Enjoying the Autumn Harvest: The benefits of choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables

‘Tomayto, Tomarto’ – To Season or not to Season

If you are anything like me and you love tomatoes, you will know there is no comparison in terms of colour, sweetness and flavour between a sun-ripened, locally-grown heirloom tomato fresh off the vine and an insipid-looking, somewhat tasteless artificially-ripened or imported tomato offered in supermarkets when they are not in season. 

The difference is that the heirloom tomato is grown at its most optimal time and place for growing and ripening – throughout summer in Aotearoa – and is given the opportunity to ripen on the plant. This means it has attained its maximum sweetness and flavour, making it much more delicious. Not only is it more flavourful, but that time in the sun and its adaptation to the New Zealand environment has allowed it to maximise the antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients it contains making it so much better for you! On the other hand, imported produce is often harvested well before attaining ripeness and will be treated with pesticides or preservatives to artificially lengthen shelf-life.

Better flavour and greater health benefits are reasons enough for me to want to eat locally-grown fruit and vegetables during their most optimal growing season.

But there are even more benefits…

More Bang for your Buck

For one, it is much more economical. If you were lucky enough to be in Hastings or Royal Oak in Auckland recently you may have been able to take advantage of tomatoes being sold at the crazy price of 0.8c per kilo! Usually, they’re never less than $2 a kilo even when in season. Due to the COVID crisis, local growers have not able to send their tomatoes to overseas markets as they normally would have meaning an overabundance in the local market. An oversupply of stock means prices come down – although not usually as dramatically as the crazy prices we have recently seen.

Support Local, Know your Community and Love the Planet!

This unusual market supply situation is very hard on local growers. One great way that New Zealand consumers can support them is to buy their seasonal fruit and veges locally. Farmers Markets are a great place to find local organic producers and buying from them helps to support your local economy – another great reason to buy and eat seasonal produce. Local markets are a great place to get to know your local community, as well as learn what fruit and vegetables are currently in season in your area. Not only that, but locally-produced food means less food mileage. So, you are also doing your bit for the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.

Masterchef in the Making

Another plus is that buying seasonal produce pretty much forces you to cook more! For those who hate to cook, that may not sound like a benefit. But for everyone who takes pleasure in getting creative with food and trying out new recipes, there is nothing like being able to produce a variety of delicious, colourful, home-cooked meals from fresh, seasonal, home-grown or local produce. 

Know what you’re Eating

Home-cooking also means you have a lot more control over what you and your family are consuming particularly in terms of additives like oil, sugar, salt and other preservatives that may be hidden or over-utilised in processed foods and can negatively impact your health. Buying seasonal fruit and vegetables means that you get to eat more delicious, much healthier, and cheaper food all whilst supporting your local community, saving the planet, and becoming a better cook! What’s not to love?

So what’s in Season during Autumn (March to May)?

Now that you are feeling inspired to go out there and get seasonal, here are some of the many fruits and vegetables that are being harvested from March through to May.

NZ Fruit In Season from March to May

Fruits at the end of their season include stone fruits such as apricots, nectarines, plums, peaches and avocados, berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and blueberries. We’ve also got melons like honeydew, rockmelon and watermelon, grapes and tomatoes.

The harvest season is just beginning in March and continues through to May for apples, figs, limes, feijoas, persimmons, kiwifruit, passionfruit, pears, nashis and quince.

NZ Vegetables In Season from March to May

Some vegetables are pretty much available in New Zealand right throughout the year. These include bean sprouts, mesclun, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, spring onions, mushrooms, leafy greens such as cabbage, spinach, lettuce, bok choi, silverbeet, leeks and kale; and root vegetables such as carrots, radishes, potatoes, parsnip and beetroot. We are so fortunate to have such a mild, temperate climate in most areas of New Zealand that allows for this especially with regards to year-round leafy greens, which pack in so many of the nutrients our bodies need and are absolutely vital for good health.

Other vegetables coming to the end of their harvesting season during the early part of Autumn include sweetcorn, beans, broccolini, cucumber, eggplant, capsicum and chillies. Vegetables still in season, or just coming into their harvesting season during the Autumn months, are taewa (Māori potatoes), garlic, kumara, turnips, ginger, onions, brussels sprouts, fennel, watercress, pumpkin, kamokamo, courgettes and squash.

More Helpful Resources

  • To find out seasonal availability at other times of the year, a great resource can be found at produce.co.nz.
  • If you are looking for what vegetables to eat to support particular health issues, the infographic at www.vegetables.co.nz gives some great suggestions: You will note that leafy greens feature in pretty much every category listed as they pack in an amazing variety of nutrients that our bodies need to support optimal health. Our parents were right after all when they barked at us to “Eat your greens!”
  • Sources of key nutrients and phytonutrients also be found on vegetables.coo.nz here.
  • And finally if you are looking at how to incorporate more seasonal fruit and veges into your family’s meals, some great ideas can be found here at 5aday.

Happy seasonal eating!

Image Sources
“Ripening on the vine” by shandrew is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
“Pukekohe Tomatoes” Facebook/Pak ‘n’ Save Royal Oak
“06/07/2011 Farmer’s Market” by gmt billings is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Zirsha Wharemate
(Ngati Ranginui)

Zirsha Wharemate has a Masters and a PhD in Nutritional Science from Massey University (2016). Her PhD looked at Investigations into the Nutritional and Sensory Potential of Taewa (Māori Potatoes).