Growing a backyard garden can be incredibly rewarding. But how do you harvest all that hard-earned produce without decimating or damaging your beloved plants in the process?
Keep reading to learn about the four basic principles of sustainable harvesting, as well as tips for applying them to your own particular garden.
Importance of Sustainable Harvesting
After putting so much time and labor into planting and tending your garden, it’s important to harvest from it in a way that leaves healthy plants behind.
Waste Less, Grow More
Using sustainable harvesting practices in your backyard garden means you’ll waste less of your harvestable product during the current season. Pruning your plants properly also encourages regrowth and can boost fruit production.
Plan Ahead for Future Harvests
Harvest your garden sustainably, and it can provide you with a continuous, year-round bounty.
Reap your homegrown produce in a way that not only prevents damage to the plants but also actively improves future yields.
Principles of Sustainable Harvesting in Backyard Gardens
Practice sustainable harvesting in your backyard by being mindful of these four simple guiding principles.
1. Take Only What You Need
The simplest and most important principle of sustainable harvesting is to take only as much as you need at a time.
Removing too much of a plant at once can traumatize the portion left behind, disrupting growth and production or even killing the whole plant.
For herbs, a good rule of thumb is to cull only ten percent or less of the plant’s foliage at a time.
2. Select the Optimal Time to Harvest
Choosing the right time to pick your produce is an essential part of sustainable harvesting.
Read on for optimal times to pick herbs, fruit, flowers, tubers, and other vegetables.
When to Harvest Herbs
Herbs love to be trimmed frequently. Once the plant has enough foliage to support continued growth, harvest your herb leaves often during the growing season to keep the plant healthy and prevent it from bolting.
If your plant can use a trim, but you don’t need the fresh herbs immediately, you can always dry a small harvest for future use. Dried herbs can be stored safely for about one year.
When to Harvest Fruit and Flowers
As a general principle, you should harvest fruit when it is ripe and flowers when they are in bloom.
Growing oranges? One challenge may be determining when the bright orange fruits are, in fact, ripe and ready for picking. For more details, check out this guide to harvesting oranges.
Tomatoes are an exception to this rule. While you can leave the fruit to ripen on the vine or bush, tomatoes also do well when picked at the blushing stage and ripened indoors.
Harvest after watering for the juiciest fruit!
When to Harvest Roots and Tubers
When harvesting roots, always pull the largest ones. Letting roots grow too large results in harder, more bitter produce, so start by reviewing all your plants and then cull the biggest roots first.
Once you have pulled up the largest roots out of a garden row, the others will have more space to grow. This sets you up for a sustainable, continuous harvest.
Water the soil before harvesting roots, and you’ll have an easier time digging them out. Pulling roots from damp soil reduces the risk of breaking off their tops.
When to Harvest Vegetables
Research the proper seasons and conditions to harvest other vegetables from your backyard garden.
3. Use Proper Harvesting Techniques
It’s critical to use the proper tools and techniques when harvesting from your backyard garden.
Identify Plants and Harvest Each Correctly
Every plant has different needs and growth habits. Ensure regrowth and continued plant health by first identifying your plants and then researching the correct method for harvesting their leaves, flowers, or fruit.
Use the Right Tools
Use the proper tools when it’s time to remove your harvest. If you need to cut a part of the plant, use only clean, sharp pruning shears to reduce the risk of damage or contamination.
Use one of these best apple pickers to safely harvest fruit from tall trees. These tools keep your produce safe from bruising with features like washable mesh bags or soft, cushioned baskets for the fruit to land upon.
4. Tread Lightly while Harvesting
Another principle of sustainable harvesting involves taking care not to disturb your plants while reaching for and removing your harvest.
Use Plant Supports for Easy Access to Your Harvest
When planting your garden, consider each plant’s growth habits. Install plant supports where needed so that the harvestable portion of the plant will be easy to reach.
Vining plants like tomatoes and cucumbers can grow without trellises, but providing them with proper support systems permits easier access for culling the fruit, in addition to supporting a better yield. Avoid lifting and moving around stems and vines while harvesting, as this can easily damage the plant.
Use Walking Paths to Avoid Compacting Soil
Create pathways in your garden so you can walk through it without compacting the soil over your plants’ growing areas.
Gravel walkways are a common choice for DIY garden paths. Narrow brick paths are a great option for small spaces and gardeners who prefer a tidy, structured look.
For a more playful aesthetic, lay pavers in a stepping stone pattern with greenery planted in between. Choose ground covers that will grow to about the same height as your pavers to ensure you don’t create a trip hazard. Lawn grass, Irish moss, creeping jenny and chamomile all make great fillers to plant between pavers.
Wrapping Up Sustainable Harvesting in Your Backyard
Practicing sustainable harvesting in your backyard can be easy, once you’ve identified your plants and understand their needs. Avoid over-harvesting, handle plants with care, and cull them at the correct time, using the proper methods. It’s that simple!
Ready to learn more about sustainable growing? Check out this post on how to cultivate a sustainable organic apple orchard next.
- About the Author
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Ashley Lystne is a writer for Minneopa Orchards, a fiction author, and creator of interactive novel choice games. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and an MFA in Creative Writing. Ashley tried out living in just about every major city in America before settling down in Washington state, where she currently resides.
A lifelong vegetarian passionate about growing her own food, Ashley also has a local side hustle cultivating and selling ornamental house plants. She loves contributing to Minneopa Orchards, where she can share her passion for all things plants and gardening.