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Originally published Friday, August 31, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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The crops are in for Seattle-area gardeners

Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton checks in with accomplished foodie gardeners.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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EVEN THOUGH our summer got off to a damp, chilly start, vegetables have persevered and ripened. As I pop a 'Sun Gold' tomato into my mouth (finally!) and gather a bowl of sweet, late raspberries, I wonder what other gardeners are reaping these last weeks of summer. We have such accomplished foodie gardeners around here, I thought I'd find out what they were up to.

First, I checked in with plant explorer Dan Hinkley who, along with partner Robert Jones, is an expert chef and serious veg gardener. Dan's been harvesting his favorite squash, the green, long and weirdly crooked 'Tromboncino,' which he describes as "a vining zucchini that never gets corky or seedy inside." Also ready for harvest is Buttercup squash (not to be confused with Butternut squash), which has won all kinds of contests for the best-tasting squash to use in pumpkin pie. Hinkley has also harvested his first huge 'Ailsa Craig' sweet onions (a good keeper).

"The dill is growing next to the English cukes, and we love both for fresh pickles ... we also can pickles with dill, hot peppers from the greenhouse and garlic from the garden," Hinkley says. He plants Meridian carrots in late summer to dig all winter and purple sprouting broccoli for late January.

Willi Galloway, author of "Grow, Cook, Eat," is picking 'Black Krim' tomatoes. "I adore this variety because it has a deep tomato flavor with an almost smoky undertone and deep red, early black fruit," she says. Galloway grows an Italian climbing summer squash called 'Trombetta,' which has a mild, nutty flavor and is delicious grilled. She's excited about another member of the squash family, 'Mexican Sour Gherkin,' which looks like a little watermelon and tastes like a sour cucumber. Galloway usually eats these fresh from the vine, but plans to try pickling them this autumn. Come Thanksgiving, Galloway will be harvesting arugula, broccoli rabe, spinach, lettuces and mâche, a cold-hardy salad green known as corn salad, from a protective hoop house.

Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Company (and co-author of "Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard") has spent years identifying which varieties of vegetables grow best in Seattle. Like Hinkley, McCrate is harvesting 'Ailsa Craig' sweet onions, also 'Ozette' potatoes and 'Provider' bush beans. He's already planted a second crop of 'Touchstone Gold' beets for late fall harvest, and is planting arugula, mustard greens, lettuce and spinach into early September to harvest all winter.

You wouldn't think that Amy Pennington, author of "Apartment Gardening" and "Urban Pantry," as well as host of KCTS-TV's "Check, Please! Northwest," would have time to garden, but this summer she's really into cucumbers. She's harvesting a variety of them, including 'Cornichon,' 'Little Leaf' and lemon cukes. "I really love my paste tomatoes; 'Principe Borghese' is my favorite," she says. This heirloom tomato freezes and preserves well. And she's harvesting two new finds: 'Red Ace' beets and 'Red Iceberg' lettuce, which she describes as "super crispy with red tips." For late-autumn harvest, Pennington is planting 'Chioggia' beets, rustic Italian 'Sylvetta' arugula, and green deer-tongue lettuce (protected under cloches).

This is the moment to revel in the fruits (literally) of all that soil prep, seed starting, watering and cultivating. And ... it's high time to start over again for next season.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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