It seems to me that garden crops are maturing earlier than usual. In fact, wild plants began blossoming nearly two weeks earlier this year, as opposed to last year. Garden vegetables haven’t lagged far behind.

The big question now, given the early maturation of wild and domestic plants, is will the first frost follow suit? No one knows, of course. But just because maples are already turning red and squash plants are yellowing as if because of age, doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see an early frost. If we can squeeze through most of September without a frost, that means that late-planted crops, mostly in the form of second plantings, should bear second crops.

If not, well, it was a good try.

My money goes to a late frost, despite all the other signs. If I’m right, then we should continue harvesting our vegetables as if it were early, rather than late summer. Most plants will continue producing despite the lateness of the season.

Many gardeners have come to the point of pulling up crops because it seems that the season has nearly drawn to a close. But perhaps it hasn’t, in which case we can keep our plants in production by diligently harvesting young vegetables. The trick here is to not allow vegetables to grow to typical, giant, end-of-season sizes. When that happens, the plant will begin to shut down.

If we keep all crops picked, we can extend the plant’s productive life.

Ancient favorite

This idea of harvesting young fruits and vegetables stands especially true for that old-time favorite, cucumbers. Those huge, overgrown cukes have absolutely no value, except perhaps as food for hogs. But if we keep a watchful eye on our crops and pick young cukes as soon as they are ready, the plant will continue to put out more fruits.

That isn’t to say that late-season cucumbers will look exactly like early season cukes, because many of them will have a decided crook at the small end of the fruit. But even these, if picked early, taste fine and stand ready for use sliced, pickled and what-have-you.

Most know the many uses of cucumbers, and it would be redundant to list them. However, did you know that cucumbers rank among the oldest of cultivated crops? Cucumbers are mentioned several times in the Bible, going back to Old Testament times. The ancient Israelites ate cucumbers during their sojourn in Egypt.

In the Holy Land, cucumbers were considered so valuable that cucumber fields were guarded by watchmen, who lived in seasonal dwellings. Once the harvest season had ended, these stalwarts went on to other things.

The cucumbers of biblical times differed somewhat from today’s cukes, but both belong to the same genus, Cucumis. So just think, next you feast on a cucumber sandwich with mayonnaise, you are enjoying a product that was similarly appreciated thousands of years ago, perhaps minus the mayo.

Green beans

Green beans, as well as wax beans, will continue to produce well into fall. I harvested perfectly good beans in October, thanks to having kept the beans picked as soon as they were large enough to bother with.

As with cucumbers, late-season beans often lose their long, cylindrical shape and instead develop a decided curve or crook. As long as they are picked when small, these taste the same as their earlier iterations. Also, they are equally as tender.

Even if you can’t eat all your beans fresh, they are easy to put up for the freezer. Just cut in short lengths, blanch, cool and freeze. Green and wax beans can be frozen whole, but the finished product becomes somewhat watery when served. Cutting into short lengths makes for a drier, more appetizing, end product.

Growing and putting up your own beans makes all kinds of sense. Most of the frozen beans available in winter come in those “steam-in-the-bag” types. That calls for cooking the beans all at once. If you only want some beans as a side dish, you wind up with a pound of cooked beans and nothing to do with them except save them in the fridge to be re-heated at a later date.

By putting up your own beans, you have the choice of container size. I like to put my beans up in single-serving-size bags. If I plan on having company, it’s easy to take out more bags to suit the occasion.

So don’t quit tending your vegetable gardens just yet. We may still enjoy late-season crops.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist, and book author.