Home gardeners this time of year have forgotten about the costs and the labor. This is harvest season, and they're busy distributing the bounty to their friends and neighbors. If you are -- offered the tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini, don't hesitate. Accept all of it.
It's the best fresh food you will have all year. And any you can't eat right now you should freeze. So say agriculture experts at the University of California in Davis.
Here's why: Even "fresh" vegetables purchased at the supermarket usually aren't. They may have been picked weeks before, shipped cross country in refrigerated cars, languished in a warehouse and only then found their way to your grocer's shelves.
Many vegetables, especially tomatoes, are special hybrids developed not for good taste or high nutritional value, but to withstand this abuse and still maintain the appearance of edibility. My husband's few tomato plants, tucked among the flowers in the perennial borders, are producing a peck or so every day or so. When I'm not exclaiming on their taste and nutrition, he is reminding me of their value.
Vegetables begin to lose their nutrients the moment they are picked. It may surprise you, but fruits and vegetables purchased at health food and specialty stores actually may be lower in nutritional content if they have aged.
For the same reason, according to the National Food Processors Association (NFPA), frozen vegetables are likely to contain more valuable nutrients than fresh vegetables from the store. Freezing usually takes place very soon after the vegetables are picked.
Frozen broccoli, for instance, is one of the most nutritionally sound products you can buy. When harvested, it begins to lose (( its nutrients rapidly, which is why it may be better for you in its frozen form.
Even canned fruits and vegetables sometimes are more nutritious than fresh ones that have been subjected to days or weeks of storage. The NFPA notes, though, that some of the vitamins and minerals in canned produce become suspended in the canning liquid. It's wise to consume the juice or use it in soup or sauce.
There is another important reason to embrace the wealth of home-grown vegetables this time of year: the environment.
Consider the canned tomato. By the time you receive it, it has been picked and trucked to a canning factory, where energy is consumed cooking it. More resources were devoured in producing the can and even the paper label. Still more when it was trucked to your store. At your market, it is placed in a paper or plastic bag and you drive home with it.
Compare that with the home-grown tomato. In a proper garden, especially an organic garden, it actually adds to the health of the environment.
It's sad that such wholesome vegetables become available, usually for the asking -- and sometimes not even requiring the asking, so eager are gardeners to share -- only for a short time each year. Again, a little cleverness will let you enjoy this rich and economical bounty long into the winter. All you have to do is freeze the excess.
Beans of all sorts, corn and squash can be frozen with excellent results. Frequently nothing more is required than washing the produce or blanching it in boiling water and popping it in a freezer bag. If you want to get more elaborate, instructions and advice are available from the office of your county Agricultural Extension Agent.
This doesn't work well, sad to say, with tomatoes intended for slicing. They are likely to split when they freeze and become droopy when thawed. Even so they're fine for sauces and juice.
The harvest is here. It's time to stock up. You'll feel better for it, and so will your pocketbook.
And next year you may want to join the millions of home gardeners who "raise their own" in containers, among the flowers or in small back-yard plots.