Harvesting Your Salad Table

The term “harvesting” is not just removing the entire plant to use straight away or to store in the crisper, but it also includes picking as you go which I tend to do more and more with my indoor systems. Certain varieties like lettuce and most herbs will continue growing as leaves are removed which is great when you only need small amounts for snacks or cooking. You will find that a conveniently positioned garden will be prone to continual harvesting, and thus used as nature intended.

Harvesting would have to be my favourite part of the entire hydroponic gardening journey for a number of reasons:

  • It is very clean
  • It frees up space for more seedlings
  • It's quick
  • And of course, it’s delicious!

When is it time to harvest?

Ah, the million dollar question - and for me, the answer has continually changed over the years. When I first mastered growing hydroponically, I thought size mattered so I'd wait until I had produce the size you would normally see in the Guinness Book of Records. There were 2 reasons for this:

1. If it's bigger then I get more to eat.

2. Starting my business involved taking a lot of photos to show off on social media channels (I still do this mind you) and bigger has more of the wow factor.

The reality is, the right time is based on your palate. I've learnt that most varieties actually taste better when not so mature. In fact, if I were to pick a lettuce that's almost gone to seed and put it on my sandwich, I couldn't eat it. It would be way too bitter and I much prefer to use it when it is still quite small. The taste is sweet and fresh and the texture is crispy.

I also prefer choy when only a few weeks old and quite small when cooking for my wife and I. On the other hand, if I'm feeding my army then I'll use much bigger plants to ensure plentiful supply but in all honesty, I can taste the difference. Not a lot, but certainly a difference.

Staggered Harvesting

If you've added seedlings to your garden weekly to keep a staggered supply going, then you are growing the right way. However, if you plant everything in one hit you will most likely have a mountain of food ready to harvest all at the same time and then nothing for a few weeks. Not ideal, but you'll be popular with friends and family as you offload the excess produce to them. To stop the latter from happening, set a reminder in your calendar on a weekly basis to seed your chosen varieties. It only takes a few minutes, and you don't even need to leave the house. Sit them on a sunny windowsill indoors as they are easily accessible for watering, and it will also protect them from inclement weather and annoying pests. For more information on how to grow your seedlings, refer to ebook 2.

Another good tip to keeping a constant harvest going (and if growing your own seedlings is not for you), grab a few dirt grown punnets when they’re on special and remove only what you need each week. The remainder should keep well in the punnets for a few weeks as they don't tend to grow very fast with crowded roots.

Cleaning & Maintaining Your Salad Table

Harvest time is the perfect opportunity to run some simple cleaning and maintenance on your Salad Table.

There are a few simple methods when it comes to cleaning and maintaining your Salad Tables. All our horizontal models are designed with removable lids for ease of cleaning, which also comes in handy when your plants have grown bigger and longer than intended. Some varieties, such as silverbeet, develop quite a large root system which will usually break off when harvesting, leaving it stuck within the channel. More often than not you can pull the roots through the holes but debris will remain inside that would be very hard to remove without the ability to take the lids off. I don't clean every time I harvest because I normally have plants of various sizes in the same channel, but every few weeks I simply remove the entire lid with all the plants still inside. It's then very easy to wipe out and replace the lid, plants and all.

This can be a little awkward if the plants are mature, or a vine crop such as tomatoes where the roots are too large to be moved around. To combat this awkwardness, I'll gently hose out the channel and wait until I remove the larger plants (at which time I'll carry out any proper cleaning). Any debris that ends up in the nutrient container can easily be removed.

Storing Your Harvest

Storage of your freshly harvested herbs and veggies depends on varieties and your intended use. Like I said earlier, if you are only harvesting a few leaves as you go then preparation and storage is not a factor. With bulk herbs you may decide to freeze or even dry out to use crushed or as flakes. Other varieties such as lettuce are best consumed within a week, which is great if you have a constant supply ready for the picking.