We want to do the right thing, make the best of all our efforts, be in sync with nature’s rhythms and not wait too long, lest our well-nurtured tomatoes fall from the vine.
Of course, stuff happens.
Just ask poor Dale Marshall. The Palmer grower worked hard all summer to grow a record-breaking pumpkin. In 2011, his 1,723 pounder was disqualified because of a hole. Then, in 2015, a crane broke while hoisting the pumpkin, which then caused the pumpkin to smash into the ground.
It was a sad moment, no doubt.
Sad moments come when your veggies misbehave while you are harvesting. For example, potatoes that split for no reason as you drop them in the bucket. They don’t taste any differently, but suddenly they’re not suitable for storage. Or how about a carrot that, on the surface, appears normal, but when you pull it from the soil it resembles an octopus?
I remember when I grew lettuce for the first time. I was so enamored with the process that I let it grow and grow and grow until it looked like a miniature skyscraper in Dubai. Topped with tiny flowers and leaves, surely it was still edible, I thought.
I picked a salad’s worth and proudly marched into the kitchen. To the bowl I added a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes and drizzled the whole thing with Italian dressing. I put a forkful in my mouth and, with acute anticipation, closed my eyes and started chewing.
“Yech!” The bitterness assaulted my taste buds. I spit it out into a paper napkin.
Live and learn.
Come to find out, lettuce loses its mellow, neutral flavor as it ages. Change is a constant, and plants wait for no humans. Tomatoes split on the vine, currants fall off the branches, salmonberries turn black, blueberries shrivel on their stems. Strawberries mold. The list can be daunting.
So I was dubious a few years ago when friends who were visiting from California wanted to go blueberry picking.
“It’s been dry lately,” I warned. “We might not find much.”
We trundled off to My Favorite Blueberry Patch. At first, all we saw were shriveled specimens. But the further we ventured off-trail, the more just-ripe berries we found.
They weren’t perfect berries — small by comparison. But we were grateful. In fact, the petit blueberries were ideal for trying out a new bread recipe, called Healthy Zucchini Bread. The original recipe is by Dreena Burton, author of one of my favorite cookbooks, Plant-Powered Families.
HEALTHY ZUCCHINI BREAD
No grating, no problem! Just like its chocolate counterpart, this zucchini bread is easy, and delicious.
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom or nutmeg
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 cups roughly sliced/cut zucchini see note
1 cup sliced ripe/overripe bananas OR 1/2 cup applesauce
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canned coconut milk or a richer non-dairy milk
1/4 cup hemp seeds (or cashew meal /almond meal)
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare a loaf pan by spraying/wiping with a touch of oil, and lining with a strip of parchment paper (for easy removal after cooling).
In a large bowl, add dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom/nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and blueberries. Stir through until well combined.
Add zucchini, bananas/applesauce, milk, hemp seeds, vanilla, and lemon juice to a blender and blend until very smooth. You might be dubious at first with this step, but it works!
Add wet mixture to dry and stir through until just well combined.
Transfer mixture to loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until set in the center (test with a toothpick if unsure).
Remove and let cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Once cool, remove loaf and cut into slices. Makes 1 quick bread.
Now let’s go back to Marshall’s pumpkin quest. He was trying again for a record. “Growing big pumpkins is all about ‘vine management’ and about 70 gallons of water for the greenhouse each day,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. For fear of pumpkins cracking and splitting, growers get obsessive about moisture and timing the harvest. They’ve been known to vacuum the morning dew off their prize gourds.
In 2018, at the Alaska State Fair, Marshall’s pumpkin tipped the scale at 1,469 pounds, shattering the 2011 state fair pumpkin record of 1,287 pounds. The world record stands at 2,323.7 pounds.
Marshall said pumpkins this big don’t taste any good, but he will keep the giant fruit on display at his house, “as long as the moose don’t eat it.”
Meanwhile, I’ll pay more attention to when lettuce plants tell me, “Hey, human. It’s time to harvest!”
• Share your harvest.
• When pulling up broccoli, cabbage and other brassica crops, check the roots: If the root mass is brown and twisted into a knot, your plants may have succumbed to club root.
• By the way, do NOT overwinter your kale in the ground lest you invite root maggots.
• Now is the time to make compost. If you’re interested in getting finished compost in 6 weeks, my next Compost Academy course begins October 5. To learn more, contact me at email@example.com.