This step in the process of running your business can be very time-consuming if you don't work efficiently. It can also be disastrous if done incorrectly. Yet it is one of the most rewarding steps. All your hard work and planning have finally culminated in the harvest.
Everyone loves to pick vegetables, and when they're all washed and arranged, they make a memorable picture. To make sure it's really memorable, take some pictures during harvesting and delivery. Some should be action photos of yourself at work in your garden or loading the harvest into your vehicle. They're nice to have when you're lining up prospective customers. You can show your pictures at any time; no need to wait for the harvest season to pick a basket. In fact, a picture of the garden might even be better because it will show the volume you are able to produce. A restaurant owner will then understand how you can produce so much week after week.
I recommend harvesting in the morning before thesun gets tothe plants. You might have read books that advise you to harvest after the sun dries out the morning dew, or in the late afternoon when the heat of the day is over. Sometimes it depends on the particular vegetable, but quite often it depends on the gardener's preference. When it comes to practicality, it usually depends on your schedule.
And don't forget the restaurant. It may have hours when it likes delivery.
If you remember the agreement you drew up with your customer (chapter four), you'll recall that you promised delivery within two hours of picking. That eliminates an evening session in the garden. Next, I think you should consider your temperament. If you don't like to get up early, you're going to be unhappy having to get up at 6 twice a week to deliver to the restaurant at 10:30. It would be better to rig up some protection from the noonday sun and promise delivery at 1 so you can snooze until 9 and enjoy your harvesting. Ideally, of course, most people like to get up at 6, be outdoors working by 7, enjoy the cool, clear air, and be all finished by late morning. If you work, and cash gardening is a part-time supplement to your income, then of course your regular working hours will determine when you can harvest and deliver.
So much for your preferences. But what about those of your vegetables? For most, morning is the best time to harvest, if for no other reason than that they're more moisture-laden, weigh more, and are crisper and fresher. After a hot day, most leafy vegetables have lost a lot of moisture to the atmosphere and may even be a little wilted. There are very few that build up sugars (hence sweetness) in the daytime. Corn is one of them; tomatoes another. Of course corn should be picked as close to mealtime as possible, while tomatoes can hold over for many hours, if not days, without deteriorating. Aside from these two exceptions, the general rule of thumb is to harvest in the morning.
The next question is, "What to harvest?" If you did a good job of selling your services and negotiating an agreement: you can now pick whatever's ready and sell it all. It's wise to keep an eye ahead to the next harvest or two as well. For example, let's say that all of your ruby lettuce has not quite matured, but the weather is getting very hot and you see a few of the early plants starting to elongate. This means that they're all going to bolt toseed before reaching maturity. So you should keep them well-watered and shaded, and harvest as much as you can for your next delivery without overloading it.
Keep an eye on the weather as well. The maturity of plants depends heavily on the weather, especially on sunlight and heat. You could keep a close watch on the five-day weather forecast, but frankly I've found it changes so much every few days that it's not worth worrying about. I'd rather rely on a little common sense than the long-range forecast. It's better to pick most things a little early and small than it is to let them get bigger and risk their becoming tough or bitter. You can't afford to deliver tough or bitter produce. Get in the habit of tasting your vegetables frequently while you pick them. Look for toughness, bitterness, pithiness, dryness, and all the things we don't want associated with cash gardening. (Hint: oversized vegetables usually taste inferior, so don't include these in your harvest. Consider them "seconds.")
If you are going to have an abundance of any item, be sure to mention it in advance to the owner or head chef. That way he can plan his menu around it, and you can still sell it.
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