Pick Your Own
Hampshire College Farm Veggie CSA members have access to our pick-your-own crops (heirloom tomatoes, hot peppers, fresh flowers, green beans, edamame, and a variety of herbs such as basil, dill, and cilantro) as soon as they are ready.
The Hampshire College Farm PYO field is full of an assortment of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. During the harvest season, veggie CSA members are welcome to harvest from the PYO field at any time during daylight hours. We do, however, have a few tips to help ensure that the plants in the field stay healthy and abundant and that you get the best quality veggies, herbs, and flowers from your share.
We also want to remind everyone that, although the field is abundant, we have a large number of CSA shareholders. Please take only what you need and are sure you will use, and leave the rest for others. Also, although this should go without saying, if you are not a veggie CSA member, please do not help yourself to our crops. Hundreds of hours of our student farmers' labor go into planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and otherwise growing this food for CSA members and our dining hall. If you are a food insecure student and do not have a CSA share, please contact the farm directly, and we will see if we can find a way to work with you.
Tools and supplies
When harvesting, it is best to bring a sharp knife or pair of scissors to prevent ripping or tearing the plants. You will also need a bag or basket to put your harvest in. If you are harvesting flowers you may also wish to bring a Mason jar or other container full of cold water into which you can put your bouquet to help prevent wilting. If you are picking hot peppers, you may want to wear gloves and bring a separate plastic bag just for the peppers.
It is best to pick flowers as early in the day as possible; the later in the day you pick them, the more quickly they will wilt. As soon as possible after cutting your flowers, put them at least temporarily into water using a water bottle, a Mason jar, or whatever else you have to hand. There is a water hydrant in the greenhouse near the path to the field that you can use. Please be sure to shut it off completely when you are done.
Before you cut
We know there are lots of awesome flowers out in the field, but before you get too carried away with your scissors or knife, stop and take a minute to look at the plant’s basic structure. When you are harvesting flowers (or basil!), the best place to cut is at the stem just above where a set of leaves and/or stems is coming out of the main stem. Leaving a short stem allows the plant to heal more quickly and encourages the plant to re-direct its growth energy into the leaves and stems remaining below the cut. If utilizing this strategy leaves you with a longer stem in your hand than you want, simply make a second cut to reduce your stem to the desired length.
Once home, find an appropriately-sized vase and fill it with cold water. Then, plant by plant, strip from the stem any leaves that would otherwise be submerged, which will reduce rotting and keep the water clearer. Once the lower leaves have been stripped, use a sharp, clean knife or pair of scissors to make an angled cut on the stem at the appropriate height for your vase. A sharply-angled cut will increase the surface area of the stem that is exposed to water, and will help your flower live longer.
Submerge the cut stem immediately. You will most likely rearrange your bouquet as you go; if in that process you remove a stem from the water for more than a few seconds, re-cut the stem before submerging.
Keep your bouquet away from direct sunlight, heat sources, and drafts. You can extend the life your bouquet by changing the water, removing any wilted flowers, and re-cutting the stems every few days. You also can make a homemade flower preservative by adding about 2 tbs of lemon or lime juice, 1 tbs of sugar, and a few drops of bleach to a quart/liter of water.
When harvesting herbs, again consider the plant’s structure and what type of cutting will allow for the most re-growth in the main plant. Basil is often best cut in the same manner as flowers, but for cilantro, dill, and parsley, you can just grab a handful and cut about 2” up from the ground; the plants will regrow from there. For fresh use, wrap herbs in a damp paper towel and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. For dried herbs, make sure to pick them on a dry day, ensure they are clean and free of debris, and begin the drying process as soon as possible to help prevent rot.
Edamame and Beans
The trick with edamame and other beans is to harvest at the correct ripeness. Edamame pods should be full and firm to the touch, but should not be yellow or so full they are about to split. Green beans are best if picked before the seeds inside swell and the pod looks lumpy. Once home, rinse beans thoroughly in a colander, pat dry, and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Many heirloom tomatoes don’t look much like the tomatoes you find in the grocery store, so it can be hard to tell when they are ripe. Tomato fruits ripen sequentially along a stem; the fruits that are closest to the main stem are the oldest and therefore the ripest. To some extent you can tell when a tomato is ripe by how easily it comes off of the main plant; if you find yourself having to tug or yank, the tomato probably isn’t ready. For details on the appearance and qualities of our specific varieties of heirloom tomatoes, please see our tomato picking guide.
Hot peppers can be picked at more or less any stage of ripeness, usually getting hotter as they get riper. You may wish to wear gloves when harvesting, and to put your peppers in a separate plastic bag away from any other produce to avoid accidentally spreading capsaicin. For specific details on our hot pepper varieties, please see our hot pepper picking guide.
Don’t waste all of your effort, as well as your fresh, delicious produce, by not storing your food correctly! Here are a few pro tips to keep your herbs and veggies lasting as long as possible:
- Food that comes straight off of the farm often needs a good, thorough rinse under fresh, cold water. Gently pat dry after rinsing or use a salad spinner to dry off herbs.
- Separate your food by item and store it in clear plastic baggies or Tupperware in the fridge. Food that you can clearly see is food you are more likely to use. Separating your food by type (e.g. beans in one bag, cilantro in another) also makes it easier to grab when you are hungry and in a hurry.
- Tomatoes taste better if they are not refrigerated. Instead, store them on a countertop out of direct sunlight. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly before eating. Try to eat any split tomatoes right away to avoid the dreaded late-summer fruit fly infestation.
- If your herbs have gotten a bit wilted, you can treat them as you would flowers: just cut off the bases of the stems and stick them in a glass of cold water. If the stems are short, just submerge the whole bunch until they perk up again. For an extra boost, store them, glass and all, in the refrigerator until revived, then wrap them in a moist paper towel and store inside a plastic bag in the fridge.
Wondering what to do with all of your produce? Be sure to check out the Food, Farm, and Sustainability blog for great recipe ideas, as well as cooking tips and other useful information.