The green, slimy mass lurched at me from the bottom of the crisper drawer. I fended it off with a dish rag while rescuing the still-edible produce piled on top. Rats. Those green beans (or was it the chard?) looked so great when I bought them—I hated for them to go to waste.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes produce seems to spoil right away, while other times it seems to last a few days in the fridge? To some extent, it’s the nature of that particular vegetable. Some kinds just last longer than others. But that’s not the whole story. I find that produce purchased out of season just doesn’t keep as long, probably because it had so far to go to get here in the first place.
Quality and longevity aren’t the only issues with eating out of season. It takes a lot of fuel to transport food from one end of the planet to the other. Those January grapes probably came all the way from Chile, while summer citrus often hails from Australia. Do we really need to have every option every month of the year?
How do you know what’s in season? Since I have always grown a food garden, I’m very aware of what ripens when. But my daughter, for example, doesn’t have room for veggies in her tiny yard. So for all you non-gardeners out there, here’s a brief summary of what grows when.
While Colorado is frozen solid, many parts of the country are still planting and harvesting. Even resorting to food from Mexico is better than importing produce from the southern hemisphere. Plus, some crops keep better than others. Here are some “in season” suggestions to start the year: Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes, apples (stored), cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale (sweeter after the first frost), potatoes, onions, winter squash, carrots, hardy lettuce.
Stored crops are still available from last fall (see the list above). The weather is still cool, and the first of the new year’s crops are beginning to ripen: Lettuce, peas, asparagus, artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, turnips, new potatoes, radishes, green onions, cilantro, parsley, spinach and various other greens. Late spring brings early-ripening fruit: strawberries and cherries, as well as that not-really-a-fruit, rhubarb.
As the season progresses, more and more variety fills the market. Enjoy: peaches, apricots, plums, grapes, and berries (including more strawberries). Melons take long, hot days to ripen; the local crop arrives at the end of the season. Summer veggies include zucchini and other summer squash, beans, tomatoes, corn, chard, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant.
Long-season crops include sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins, and another round of the cool-weather veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale. Spinach grows best in the fall. Lettuce gets bigger without becoming bitter. Carrots are at their best as well. Apples and pears ripen, along with early fall raspberries. The main crop of potatoes is harvested after the tops die down in late summer.