Autumn is a time for feasting on the fruits of your labour.
The challenge of keeping your plants growing through the long heat waves and scorching sun is nearly over. Cast off your fruit tree nets, remove the dangling ‘Best of the 80s’ CD’s from your vegie garden – it’s time to harvest!
Eating seasonally brings great expectation and autumn is an exciting time, with both short-term crops as well as those planted back in spring ready to be picked.
When to pick can make a big difference to your produce. Firstly, make sure your crops are ready to harvest. Immature fruit and vegetables may be difficult to hand pick without damage. Avoid tears to the flesh, as open wounds allow air contact and severely reduce shelf life.
Plants such as tomatoes can be picked early and left to ripen off the vine. Apples, on the other hand, only ripen on the tree. Be careful when picking not to damage the tree, especially any fruiting spurs. These short stubs, formed from previous year’s growth, can remain active, producing crops of apples and pears for many years. Avoid tearing the fruit from the tree, but gently twist it off.
Apples are a perennial favourite needing cool winter and early spring nights to set fruit. Trees grafted on dwarfing rootstock mean the smaller backyard hasn’t missed out on growing a favourite variety. Depending on the types chosen, you can be harvesting apples all through autumn, as not all varieties ripen at the same time (for example ‘Fuji’ ripen in March and ‘Granny Smith’ in April).
Popular eating apples include;
- ‘Granny Smith’
- ‘Golden Delicious’
- ‘Pink Lady’
- ‘Red Delicious’ and
Good cooking varieties;
- ‘Granny Smith’
- ‘Lady Williams’ and
- ‘Golden Delicious’
- For apples that turn red, watch for the change in colour.
- Taste one; if it is tart, leave it to ripen. If it is sweet enough, harvest.
- Cut open a fruit; if the seeds are white, leave it to ripen. If they are dark, the apples are ready.
- Apple drop; falling apples are a sure sign of ripe fruit.
Storing: Refrigerate for 2-3 months or stew, dry or juice.
Tomatoes are in abundance early autumn, proving the true worth of growing your own. Even though they have been picked through summer, these truss-laden plants (though showing a little wear) never seem to stop and the flavours just get better with the cooler nights. Cocktail tomatoes will happily produce throughout autumn. Extend your tomato season with late fruiting ‘Burnley Bounty’ in cooler areas to harvest in May and June.
- Look for a full blush of colour.
- Ripe fruit should still feel slightly firm.
- Use your nose – look for a sweet smell at the stem.
Storing: Homemade sauces, chutney or salsa.
Olive trees are tough and productive. Availability of cultivars such as ‘Kalamata’ and ‘Manzanillo’ have given rise to home gardeners eager to try their hand at preserving the fruit or extracting oil.
One of the easiest plants to grow, their ornamental value is equal to their production.
For those wanting to harvest for oil, select an oil-producing variety. It’s the flesh of the olive that produces oil, not the skin. Unripe olives produce low quantity but longer-lasting oil, while over-ripe olives produce more oil but with less shelf life. It is therefore best to crush a mix to even up quality and shelf life.
- Juice inside turns from clear to milky.
- Do you want green or black? The longer you leave a green olive on a tree, the darker it will turn.
- Wait until after colour change.
Love them or loathe them, Brussels sprouts are a part of the autumn harvest. They stand out due to their unusual growth. Unlike tomatoes or capsicums attached by long stems, Brussels sprouts are produced in small clusters along a stout central stem.
- Harvest before leaves turn yellow.
- Sprouts should feel firm and be approximately 25mm (depending on variety and growing conditions).
- Pick from the bottom.
- Check daily for ripe sprouts.
Storage: Refrigerate for up to a month or blanch and freeze.
This Middle East and Mediterranean native dates back millennia. Figs are one of the world’s oldest fruits and have enjoyed a home garden resurgence. A great source of fibre and full of vitamins and minerals, it’s little wonder healthy Aussies are back eating them. When harvesting figs, it is best to wear gloves or long sleeves as the sap can irritate skin.
- The fruit needs to be fully ripe (unripe figs taste foul).
- They should be fully coloured and soft to touch.
- The fig’s neck show signs of wilt once ripe and hangs down.
- Handle as little as possible to avoid bruising delicate fruit.
Storage: Refrigerate for 2-3 days, dry the fruit or make jam.
Running, bush, French and other varieties have probably taken over the trellis and vegie patch and are ready to harvest. Often one of the best producing crops, they supplement your other autumn vegetables brilliantly. Have little room but love your beans? Try dwarf varieties that won’t take up much space. Planted from spring onwards, your February sowing will be ready by late autumn. Gardeners in the tropics can look at planting their beans in April and May.
For eating (green, bush and fava beans)
- Pick when young and tender and before seeds are visible on the pod.
- Left too long on a vine, the beans get tough and woody.
For drying (fava, black and kidney beans)
- Leave them on the vine to dry.
- Harvest the pods and remove the beans.
Storage: Refrigerate, blanch and freeze, or dry and store in an air-tight container.
With tendrils running through the vegie patch, it’s guaranteed there’s a monster zucchini somewhere in that jungle. Zucchini’s are massive producers and a worthy plant in any garden. ‘Blackjack’ is the most popular variety. There is a tendency to let the fruit become massive; they do look impressive but can taste woody. Zucchinis are best picked smaller and regularly. Cooler nights bring on powdery mildew and the slowing of growth.
- Harvest when the fruit reaches 15cm long (this is when they taste best).
- Regular picking encourages more production.
Storage: Refrigerate for a week, or blanch and freeze.
About the Author – Kim Syrus
Kim is the Executive Producer and Presenter on South Australia’s very own garden show In the Garden and has presented on Channel 9’s The Garden Gurus and The Gurus Explore.
A qualified horticulturist, Kim is one of the country’s most respected rose experts and Master Agent for the world-famous rose breeder Meilland International.