of visiting the farmers market late in the day and making an offer. Or perhaps your neighbors are growing squash. If you mention that you like squash you might end up with fresh squash on your doorstep, and help your neighbors keep up with their harvest in the process.

6. Green beans: At the peak of their season, they’re coming in like crazy, yet still picked young enough to be tender. As the season progresses, they’ll become woodier. Get ‘em early in the month, don’t wait.

Two Young Ears of Corn on Plant
My Neighbor's SC Mountain Corn!
7. Corn: One of the most frequently genetically engineered foods (GMOs), grown on corporate monoculture farms with pesticides, corn is a crop that I hesitate to recommend. However, organic corn in the US, at least so far, is guaranteed GMO-free. Let’s support our local organic corn-growers so we’ll continue to have this alternative to genetically engineered corn. Sure, the mass-produced stuff is cheaper; it’s subsidized by taxpayers. Buying local organic might cost a bit more money, but it’s all corn, with no odd pathogen DNA. Mid to late August is a good time to cut a deal on it.

8. Peaches and Nectarines: According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), peaches top of the Dirty Dozen list of produce containing the most dangerous pesticides. Nectarines are about halfway down the list. Pesticides penetrate their thin skins and permeate the fruit so that washing them is of limited value. Ask questions: just because you find it at the farmers market doesn’t mean it’s organic. The end-of-the-day bargain approach can be employed with these soft fruits too. You can freeze or dehydrate them to enjoy during the winter.

9. Apricots and Plums: Get these early in August, before they go out of season. There are many varieties of Pluots, Apriums, and other hybrids that you might enjoy. Try making some jam or freezing them for future enjoyment.

Dried Poppies Look Taller than Trees
Lammas Poppies Ready for Harvest
10. Poppyseed: If you can find it, fresh poppyseed is at the height of harvest. Even more rewarding: grow your own next year. Heirloom Pepperbox is extremely hardy and produces large red, pink, violet, and purple flowers that attract loads of bees. Hungarian Breadseed, with a more subtle cream-colored flower, is not as prolific, but provides the beautiful blue-black poppyseeds that we commonly see in fine baked goods.

Have other favorite August-harvested produce? Leave a comment and let us know about it!

No comments:

Post a Comment