This time of the year is usually very busy for me. We just had a late Father’s Day get together. With a large family, it can be hard to get everyone together at one time. Son-in-law delivered mulch on his Father’s Day. I worked frantically to put it out before the weeds took over the garden. I’ve started fall seedlings in the tunnel house and still must get the shade cloth up.

This time of the year is usually very busy for me. We just had a late Father’s Day get together. With a large family, it can be hard to get everyone together at one time. Son-in-law delivered mulch on his Father’s Day. I worked frantically to put it out before the weeds took over the garden. I’ve started fall seedlings in the tunnel house and still must get the shade cloth up.
The skyline has held evidence of our desire to celebrate our independence. Just four days later is the County Fair and George Washington Carver National Monument’s 74th Carver Day Celebration. This is GWC National Monument’s second largest event. There will be music, guest speakers, guided tours, and many exhibitors.
A few weeks ago, my granddaughter said she didn’t like peaches. I asked her when was the last time she ate a peach straight from the tree. I took her to our young peach orchard. Golden orbs of luscious sweetness hung heavily on bent branches. I showed her how the skin pulls free from a ripe peach. When she took a bite, and the juice ran down her chin, the look on her face said everything.
“How do you know when to pick the peach?”
That is a question that should be applied to any food being grown in your garden or any produce you are buying. I wonder if children would enjoy their vegetables more if they were picked at the best time for full flavor.
Squash comes in two forms. Summer squash is picked young; sometimes with the blossom still attached. Straight-neck, crookneck, zucchini, and patti-pans are summer squash. If the seeds have started developing in summer squash, the flesh becomes squishy. Always, lightly cook summer squash.
Winter squash grows all summer and forms a hard shell. If they are picked before fully ripe, there is less flavor and lowered sugar content.
Snap beans are picked when the sides of the pods have no seed bulge or only the slightest hint of a bulge. Don’t allow the beans to mature as the plant will stop producing. Filet beans must be picked every other day and regular beans every third or fourth day.
Lettuce, spinach, and radishes have bolted to seed. But the garland daisy, an edible chrysanthemum, and Swiss chard are good summer replacements. Leaves and flowers are used from the daisy and leaves and brilliant colored stems are used from chard. Pick them often.
I harvest cucumbers and okra much earlier than most gardeners. Cucumbers should be crisp, even brittle. Harvest often while the seeds are tiny. Keep them watered well to control bitterness. Okra is only allowed to grow three inches. Steamed or fried, they are best when very young. Older okra runs the risk of being woody.
The nightshade family, Solanaceae, has tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillo, potato, and garden huckleberries. Bell peppers are picked when full sized and green. I let mine ripen as the flavor intensifies and sweetens. This stops flower production so I plant more peppers. Chili peppers are usually picked when mature.
Tomatoes can be harvested before fully ripe and placed in paper. The gas they produce will ripen the fruit. Large heirlooms tend to split as they ripen on the vine. Hold the tomato on the vine until only the shoulders are showing green.
Eggplants, like cucumbers, are picked very young in my garden. Once the seeds start to show well, the eggplant is spongy. The skin should be shiny and thin. Eggplants have prickles, so you may want to use gloves. I use pruners to cut the fruit off just above the calyx. Instead of allowing the eggplants to grow larger for more fruit weight, harvest frequently for a heavier production.
Melons; that much-desired fruit that is so confusing as to harvest time. Honeydew, green-fruited melons, usually change from green skin to a cream, yellow, or white skin. Cut the fruit from the vine. Honeydew can be harvested a bit early and placed in a paper bag with ripening tomatoes. The ethylene gas produced by tomatoes will ripen it.
Cantaloupes are ready when the netted-skin changes to gray or cream and the fruit slips (breaks freely) from the vine. They do not ripen more after being harvested. Don’t wait too long to harvest after the skin changes color or the fruit will start to rot.
Watermelons; the infamous thump or finger-flick to tell if it’s ripe is so elusive. The best gardeners still use experience and some guesswork when harvesting a watermelon. The skin will become duller, the curly tendril at the melon will turn brown, and the bottom of the melon will turn to yellow are three good indicators that your watermelon is ready to eat.
Holding off watering the last week before harvest and having sunny weather seems to improve flavor and sweetness in all melons.

Linda Simmons writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.