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A Bay Area garden harvest is not fast food. Here are tips while you wait

People tell me that Americans are losing the patience to wait for a garden harvest. In truth, the patience required to grow food is part of the process. If we had to eat only what we grow, the waiting could be fraught. We might be hungry for fresh food, or for any food at all. As it is, many Americans are surrounded by food, and eat too much of it, even with rising food prices. A gardener’s impatience is more likely due to a comparison of the slowness of plant growth with the speed of the internet.

I understand the complaint. Garden food is slow food. This is undeniably true. And if you live where it is cool and frequently foggy, summer crops will often require longer than the days-to-harvest given on the seed packet. Here are some timelines and observations to help you wait, and also a little philosophy and a few practical ideas to help you adjust to garden time.

When you see the lovely, sometimes pink silk, sweet corn is soon to follow.

When you see the lovely, sometimes pink silk, sweet corn is soon to follow.

Courtesy Pam Peirce

When you see a tiny green nub of a tomato forming on your tomato plant, you know you will have a ripe fruit there in about 45 days. And once the first one ripens, probably many more will follow. If my plants remain healthy, which they usually do, I am inundated with tomatoes for several months in late summer and into fall.

When I grew an early sweet corn, ‘Early Sunglow’, rated at 55 days from planting to harvest, in a warmer part of San Francisco, it was ready to harvest in 90 days. San Francisco’s summers slow the ripening of pretty much all summer crops. However, in our long frost-free season, if a summer crop can set fruit at all, it is likely to have plenty of time to reach harvest size.

But how to endure the wait? First consider that you are doing emotional archaeology. You are experiencing the emotions of people since gardening and farming began, without the hunger lurking around your corner if the crop fails. If all goes well, you will be able to experience the joy of a harvest — also an ancient emotion. When that first tomato, cucumber or kale arrives in your kitchen, you will use it joyfully and share the news with all who will listen.

Female zucchini blossoms have tiny squash behind them.  When you see one start to enlarge, the harvest will start in a day or two

Female zucchini blossoms have tiny squash behind them. When you see one start to enlarge, the harvest will start in a day or two

Courtesy Pam Peirce

Then consider that you are learning seasonal eating in a Mediterranean climate. I wrote, in the last chapter of my book “Golden Gate Gardening,” that we are learning what is possible in our climate, creating a modern, seasonal cuisine with access to the crops of the world, most of which have been grown here for only a short while. We are learning to use the winter months to escape summer drought, and learning what will grow in coastal microclimates. We are matching our adventuresome gardening with equally adventuresome eating, many of us creating a world fusion cuisine.

Besides “Golden Gate Gardening,” which will help you learn what is possible to grow where you live, and when, you might also enjoy reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver, about eating locally for a year from a large southern Appalachian garden. The book is delightful reading, connects a reader to seasonal eating, inspires smugness over the greater possibilities in our milder climate and includes recipes.

Another idea for the waiting gardener is to try new recipes for the crops you are growing or ones you may not have tried yet. Look for new ideas to use the crop you are waiting for, buy ingredients and try the recipes out while you wait for your own harvest. Because our markets offer such a variety, you might also try new recipes for less common foods such as chayote or Florence fennel. Who knows, you might find a new favorite that you can easily grow!

And, of course, having a fast crop to harvest will always make it easier to wait for the slower one. Plant lettuce seedlings and harvest for salads. Plant seeds of mustard and try the recipe for Tofu, Noodles and Mustard Greens that is in “Golden Gate Gardening.” Get some herb plants that will be ready to trim and use in a few weeks.

But mainly, slow down and watch your plants grow at the pace they demand. Watch the seedlings come up, the leaves unfurl, the flowers open, the fruits swell and ripen. Put some mulch down, pull weeds, look out for pests and enjoy the slow ride.

Pam Peirce is the author of “Golden Gate Gardening.” Visit her website, Email:

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