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Going Back to Your Roots, or Tubers

Going back to your roots…or tubers…or bulbs…or corms

Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator

 

vegetablesCorms? What are corms?

This time of year, those of us who make an attempt to eat seasonally, “root” vegetables are a mainstay. Though most are available year round, roots are something that you can continue to find at your local winter farmers market—grown in Connecticut. At my New Haven market, I have seen carrots, beets, radishes, all types of potatoes and even celeriac or celery root.

But, after doing a bit of research, prompted by an article sent to me, I discovered that what most of us know as root vegetables, may not actually be root vegetables as a knowledgeable botanist could tell you.

True root vegetables include taproots and tuberous roots. Taproots grow downward into the ground. They tend to be drought tolerant, sending out roots 20 to 30 feet long in search of water, if necessary, in dry climates. Typically they are tapered in shape: a main root with other roots that sprout off the sides.

Taproots include beets, parsnips, carrots, turnips, radishes, rutabaga, jicama, salsify, celeriac, and daikon radish. This list is not exhaustive and does include several taproots that appear to be shaped more like a ball than a tapered carrot. Tuberous roots are modified lateral roots, many of which (sweet potatoes, cassava) look just like taproots: others look more segmented such as ginger or turmeric.

Corms, rhizomes and tubers (different from tuberous roots) are really stem structures, not true roots. But many a roasted root vegetable recipe will list them as ingredients. Generally speaking, they are referred to as roots in agriculture as well as culinary uses.   Corms, constructed of vertical underground stems, include Chinese water chestnuts and taro. You no doubt have seen taro chips in the snack food aisle in your local grocery store or fancy food shop. They are often used by higher end restaurants as a garnish as well. They are an off-white color with dark striations and have a nutty flavor. In Hawaii, taro is cooked, mashed and made into poi, a thick liquid, often eaten with the fingers.

Rhizomes are also stems, not roots. Not all rhizomes grow underground, but ginger, ginseng, turmeric and lotus roots do. When growing, they look like a mass of horizontal roots (though, again, they are NOT roots).

Finally, tubers are a class of root-like vegetables that include potatoes, and some varieties of yams. They are formed from thickened underground stems.

Historically, because they are inexpensive to grow and store, root vegetables were often considered to be food for the poor. But the richness of a diet high in colorful beets, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes, flavored with garlic or shallots (which are bulbs, not roots), turmeric, ginger or radishes is something we can all benefit from.

One thing that all of these true root vegetables, corms, rhizomes, and tubers have in common is that they serve as storage organs for the plant. They are a major source of carbohydrates, the nutrients that provide energy essential for plant growth and metabolism. Often these vegetables are placed on a do not eat list for those trying to cut down on carbohydrates. This would be a mistake, though. These carbohydrates generally digest more slowly and contribute to the energy needs of the human body, just as they do for the plant. Not only that, but they are also great sources of fiber (for heart health and gastrointestinal system health) and phytonutrients, which are not vitamins, but chemical compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in humans.

If you have a backyard garden, consider adding root and root-like vegetables to your “to plant” list this year. They are not difficult to grow if you pay attention to soil quality. They grow best in a deep, loose soil that can hold moisture, but is well-drained. Root crops do not grow well in very acid soils. So, don’t forget taking a soil sample so that you will know if you need to treat with fertilizers or lime. Planting of root vegetable crop seeds generally begins early in the season—as early as the beginning of April for most in Connecticut.

For more information on growing, preparing or storing root vegetables, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

10 Tips for the October Gardener

Iowa State mumsTen Tips for the October Gardener:

  1. Remove, bag and trash any gypsy moth or bagworm egg masses or spray with a horticultural oil to smother them.
  2. This summer was very dry so continue to water ornamental plants up until a hard frost.
  3. Clean up any remaining debris from the garden beds but do not add it to the compost pile unless disease free.
  4. Get your soil tested for next year’s garden now to avoid the spring rush. Collect samples before the ground freezes. More information at www.soiltest.uconn.edu.
  5. Apply winter mulches around trees and perennials once the ground has frozen. Do not spread it beforehand as it can delay dormancy for plants and also provides cover for chipmunks and voles.
  6. Bring any houseplants back inside before the first frost. Scout for insects and rinse the foliage and containers.
  7. Place daffodil, hyacinth, tulips or other pre-chilled bulbs in pots in a cool dark place so that they can be forced to bloom during the winter.
  8. Keep any newly seeded areas of lawn well-watered.
  9. Replace spent annuals with cold-hardy mums, asters, pansies, or kale for color well into December.
  10. Divide and replant clumps of rhubarb that have become congested.

Deadline Extended – Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

working in garden

Hartford County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Bailey and a Master Gardener volunteer work in Burgdorf. Photo: Chris Defrancesco.

UConn Extension is accepting applications for the 2017 Master Gardener Program. Master Gardener interns receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share knowledge with the public through community volunteering and outreach efforts. Enrollment in the UConn Extension Master Gardener program is limited and competitive.

“Gardening and the study of it is something we can do our whole lives,” says Karen Linder, a 2015 graduate of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford. “There is always something new to learn – we can get deeper into a subject. Our instructors truly brought subjects to life that I thought could not be made exciting. Who knew soil had so much going on? It has truly changed the way I think and observe the world around me. That is pretty amazing!”

The program is broad-based, intensive, and consists of 16 class sessions (one full day per week) beginning January 9, 2017. The Master Gardener program includes over 100 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of volunteer service. Individuals successfully completing the program will receive UConn Extension Master Gardener certification. The program fee is $425.00, and includes the training manual. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

“Working at the Courthouse Garden signature project in Hartford gave me the opportunity to use my gardening skills to help feed and educate others,” says John Vecchitto, a 2015 graduate from Hartford County. “We’re teaching others, many of whom have never gardened, to enjoy the gardening experience. People expressed their satisfaction when they heard the produce we grew would go to a shelter to help hungry people. We fed those who needed good food, and we fed the spirits of our participants with a taste of kindness. It was empowering.”

Classes will be held in Haddam, West Hartford, Bethel, Brooklyn, and Stamford. The postmark deadline for applications has been extended until Friday, November 18, 2016

For more information or an application, call UConn Extension at 860-486-9228 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Tips for Donating Extra Garden Produce

FANs gardenMany of you are growing your own food this summer at home or in a community garden. Do you have an abundance of vegetables – more than you and your family can consume? Here are some tips from Maine Extension on donating your extra produce:

Home Gardeners

Growing extra food in your own garden, or in a community garden, can be a very fun and convenient way to contribute to your community. Here are some tips for success:

  1. Connect with your local recipient organization to make sure they can accept fresh vegetables and determine the best days/times to drop off donations. If you don’t know where to donate, your local UConn Extension office can help you find a place to donate.
  2. Harvest ripe, undamaged produce*, clean it, and estimate the weight.
  3. Donate to a local agency OR a friend in need.
  4. Contact a local UConn Extension office to find a community garden to help.

*We suggest growing any of the following crops:

  • Long-term keepers: beets, cabbage, carrots, winter squash (no Hubbard, please)
  • Short-term keepers: tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, broccoli, beans

Wild and Wonderful Insects of New England

Written by Pamm Cooper

elderberry borer

Elderberry Borer. Photo: Pamm Cooper

Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, I find that the most interesting insects are to be found. While spring offers some really good forester caterpillars and their attractive moths, among other things, nature seems to me to save the best for last, it seems to me. From beetles to butterflies, moths and their caterpillars, from June on there are some fabulous finds out there.

I have to admit to being a caterpillar enthusiast, and am partial to the sphinx, dagger, slug and prominent caterpillars and then the butterfly cats as well. Last year the swallowtail butterflies were few and far between, but this year our three main species- black, spicebush and tiger- are clearly more numerous. If you know where to look, you can find them.

I like to turn over elm leaves and search for two really spectacular caterpillars. The first is the double-toothed prominent, whose projections along its back resemble those of a stegosaurus. Along with its striking coloration and patterns, this is a truly remarkable find for anyone who takes the time to look and see. The second one is the elm sphinx, sometimes called the four- horned sphinx. This caterpillar has both a brown and a green form, and has little ridges running along its back. It is a behemoth, as well, like many sphinx caterpillars- robust and heavy.

Read more…

10 Tips for the May Gardener

green tomato

  1. Plant tomatoes, peppers and melons after the danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is 65° F, usually the last week in May. Plant tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant in different locations each year to reduce insect and disease problems.
  1. Keep mower blades sharp and set your mower height at 2-3 inches. Remove no more than one-third of the total height per mowing and mulch to return nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil.
  1. Hummingbirds and orioles return to northern states by mid-May. Clean and refill feeders to attract these colorful birds to your backyard. Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers with trumpet-shaped blooms such as columbine, salvia, and fuchsia.
  1. Start to monitor lilies for red lily leaf beetles. Check the underside of leaves for the clusters of tiny orange eggs and remove. Spray with neem every 5-7 days to kill larvae and adults or handpick and destroy.
  1. Remove any sucker growths from fruit trees as soon as they appear.
  1. Plant dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other summer flowering bulbs. Put hoops and stakes in place for floppy plants while they are still small.
  1. Ground covers such as vinca, ajuga, pachysandra, creeping foamflowers, lamium, and ivy can be divided and transplanted now to create new beds or enlarge existing ones.
  1. When transplanting annuals and vegetables, be gentle with the root ball. These plants have small root masses that are easily damaged.
  1. Weed around the bases of trees and shrubs and apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch but do not place it directly against the trunk.
  1. Lay soaker hoses in flower and shrub gardens.

For more information, please contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center, or call 877-486-6271.

10 Tips for the April Gardener

  1. Continue to apply horticultural oil sprays to control insect pests on fruit trees if temperature is over 40°F.pansies
  1. Sow peas, carrots, radishes, lettuces, and spinach. Plant seedlings of cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli, weather permitting.
  1. For an instant spring show, fill containers with forced spring bulbs from supermarkets and garden centers.
  1. Prune back bedraggled looking ground covers and fertilize lightly after April 15.
  1. Check fruit trees for tent caterpillars; they emerge around the same time as leaves sprout. Blast nests with a strong spray of water to destroy them.
  1. Remove any remaining last year’s leaves from roses and spread a thin layer of new mulch underneath them to control diseases that may have over-wintered.
  1. Divide overcrowded summer or fall blooming perennials. Check for insects such as the iris borer and discard any pest or disease ridden plants.
  1. Place seedlings in cold frames around April 25 or later to harden off before transplanting.
  1. Prune ornamental grasses and sedums to a height between 6 and 12 inches before new growth starts.
  1. Sow cool-weather edible greens and lettuces in window boxes or shallow containers that can be brought inside if temperatures dip below freezing.

For more information please contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu.

10 Tips for the March Gardener

  1. Make plans to attend the UConn Garden Conference on March 18, 2016.garden 2016 logo
  1. Carefully remove winter mulches and leftover debris from planting beds to reduce the presence of overwintering diseases and pests.
  1. Get your soil tested through the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory before any major planting or fertilizing venture. Soils sent in before April 1 will avoid the spring rush.
  1. Add limestone as recommended and, if possible, incorporate into planting beds but don’t fertilize yet. Wait until mid-April.
  1. As ground becomes workable, de-thatch the lawn if you find an inch or more of thatch; seed any bare spots. Get the lawn mower serviced, have the blades sharpened.
  1. Seeds of annual flowers and vegetables that require 10-12 weeks of growth before transplanting can be sown indoors now.
  1. Plant seeds of cold weather vegetables like spinach, peas, lettuce and broccoli as soon as soil is workable.
  1. Before new shoots emerge, cut back last year’s stalks on perennials and grasses.
  1. Horticultural oil treatments for maple bladder gall mite, spider mites on evergreens and scale on shrubs and trees can be applied; check labels for specifics on appropriate weather conditions.
  1. Eliminate any hard to mow areas such as acute angles in beds and borders. Combine single trees or shrubs into a large planting connected with ground cover. Put the birdbath in a flowerbed or surround it with ground cover.

For more information visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or call 866-486-6271.

Cut Food Budgets – Grow a Kitchen Garden

By       Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

            UConn Extension Educator/Food Safety

Though some economic indicators are showing that things are getting better, there are many Connecticut citizens who still find tough going. The result has been that more and more people are growing food in their backyards or on patios, and some are growing enough to need to know how to freeze and can the fruits and vegetables for storage into the winter. It is likely that the home vegetable gardening trend will continue until there is a change in our collective jitters about the stock market or the fact that raises are few and far between.

green tomatoWhen budgets are tight, we often are forced to make diet changes that might not be in our health’s best interest. One study, in the November 2007 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, showed that limited resource families would need to spend up to 70% of their food budget on fruits and vegetables in order to meet USDA Dietary Guidelines recommendations. So, it stands to reason that when things get tough, folks are likely to make other, less costly, food choices. A study appearing in the Journal of Nutrition indicated that a population of French adults, when confronted with cost constraints, would be most likely to limit purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables (along with meat and dairy foods).

So, if you can’t afford to buy fresh tomatoes from the market, why not think about growing some in your back yard?

Americans have a history of using kitchen gardens to feed their families better when times are tough. During the Second World War, the presence of backyard kitchen gardens or “Victory Gardens” emerged as Americans did what they could to help with the War effort. At the time, these gardens provided over 40% of the fresh produce eaten in this country. That meant commercial production could be devoted to supplying our troops here and overseas.

How can you plan and grow a kitchen garden that contributes significantly to reducing your food budget? First, you need to do some planning.

When choosing a place for your garden, keep in mind that fruits and vegetables need a lot of sun to grow and good drainage. Of course, the ideal place for a kitchen garden is just outside of the kitchen door. Convenience makes it user-friendly. If you do not have a sunny garden space, try planting a container garden on a sunny deck or patio. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, small lettuces, and, of course, herbs, can do very well in well-drained containers. Check with the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or your local Master Gardener for help in choosing varieties suitable to container gardening.

It is best to start small. Remember that anything you grow and do not eat within a few days will need to be preserved. When times are tight, being wasteful makes no sense. Canning and freezing take time and is usually done during the hottest months of the year. Most would agree the effort is worth it, but it might be wise to get into this one baby step at a time. Once you figure out what you can grow, use, give away or preserve in a timely fashion, you may choose to increase your garden size.

What to Grow

It might seem obvious that a kitchen garden includes primarily fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you commonly use in your kitchen. Planting a bunch of Brussels sprouts so that it will be available for the fall and winter table makes no sense if the family can’t get the sometimes odiferous cruciferous past their collective noses.

Consider growing fruits and vegetables that can contribute the most to the quality of your diet. Some of the most “good for you” fruits and vegetables can be grown easily in a Connecticut garden. Try growing cantaloupe or watermelon, strawberries, or blueberries. These can all be expensive when buying them in your supermarket. If you have room, you can get several pounds of raspberries from each plant you put in the ground. Think about that when you pick up a half-pint costing upwards of four dollars in the market.

Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard greens and romaine lettuce are easy to grow. When it comes to greens, darker is always the best nutritional choice. Choose romaine, spinach or other dark leafy greens over iceberg or leaf lettuce if your garden space is limited.

Yes, market tomatoes can be expensive—especially if you want them to be organic, or of the heirloom variety. But consider this: one packet of seed can yield up to 30 plants. And each plant can produce more than 25 pounds of tomatoes. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that it is cheaper to grow the things than to buy them. Finally, choose carrots, green or red peppers, winter squash or pumpkin. All of these pack a healthy punch and will be a great addition to your kitchen garden.

Herbs are a good choice if you want to add wonderful flavor to foods without adding salt or sugar. Basil, parsley, rosemary and thyme are must-haves. A small pot of oregano will produce more than enough fresh herb for the summer. You can bring potted herbs indoors and continue to grow them all year long if you choose to. You may never have to spend a fortune on little cans of the dried stuff ever again.

Finally, be sure to develop a garden plan that includes early season choices (peas, salad greens), mid-season (berries, green beans) and later season produce (winter squash, Brussels sprouts). This will help to insure that you have something fresh at your table from spring until winter.

Keep your vegetable gardening budget friendly with some of these additional tips:

  • Start and maintain a compost pile—a future of free fertilizer
  • Start plants from seed or purchase the smallest plants available from your garden store
  • Save seed from this year’s crop to use next year—free seeds!
  • Trade and share excess produce or seeds with other gardeners or neighbors
  • When you need help, get information or advice from the UConn Home and Garden Education Center or your local library—free help!

Once your kitchen garden is established, your produce section is just outside your door and you will have easy access to fresh garden tomatoes or blueberries. For more information about growing a kitchen garden, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Volunteer Spotlight: Marcia Johnson

Teacher and 4-H Volunteer Brings Gardening, Nutrition and Fitness to Students in the Classroom and Beyond

By Kim Markesich

Originally published by Naturally@UConn on January 26, 2016

 

students in garden

Nathan Hale students care for a garden bed.

Twenty-eight years as an elementary school teacher has not dampened the enthusiasm of 4-H volunteer Marcia Johnson. She’s upbeat, energetic and clearly excited about teaching. Five years ago, Johnson created a school gardening program for her students at John Barry Elementary School in Meriden. When Johnson took a position at Meriden’s Nathan Hale School, she created the 4-H Environmental Education and Garden Club. She says, “I love the 4-H curriculum, and the kids really enjoy it.” In 2013, Johnson brought the Junior Master Gardener curriculum to her program, and a year later, she decided to complete the 4-H volunteer training so she might bring 4-H to students in her after-school and summer clubs. This year, thirty students joined the club from grades three, four and five. High school students volunteer to assist with the program.

“I am by no means a gardening expert,”  says Johnson. “I am learning along with the kids. For two years before we planted our first seed, I collected information on gardening curriculum at every grade level. I’m always searching online for gardening ideas. I would love to take the Master Gardener Program at UConn.” The students planted eight raised beds filled with strawberries, eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash, basil and green beans, in addition to a few annual flowers chosen to attract pollinators. Johnson added a hydroponic tower to house a lettuce crop. She uses the harvested produce to teach the children healthy cooking and food preparation. Students are able to take produce home as well.

Umekia Taylor, associate extension educator with UConn Extension, was so impressed with Johnson’s program, she awarded the school a 4-H CT FANsIM mini grant that provided raised bed kits, curriculum materials and tools, as well as programming assistance. Over the summer, two 4-H CT FANsIM staff spent two days a week with Johnson’s students, providing fun activities that focused on gardening, nutrition and fitness. Cheyanne Stone, a former teen mentor and student at Green Mountain College in Vermont, worked as a 4-H leader and CT Fans IM public service specialist. Shawn Mogensen is a 4-H CT FANsIM graduate assistant from the College’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. “I can’t get over how fascinated the kids are to see things grow from a seed,” Johnson says. “We live in such a technological society where kids go to a restaurant and food suddenly appears. We rarely take the time anymore to teach children about nature.”

Marcia and group

Left to right: Donald Downes vice-chairman, Eastern States CT Corporators; Marcia Johnson; Jo-Ann Hall, parent of a former Nathan Hale student; Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO, Eastern States Corp.

Johnson is continually looking for new club activities to provide experiential learning for her students. She brought in chicken eggs to incubate in the classroom. After the eggs hatched, Johnson taught the students about caring for the chickens, and it was decided that the thirteen chickens would be given to local farmers with the knowledge and resources to raise them.

Kathy Olsen, a retired teacher from Meriden, now known as the Bee Lady, visited the students and spoke about bees and set up a honey tasting. Students were given bread sticks to dip in various types of honey. Johnson likes to involve parents in the club as well and brought Olsen in for a parent seminar.

In addition to Olsen, Connecticut registered beekeeper Robert Gavel, of Meriden, visited the club with an observation hive. “He teaches them everything from A to Z about keeping bees and the importance of bees,” she says.

Johnson never tires of working with her students. “It’s the best part of my day. The kids just love it and they never want to go home.”

Johnson received the 2013 and 2014 Connecticut AgriScience Award sponsored by the Connecticut Corporators to the Eastern States Exposition (The Big E).

She is also the recipient of the American Farm Bureau’s White Reinhardt Award and received a grant from the Connecticut Agricultural Education Foundation.