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Archive for the ‘Vegetables and fruit’ Category

If you’re cleaning up your vegetable garden after the flood waters recede, consider the safety of eating produce from the garden.  If rain, and only rain, fell on the garden everything is fine, but if it was touched by or near flood water, your produce is risky-to-dangerous to consume.

Flood waters can contain sewage, pollutants such as oil, gasoline, solvents, etc., bacteria and parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Shigella, Hepatitis A, and a host of other unsavory contaminants.  Young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk for serious effects from consuming contaminated food and should not eat any produce that was in or near flood water.

In every case where the edible portion of the plant came into contact with flood water – submerged or splashed – there is risk, regardless of whether it is above or below ground.  In many cases, there is no effective way for washing the contaminants off of the produce.

To help you sort through what to do for crops that were near to flood waters, here are quick tips:

All crops eaten raw should be discarded, such as lettuce, mustards, spinach, cabbage, collards, Swiss chard, arugula, or micro greens.  Soft fruits like strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries as well as leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard, beet tops, or kale may be impossible to clean well and must be cooked before eating; avoid eating them raw.  Because rain or sprinklers can splash contaminated soil back onto these plants and contaminants can become embedded in the leaves, stems, petioles, etc., the area is not safe for growing for 90 days, minimum.

Root crops, including carrots, radishes,  parsnips, beets, or potatoes should be washed and rinsed in clean, potable (safe for drinking) water, sanitized in a dilute bleach solution, and then rinsed in potable water.  They should also be peeled and cooked before consuming.

Make your sanitizing solution by mixing a scant tablespoon of food grade bleach, without fragrances or thickeners, to one gallon of potable water.  Wash the produce with clean, potable water, using a vegetable brush to clean in crevices.  Rinse, then dip into the sanitizing solution for two minutes, then rinse in clean water.

Peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash and other soft skinned crops that are present during the flood should be discarded.  Winter squash, winter melons, and pumpkins, with their thick rinds, can be washed and rinsed in potable water, then sanitized in the dilute bleach solution described for root crops, and rinsed.

Questions on stage of plant growth versus potential for contamination can be summed up in this very good Purdue University response from Liz Maynard, Regional Extension Specialist, Commercial Vegetable and Floriculture Crops: “Risks can be described as follows:

•Edible portion of crop present: Very High Risk.  Fresh produce is considered adulterated.

•Plant emerged, edible portion not present: High Risk.  The potential presence of microorganisms in the plant as well as in the soil could result in indirect contamination of the crop post flooding (splashing onto plant, etc.).

•Planted but not emerged: Still High Risk for reasons given above from post flooding contamination in soil.

•Pre-planting: Moderate Risk.

Soil contamination may be as dangerous as that of uncomposted manure. Tilling in the soil and a minimum of 90 days between the recession of waters and harvest are needed to reduce this risk from pathogens, but recovering soil from chemical pollutants may take longer.

To protect crops and areas not directly touched by flood water, wash your hands before and after you’re in the garden, leave your garden shoes just outside your door, and change out of clothing you wore to work the vegetable patch.

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In an annual ritual of spring, gardeners emerge from their houses in mid-March, blinking in the thin sunlight as they peer around the landscape, assessing what needs pruning, cleaning, or mending.  All it takes to get our sap rising is for the month to turn to March, and we shrug off our winter lethargy in favor of planting the garden.

 That harbinger of spring acts like a jolt of electricity on our minds, sending a surge of energy urging us to get our hands in the soil and sow seeds.  But if you’re too quick to cave in to eagerness, you might find that your good intentions are not appreciated by the seeds you lovingly pop into the ground.  They’re not impressed by the calendar; they could care less about leprechaun and daylight savings.

 What the seeds want is warmth.  To ensure seeds sprout instead of sulk, gardeners need to plan on two things: frost date and soil temperatures.  Average date of last frost is what most rely upon to plan their plantings; it’s calculated from 30 to 40 years of data.  In Boulder the probability of frost is 50-50 on May 3, in Loveland May 4, and Longmont May 5. 

 Because it’s still possible to get frost after these dates, many gardeners prefer to use the 10-percent probability of frost date as their benchmark, which in Boulder is May 13, Loveland May 16, and Longmont May 17.  You still need to plan for protection from the odd cold snap, but the likelihood of frost is much less when waiting until mid-month.

 Yet there is a second temperature factor that Colorado gardeners shouldn’t ignore: soil.  Chilly soils will limit germination of seeds, and if the ground is both wet and cold, seeds will rot instead of sprouting. 

 Early spring vegetables vary in required soil temperatures.  Spinach and lettuce are the most tolerant, needing soil to be 35-degrees to germinate and 45-degrees or warmer to grow well.  Peas, chard, onions, mache, and parsley can grow in soils at 40-degrees, but do best in soils of 50-degrees or warmer.  Soil temperatures of 60 degrees or warmer are perfect for fava beans, beets, carrots, and leeks, while scallions, Asian greens, kale and kohlrabi like is slightly warmer, at 65-degrees.

  Can these plants germinate in slightly cooler soils?  Yes, but for them to grow rapidly and thrive – key to sweet flavor and tenderness – gardeners should pay close attention to bringing soil temperatures up.

 To do this, plastic mulches or water-filled walls are helpful.  If you’re choosing to go with warming by plastic, clear plastic works better than black at warming soil, bringing the temperature up 10 to 15 degrees in a few days. Make sure you weight down all edges of the plastic to keep it from blowing in the wind, and lay it out so that it touches the soil a week ahead of planting to give your seeds a warm start. 

 Punch holes into the plastic to sow seed if you plan on leaving the plastic in place over the season.  If you are removing the plastic once temperatures are stable, laying the sheets down in strips that can be folded back for planting space is a good way to leave the plastic between rows for a few weeks.  If using water-filled walls, place them out one week before planting to help warm the soil.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

  What wacky things a gardener will do if bitten by the competitive bug.  You might have one in your neighborhood – they’re those who hoist the first ripe tomato aloft, lifting it high enough to be seen above the six-foot privacy fence, proclaiming loudly “Honey, we’ll be enjoying tomatoes tonight!”

 Those of us on the other side of the fence can only sullenly stare in envy, alternately wondering how they did that and vowing to win next year.  Deals with the devil are made, and gardeners can quickly find themselves so wrapped up in the competition they lose sight of common sense, or even sanity.

 Take Kata Schmidt, a devoted vegetable gardener and Colorado Master Gardener inPueblo.  Eager to be the first in her neighborhood to harvest ripe tomatoes, she starts her 30 seedlings in January, then trundles them in and out of her home daily to protect them from frost.  That twice-daily tomato migration begins in February, a time when most of us are dreaming over catalogs and watching the snow fly.

But the task pays off for Kata, who begins plucking delicious love apples around Memorial Day, when most tomatoes are barely in the ground.  But it isn’t just the glory of the first delectable fruit that drives her, or the nutritious, homegrown food; she has her eye on the coveted title of Tomato Lady in her community, and goes after it.

 “There’s a woman nearby who likes to brag that she gets hers by the Fourth of July, but I so have her beat,” says Kata, adding that it’s fun to be so early in harvesting.

Now that it’s August, it’s crunch time for the most competitive in our neighborhoods, when County Fairs play on this obsession by pitting gardeners against one another in good-natured – and sometimes not so good natured – competition.   Perfection is measured in the straightness of beans, the uniformity of peppers, or the weight of cabbage.  And when it comes to pumpkins, size matters.

Blemished produce is no use in the county fair, so when the monsoons arrive, tossing hail and tree limbs, gardeners go to great lengths to protect their prized plants. Canopies, crates, and other coverings spring up almost as often as frost blankets, tossed on in the middle of the deluge once the hail becomes real.

Crazed gardeners measure the progress of overgrown zucchini, measuring its length and girth daily to see if they’ll triumph in the giant zucchini contests.  Alison and Gil O’Connor of Windsor are going after that prize, measuring their squash next to the size of their beagle, Willow.

If you’re planning to enter your crops for a chance at the blue ribbon, here are a few tips for selecting the prize winners from your plants:

Eggplant should be shiny, uniformly deep in color with a bright green cap.  Avoid dull color, green tinge or brown discolorations, which are all signs of bitter or old fruit.

 Sweet corn ears need to be filled to the tip with tightly packed, plump kernels, bursting with milky juice if lightly pressed. The silk should be a dark brown.   Leave those ears with dry brown husks and indentations on the kernels at home; they’re old, and the sugars have turned to starch.

Cantaloupes need to have a well defined grey-yellow netting over tan skin. Pick up the cantaloupe and shake it – the seeds will rattle when ripe, and gently press the blossom end to see if it gives slightly to pressure.  These are both signs of a perfectly ripe cantaloupe.  Judges will frown on spongy, wrinkled or moldy rinds.

Sweet peppers  should have deep, rich color that feel heavy for their size. Unless you’re growing some of the Italian bull’s horn types, avoid those with thin walls that give when pressed.  Enter the slender bull’s horns varieties that are wrinkle-free and sleek.

 Green beans are best when picked young, cooled quickly and brought to the fair as soon after harvest as possible.  Make sure the beans are slim, the seeds small and not swelling.  Look for pods less than one quarter to one eighth inch around with bright color and an audible snap when broken.

 

 

 

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

On the outskirts of Minneapolis, in a town called Eden Prairie, a vegetable patch is growing. This is not an average kitchen garden; the corn, beans, melons and tomatoes have a mission greater than feeding their gardener. Instead of filling plates with salad and side dishes, the plants here serve as canaries in a coal mine, providing early warning for problems cropping up on nearby grass.

Known as indicator plants, the vegetables are part of a holistic approach to turfgrass management on the professional practice fields of the Minnesota Vikings football team.

“The public thinks we practice at the Metrodome (inMinneapolis); they don’t know we have fields,” says Grant Davisson, Head Sports Turf Manager for the Vikings, who play in an indoor stadium. “But we have a lot of activity all year on this turf, from the end of March through the end of the season.”

With higher humidity and rainfall – they receive 30 inches per year – disease poses a challenge for managing the 210,000 square feet of turfgrass the Vikings practice on. Leaf spot, pythium, pink snow mold and Brown Patch are chronic problems.

Many high-use sports fields rely on a combination of play rotation and pesticides, but this facility is next to a riparian area protected by law. Because all of the runoff dumps into the wetland, Davisson is conservative in his turf treatments and prefers alternative means to controlling problems. “We don’t want any runoff, and we want as few applications as possible.”

That’s where the vegetables come in. In a 10-foot wide swath, watermelons, corn, tomatoes and soybeans act as sentinels for conditions that spur disease, succumbing to sickness a few days before the problems show up on the turf.

Rooted in the knowledge that disease outbreaks require the right environmental conditions to thrive, Davisson watches his vegetables for signs of oncoming turf problems. “Watermelons get hit by pythium, and though it’s not the same pythium that affects turf, they both need the exact same conditions,” he said, speaking of the disease that sends chills through turf managers’ spines due to its rapid destruction.

“It’ll hit the watermelons on the third hot, humid day and they’ll get killed, often by July 1. But once it shows up on the watermelons, I have a day or two lead time to spray the turf.” That’s all the time he needs to target his controls, knocking the dread fungus back behind scrimmage lines to keep it in check.

“Then we get cloudy days and the tomatoes get leaf spot. I’ve tracked it – three to four days later the turf gets leaf spot.” Affecting crown, rhizomes and roots in addition to leaves, in the heat of summer it kills the turf, leaving bare spots. “I hate leaf spot. It’s a bigger problem on rye than bluegrass.”

Replicating his plots in full sun and part shade, Davisson mimics the variable conditions on his fields, which receive differing amounts of sunlight. Applications of fertilizer are made at the same time to keep turf and vegetables even.

In addition to watermelon and tomatoes to watch for pythium and leaf spot, Davisson has corn and soybeans for rust. The peppers and peas are “because I like to eat them.” Harvested produce goes to coaches and staff.

Following a set schedule for fungicides calls for applications to be made every 90 days, and on fields this size, every application cost $35,000 to $40,000. But through this vegetable sentinel system, Davisson has been able to stretch out applications to 142 days between applications, saving money and lowering the impact on the environment. “It’s easily to most successful means to gauge disease,” he said, “and I save two applications per year. That’s a lot of money.”

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 Once June turns the corner toward July, one question burns in the mind of gardeners: How much is a sweet, decadent cherry pie worth? With each day the harvest grows closer, having you — and the birds — dreaming of the first tree fruit of the season.

But it comes at a cost; we have to protect those cherries. So we try netting using the unfurl-with-a-snap approach, the two person banner toss, and the death defying fling from the ladder, all to no avail. There’s no dignified way to do this, and we’re left performing the Dance of the Seven Veils trying to get the net on the tree while the neighbors drag out the lawn chairs to applaud.

There has to be a better way, and finally, we have one.

“I started out with a full sized Montmorency cherry tree. Every year my dad, son and I would struggle to put netting on it,” said Ray Hauser, inventor of the Netbrella tree netting tool. “I tried leaving the netting on one year, but that was a bad idea; the branches grew through the netting and I had to cut it off of the tree the next year.”

Battling robins for the fruit that fills his favorite dessert made Hauser turn his inventive mind — he holds 22 patents already — toward thwarting the feathered bandits, who start pecking the fruit to test for readiness before people are aware it’s ripening. “This was first invented to hold a heavy tarp to protect the tree from frost. But that didn’t work out too well, so I tried it with the netting.”

Hauser designed a simple tool that makes placing bird netting on fruit trees fast and easy. Called Netbrella, it consists of a wheel with spokes attached to a center pole. When the bird netting is wired to the rim of the wheel, the structure resembles an umbrella, which you lift above the canopy and tie to the trunk of the tree.

Laying out the netting in the backyard of his one-acre property in north-eastBoulder, Hauser demonstrated the simplicity of setup for the tool. “It’s all in the fold. You do it right and one side will fall one way from the wheel, the other falls the other way.” Hoisting the wheel upright, Hauser walked to a dwarf Northstar cherry, centering the netted wheel above the trunk of the tree and securing it with soft rope.

Unfold the netting from the top of the Netbrella and it drapes around the branches, protecting the fruit. “Make sure you stake the netting securely to the ground every eight inches, or those robins will crawl underneath and make themselves fat on your cherries,” said the 84-year old chemical engineer.

The time to net a cherry tree is now, protecting your fruit before it begins to change color. Birds start their inquiries into cherry ripeness once the fruit blushes yellow, pecking at the unripe fruit instead of waiting until it’s fire engine red like the rest of us.

This nifty gizmo works well on dwarf fruit trees, but isn’t the solution for those of us with semi-dwarf or standards; we’ll still have to struggle through the tribulations of netting our fruit. But those who have smaller trees can get them netted in a span of a half hour, instead of an entire day.

Netbrella is sold as a modest kit that contains custom pipe fittings, rope, and twist ties used for attaching the netting to the wheel. You’ll have to purchase the PVC pipe for center pole and spokes plus flexible pipe for the rim, but Hauser includes detailed instructions for assembling. The kits come in two sizes: small for trees up to seven feet tall and wide ($12), or large for trees up to 10 feet tall and wide ($18). Netting is also available from him ($34), or purchase your own.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

I’ve never paid much attention to astrological calendars that feature the zodiac or animal influences.  Outside of amusing ourselves with the placemats at Chinese food restaurants, the characteristics of whatever year I was born under never inspired me, mainly because the celestial guides never include a plant.  There are animals and arachnids, fish and fowl, dragons and virgins, but never a plant, which bothers me because I’m a gardener. 

But it turns out I wasn’t looking in the right place to find a foliaged guide; all I needed to do was look to the National Garden Bureau, which anoints a different plant every year for us to celebrate.  And this year, 2011, is a year of great excitement, because finally we are in The Year of the Tomato.

How auspicious to be born under this sign.  Anyone guided by this is sure to be the love apple of everyone’s eye, because the tomato is the most popular plant in the vegetable garden. 

“There are so many different varieties and types.  What originally was just a round, red fruit now comes in many shapes and names: currant, cherry, grape, salad, saladette, plum, Roma, Beefsteak, and more,” said Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the Bureau.  “It’s almost impossible to not find one to fit your taste, garden space and growing climate.”

Though it’s roots are in South America’s  Andes Mountains, the fruit is a world traveller, first being cultivated by the pre-Mayan people, says the NGB.  After the explorer Cortés discovered the tomato in an Aztec market and took it home to Spain, the tomato traveled throughout Europe and across the channel to England.

But love for the tasty tomato didn’t take hold in Europe in those early days; as a member of the nightshade family it was grown as an ornamental plant.  Superstitions grew up around it, including the belief that witches used it to summon werewolves, which is why Linnaeus, the father of our scientific naming system, dubbed it Lycopersicon esculentum, or “edible wolf peach.”

According to the blog Tomato Casual, a way to get money is by placing a tomato peeling over your door.  I actually believe this one – one look at the tomato skin above my door and my mother will hand me money to afford cleaning supplies.

American legends argue over who staged an event in 1820 to convince the public that tomatoes were edible.  One version holds that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a basketful of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem courthouse, while another claims it was Thomas Jefferson  who, on a visit to Lynchburg, Virginia, munched on the fruit on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house.  Neither legend is proved to be true.

Over ten thousand varieties of the love apple exist;  many, known as heirlooms, have been handed down for more than 50 years. The National Garden Bureau says open pollinated tomatoes, which include heirlooms and all varieties that grow true from seed, are the popular choice for home gardeners.  

From smallest to largest, popular fruit shapes are identified as currant, cherry, plum, standard, and beefsteak. Cherry tomatoes, range from ¼ to one ounce, are produced in clusters. Plum, or paste tomatoes, have more solids than liquids, giving them meaty walls that make fine sauces. Standard-sized tomatoes weigh from 4 to 16 ounces, while beefsteaks, can get to be 2 pounds or more.

 Tomatoes have different growth habits, which can be determinate or indeterminate. Determinates are compact, reaching 3 to five feet. They set fruit and ripen it all at once, so the main harvest is concentrated into a few weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow, blossom, and produce tomatoes throughout the growing season. They can reach up to 12 feet tall, and produce many main stems, all of which are capable of flowering and fruiting. To support unwieldy growth and to keep tomatoes off of the ground, support plants with cages or stakes. Staked plants should be pruned to remove all but two growing stems, which are tied loosely to the stakes and trained for vertical growth.

There is a third type called semi-determinate which is bushy like a determinate, but will set and ripen fruit over a longer period of time. The 1984 AAS Award Winner ‘Celebrity’ is a semi-determinate.

Choose your tomatoes by maturity date, the average number of days from planting outdoors to the first ripe fruit. Early tomatoes, generally speaking, are those that ripen in fewer than 70 days; mid-season tomatoes ripen in 70 to 80 days; and late types require over 80 days.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Mention how delicious broccoli grown in your garden tastes, and you’re likely to be stared at as if you’ve lost your mind.  At the mere thought of the deep green vegetable, most people shudder, remembering overcooked, limp, bitter servings at their school cafeteria.

But a head harvested from the sweet soil of your backyard is a whole different meal, a nutty, tender flavor so delightful you’ll crave more.  Fresh homegrown broccoli is so tasty, in fact, that it can change the minds of our most picky eaters:  our children.

Just ask Robyn Bond, a Colorado Master Gardener in Larimer County.  She gardens on a small patch of yard in the suburbs, squeezing in as many plants as possible in the pocket-sized garden.   Though her grandson, Travis, helped her sow spinach and chard seeds last spring, he drew the line when it came to eating.

“He says his brain tells him not to eat anything green,” said Robyn.  Since Travis and his twin brother Gunner (who eats green things but not broccoli) weren’t interested, Robyn popped in three broccoli seedlings, just enough for one person to enjoy.

But Travis became curious about the heads that developed on the plants, and summoned the courage to ignore his brain’s advice and try this green thing.  “I told him he could cut as much as he wanted for his dinner,” said Robyn, not realizing that this meant Travis would cut all three plants’ worth of broccoli.  Finding them delicious, in a few days he returned, and helped himself to the side shoots as well.

In fact, so enamored of the tender, delicious broccoli had Travis become that he decided to share his joy with others, particularly in the produce department of the grocery store.  There the dark haired lad took his stand, stopping shoppers before they could slide a few heads into their plastic bags.

Gazing up at people, his blue eyes sincere, he uttered “Don’t buy this stuff they make here, grow it instead, like nana does.”  You see, Travis, like other children, has yet to discover exactly where food comes from, believing that grocers made the broccoli they sold.

 “The store staff got a kick out of it, they’ve forgiven me and I’m allowed back in the store,” Robyn assured me.  “They know he will now eat broccoli.”

 Gardeners need more Travises in the world, and more nanas like Robyn to teach them the joy of growing food.  One day they’ll take the hand of a child to teach them the ways of soil and sunlight, or grow into young farmers bringing produce to neighborhood markets.

In the meantime, plant some broccoli in your patch this year.  It’s easy to grow, but keep in mind that the secret to sweet, not bitter, broccoli is consistent water and rapid growth.  It’s a cool season crop, so plant seedlings now for a spring harvest.  Pick a sunny location and amend the soil with a bit of plant-based compost, and give the young seedlings a shot of starter fertilizer to get them growing.

Pay careful attention to watering, making sure the plant doesn’t dry out – this is what causes it to bitter.  Right now we’re dry; our rainfall isn’t enough to moisturize the leaves, much less irrigate the roots.  So check your plant daily and give it a drink if the top of the soil feels dry.

 Fertilize the plants at three weeks and five weeks, to keep their growth rapid.

Broccoli heads are actually a cluster of immature flower buds, harvested before the flowers open. Monitor your heads as they size up; the plant tag will give an indication of the size of an ideal head.  Pick the broccoli before any yellow begins to show, cutting the stem five inches below the head.  Let the plant keep growing, and you’ll enjoy a second crop of side shoots as well.

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