Down at the Payson Community Garden, the harvest is coming in hot and heavy — literally.
When I stopped by to listen to Glenn McCombs, owner of Plant Fair Nursery in Star Valley, give a Saturday class on when to harvest, Dave Ranck, Community Garden board member, master water system guru and official monitor of food bank donations grabbed me to gush about the donations.
“Year-to-date, we’ve donated 2,900 pounds,” he said.
Ranck said last week, gardeners donated 655 pounds of food.
The garden has blossomed after the monsoon rains. Sunflowers wave massive heads in the wind with stalks thicker than a forearm, 8-pound banana squash hide under dense foliage, cucumbers ripen every day, zucchini grows bigger than an arm, yellow and patty-pan squash proliferate and everyone who enters the garden quickly catches the harvest bug.
Ranck said board members are shocked at the lushness of the garden.
“We never expected this much greenery,” he said as he gingerly picked his way between plots bursting with leaves that spill into the walkways.
Mayor Kenny Evans stopped to share some kernels from his sugar sweet white corn. “This survived the field mice — I just don’t see how they climb up the stalks to eat every kernel,” he said.
The mayor has a plot next to the woods in the northeast corner of the garden. His plot acts as a buffer for gardeners like me who have a plot in the center of the garden.
Evans attributes the abundant production of the garden to the good training gardeners received from the numerous master gardeners who happily dispense advice on every topic from weeds to worms to watering and planting.
McCombs did not disappoint with the information he shared on harvesting.
At first I had my doubts he could tell me anything new, I mean, you shove leaves aside in the garden, find stuff that looks ready to pick and pick it — right?
Nope. There’s an art, science and reason for picking crops when they reach a certain size and color.
Take all that squash for example. McCombs said most squash is picked at about six to eight inches long.
“It’s called market value,” he said.
That explains why every zucchini in the grocery store is the same size. In fact, McCombs advised if a gardener has a question on what a ripe fruit or vegetable looks like, they can go to the store and check out how the professionals pick their harvests.
For instance, zucchini loses nutrients if allowed to grow too large — or you just lose track of the buggers hiding under the greenery.
“The older we get, the less elastic and flexible we become,” said McCombs. “The younger things are, the more vitality they have.”
He used alfalfa sprouts as an example. The tender shoots not only taste better, they have more nutrients in them than the older plant.
Then again, fellow gardener Ronda Caldwell said large squash are perfect for squash chips. “It works better in a dehydrator, but an oven set to 175-200 for hours does the same thing,” she said.
Caldwell said to cut 1/4 inch thick circles, cover them with olive oil and either soy sauce or Bragg’s Amino Acids.
“Then add a flavoring,” she said.
Herbs work, so does cayenne pepper or garlic powder.
I went home and tried out the simple recipe straight away.
All I can say is, WOW.
Best thing I have ever tasted, but I’m going to invest in a dehydrator.
Now — just keep the harvest rolling!