Gardens

Hartford County Extension Center Moving

Exchange Building in Farmington is new home of Hartford County Extension Center

Our Hartford County Extension Center is moving. As of Friday, August 3rd, please use the following address and new phone numbers:
Exchange Building – Suite 262
270 Farmington Ave
Farmington, CT, 06032
(860) 409-9050
Fax (860) 409-9080
hartford@uconn.edu
Please be patient with our faculty and staff over the next week as it may take a bit longer than usual to respond to any requests. All educators phone numbers have been updated at extension.uconn.edu.

10 Rules for Safe Canning

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH
Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

home canning with tomatoes
Photo: Diane Wright Hirsch

Even though some may feel home canning has gone the way of the dinosaurs, I regularly get questions posed to me by newbie and experience canners alike. Some want to know how to can tomatoes without potentially killing a loved one. Others want to know if there is anything new in the canning pipeline.

It seems as if more people are gardening these days so that they can have more control over their produce supply—they can grow what they like and minimize the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. A happy consequence of a successful garden is a bountiful supply of zucchini, tomatoes and peppers—maybe too bountiful! As a result, the gardener must now become a food processor. Home canning is not difficult, but, it IS important to do it right. Here are ten rules for canning to help you in your pursuit of a safe home canned food supply—whether you have been canning for years or this is your first time.

1) Make sure your jars/lids are in good shape.
 Use (or re-use) canning jars manufactured for home canning. Check for cracks or chips and throw out or recycle any jars that are not in good shape.
 Be sure the jar rings are not dented or rusty.
 Buy new jar lids. The sealing compound can disintegrate over time, especially in damp basements, so make sure that your supply is new or no more than one year         old. Do not reuse old lids. (If you still use rubber jar rings, these CAN be reused unless they are dry and/or cracked, though these jars may be more prone to failed seals.)

2) Use up to date canning guidelines. With the exception of jams and jellies, recipes that are older than 1996 should be relegated to the family album. A great resource for up to date guidelines and recipes is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at: www.uga.edu/nchfp. This site is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved site for home food preservation information. Go there and check out the latest recommendations. They are also great about addressing some questionable practices that are introduced over the years, such as canning food in the oven or canning bread in a jar.

3) Choose the right canner for the job.
 Water bath canners are for jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, fruits such as apples, apple sauce, peaches and tomatoes.
 Pressure canners are for all other vegetables, soups, meats, fish, and some tomato products, especially if they contain large amounts of low acid vegetables such as peppers, celery or onions. Some folks like to can tomatoes in a pressure canner because it takes much less time and uses less fuel/energy.

4) If using a pressure canner with a dial gauge, have it checked annually to make sure it is reading properly. Check with the manufacturer regarding gauge testing or call the Home and Garden Education Center.

5) If you are pressure canning, be sure that the gasket is still soft and pliable. If dry and/or cracked, you need to replace it.

6) Use high quality, just-ripe produce for canning. You will never end up with canned tomatoes (or any other produce) better than those you started with. Overripe strawberries can lead to a runny jam. Overripe, mushy or decayed tomatoes (often sold in baskets labeled “canning tomatoes” when they are really “tomatoes that we can’t sell for slicing because they are past their prime”) may have a lower acid level or higher pH, making the processing time inadequate for safety.

7) Make sure everything is clean before your start. Be sure to clean:
 Canners (often stored in a cobwebby corner of the basement)
 Jars, jar lifter, screw bands, etc.
 Counter tops or other work surfaces
 Your produce (wash with cold running water—no soap or bleach please)
 YOUR HANDS

8) Follow approved recipes to the letter. When you change the amount or type of ingredient, you risk upsetting the balance that would result in a safe, high quality product. Too little sugar will make jams too soft; cutting out the salt may make a pickle recipe unsafe; and throwing additional onions and peppers into a tomato sauce can increase the risk for botulism.

9) Adhere to processing times—even if they seem long. Processing canned foods in a water bath or pressure canner is what makes these products safe for on-the-shelf storage. Each product is assigned the processing time needed to destroy the spoilage organisms and/or pathogens (the kind of bugs that make us sick) that are most likely to be a problem in THAT product.
 The short processing times for jams and jellies destroy yeasts and mold spores that used to be common place when these products were not water-bathed, but covered in paraffin.
 The long processing times for tomatoes are needed because modern tomato varieties are often lower in acid than those in the past. If 45 minutes seems way to long to you (especially when you watch the electric meter ticking away), you might want to consider pressure canning them for 15 minutes at 6 pounds of pressure or 10 minutes at 11 pounds.

10) Allow your jars to cool naturally, right side up, for 12 hours or more before testing seals. Testing earlier may cause the new seal to break.
 Cool jars away from an open window to prevent breakage by cool evening breezes on hot jars.
 Remove screw bands, clean and dry them and store several in a convenient place for use later when you open a jar and need to refrigerate leftovers. (Screw bands should not be left on jars when storing. Food residue and moisture may collect and cause rusting or molding that can ruin a good seal.)
 Test seals, reprocess if needed.

Follow the rules and you will be well on your way to processing a safe, shelf-stable food supply for your household.

For more information about canning food safely at home, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Be on the Lookout for Giant Hogweed, an Invasive Plant in CT

giant hogweed
Giant Hogweed in Connecticut. Photo: Donna Ellis

UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are asking state residents to be on the lookout for Giant Hogweed, which typically blooms during July. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is an invasive, non-native plant from Eurasia that was first identified in Connecticut in 2001. This Federal Noxious weed was confirmed in 25 towns in all 8 counties in surveys conducted several years ago, but many of the populations are now under control. The most recent confirmed locations of Giant Hogweed were found in 2011. Numerous reports of suspect giant hogweed plants blooming in Connecticut have recently been received, but to date all of the 2018 reports have been negative. Several plants are sometimes mistaken for giant hogweed, such as the native cow parsnip, which is related to Giant Hogweed but blooms earlier in June. 

Giant Hogweed is a biennial or perennial herbaceous plant that can grow up to 15 feet tall with leaves 5 feet long. The hollow stems of the plant are 2 to 4 inches in diameter. The sap of Giant Hogweed may cause skin to be more sensitive to sunlight and produce painful blisters. Large numbers of small white flowers are borne on umbel-shaped inflorescences that can grow to 2.5 feet across. Giant Hogweed seeds are elliptical in shape, and cow parsnip seeds are heart-shaped on one end (this is the most definitive way to identify the two species). Mature Giant Hogweed seeds can survive in the soil for up to seven years and can float on water for several days, further spreading the plants to new areas. Giant Hogweed has invaded natural areas such as riverbanks and woodland edges, where it displaces native plants and upsets the ecological balance of these important habitats, and it has been accidentally introduced into managed landscapes. 

UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are conducting educational outreach to alert the public about Giant Hogweed and its serious health hazards. The CIPWG website (https://cipwg.uconn.edu/giant-hogweed-in-connecticut/) has information on Giant Hogweed with plant descriptions, photos, control options, and an online reporting form. 

To report a Giant Hogweed sighting, we recommend that you first visit the CIPWG website and compare your suspect plant with the photos and descriptions provided. You can then report the plant online via the CIPWG website (click on the link “Report Hogweed Sighting”) or contact Donna Ellis at UConn (email donna.ellis@uconn.edu; phone 860-486-6448). To control Giant Hogweed, follow control recommendations on the CIPWG website. Always wear protective clothing while handling the plants. 

 

Bug Out with UConn Extension

Bee on flower from UConn Extension Bug Week photo contest
2017 Photo Contest Winner. Photo credit: Jeff Gonci

UConn Extension’s Bug Week is right around the corner, and we have programs for the whole family.

Bugs are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, providing services such as pollination and natural pest control. However, bugs don’t stop at environmental benefits. They have also impacted our culture through the manufacturing of silk, sources of dyes, wax and honey production, food sources, and the improvement of building materials and structures. There are also problem bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug that are a concern in Connecticut. Visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu for featured insects and resources.

All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include:

  • Pests and Guests will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Monday, July 23rdat 5:30 PM. Activities include: cooking with bugs, games and demos for the whole family, and learning about bugs in the garden. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac or call 860-486-9228.
  • Pollinators at Auerfarm in Bloomfield on Monday, July 23rdwill have a station at the beehive, pollinator plants, and a hands-on make and take activity. The farm is home to a Foodshare garden, 4-H programs and more, offering fun for the entire family. Time is to be determined, with a rain date of Tuesday. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac or 860-486-9228.
  • Insect Wonders at the Farm: Join UConn Extension faculty and Spring Valley Student Farm staff and students for an interactive, fun-filled ‘buggy’ event. Learn about our amazing and important insect friends by collecting and observing them. Activities for the whole family will include insect collecting, insect-inspired crafts, Bug-Bingo and a scavenger hunt. This event will be held on Tuesday, July 24th from 9-11 AM. The rain date is July 27th.
  • Join the Museum of Natural History, AntU and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for an exciting afternoon on campus on Thursday, July 26th from 12:30-4 PM. We have tours of the insect collections, an AntU presentation, plus exhibit activities, microscope stations, giveaways, and a live ant colony. There will also be special greenhouse displays. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/4ac
  • Find out all about insects and where to look for them at Bug Walks at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Saturday, July 28th from 10 AM-1 PM. The program will have live insects on display, right out in the open, plus part of the insect collection from the UConn Natural History Museum, as well as three bug hunts that include going to the butterfly/pollinator garden and the vegetable garden on the property.
  • Connecticut Science Center is celebrating Bug Week from Monday, July 23rdthrough Saturday, July 28th. Lots of things are buzzing around at the Connecticut Science Center during Bug Week. Spend some time in the tropical Butterfly Encounter, participate in bug-themed Live Science programming, come hear a bug themed story during Story Time, and be sure to explore what is flying around the Rooftop Garden. Programs are open to all ages. Please visit the Connecticut Science Centerfor ticket prices.
  • A photo contest is being offered, with three categories: junior, senior and professional. More details can be found at: http://bugs.uconn.edu/photo-contest/

UConn Extension offices are located across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life, by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu, email bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

CT Food Justice VISTA Project is Recruiting

VISTA flyer recruiting services members for 2018-19 for food justice projectsThe CT-Food Justice VISTA Project is recruiting for the 2018-2019 year, and we are also seeking a VISTA Leader to help manage the project with our Project Assistant. Our project is sponsored by UConn Extension, in partnership with some of the most effective and innovative nonprofit organizations in low-income communities in Connecticut, is leading a multi-site project with 16 VISTA members in 2018-2019. This project is designed to strengthen programming and improve coordination among similar food security programs seeking to empower communities to create positive change in their food environment and improve access to healthy food.
VISTA Members help to build the capacity of their host site organization. Together, we strive for a multi-generational, racially and economically diverse group of leaders with the skills to move communities across Connecticut towards a just food system. With VISTA Member support, host sites commit to empowering their communities to have impact on food-related programs and services, and the food system in Connecticut as a whole.
 
Please see the links to the sites we are looking for both VISTAs and VISTA Leader:
 
For the VISTA Leader the applicant has to have served as an AmeriCorps Service Member or Peace Corps here is the listing for the VISTA Leader. The VISTA Leader will serve out of the UConn Extension office of Tolland County and need a car to travel to our partner organizations for site visits and member support.
 
Below you will find the listing to the sites we have across the state that are recruiting for VISTA Service Members:
 
Visit our website for more information on our project: https://sustainablefood.uconn.edu/ctfoodjustice/

Put Local on Your Tray Sign Ups for 2018-2019

put local on your tray image with apple for connecticut farm to school programVERNON, CT, (June 13, 2018) – UConn Extension and the Connecticut State Department of Education is currently inviting school food service professionals across the state to sign up for the Put Local on Your Tray Program in the upcoming 2018-19 school year. Schools and districts that sign up will get help increasing fresh, locally grown products in their cafeterias. Sign ups will be open until the new school year starts in September.

According to USDA’s 2014 Farm to School Census, over 70% of schools in CT are offering farm to school programming, which might include hands-on activities in school gardens, cooking classes after school, and/or serving local food in the cafeteria. CSDE and UConn Extension are now partnering to increase school commitments to more purchases from local farms. Districts who sign up for the Tray Program will pledge to feature local ingredients at least twice per season(s) of their choice. Schools choose the Farm to School promotional activities that fit their needs. For example, activities might include: hosting a special taste test in the cafeteria (e.g. kale chips), marketing the products they regularly get from local growers (such as milk), using a holiday or celebration day on the calendar to feature local produce (e.g. new varieties of apples promoted during CT Grown for CT Kids Week), or integrating a recipe into their regular menu that relies on local ingredients for several months (e.g. winter root slaw).

Last year, there were a total of thirty four districts who took the pledge. The program is in its second year and continues to learn, grow, and adapt as Farm to School grows. We hope to see an increase this year, with a goal of fifty school districts. Yolanda Burt, Senior Director of Child Nutrition for Hartford Public Schools and contributor for the Program’s suite of tools, thinks districts need to define ‘local’ for themselves. She states, “Our definition of local includes what is grown and processed within 250 miles of Hartford, and/or purchasing food from small businesses to support Hartford businesses and further job creation for Hartford residents.” Districts who sign up and take the pledge are encouraged to define the criteria for local products based on what is possible and meaningful to their community.

Food Service Director for Avon, Canton, and Regional School District #10, Maggie Dreher, says, “I believe we should provide our students with the freshest, tastiest ingredients possible. An apple is not just an apple, but a story – a potential place to connect to the community.” The Program welcomes those who are not a part of school food service to tell that story with Put Local on Your Tray communication materials, when educating children about local food. There is a materials request sheet available online, for interested school community members (teachers, parents, volunteers, etc.) to ask for any hard copies of our posters, bookmarks, stickers, etc. at http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu.

Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage them to sign up and be recognized and promoted as a Tray district! Many schools already supply local products, without necessarily promoting it as such (in items like milk, or certain produce from their distributors). Put them in touch with Put Local on Your Tray for credit to be paid where it’s due!

For more information please visit http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu or call 203-824-7175. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).

2017 Highlights of Extension

Highlights report thumbnail image
UConn Extension is on a collaborative journey. We co-create knowledge with farmers, families, communities, and businesses. We educate. We convene groups to help solve problems. Connecticut is a small, diverse state with urban and rural spaces. We understand that because we live and work here. Extension educators are ready to connect you with our knowledge and help you to improve your community.
As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment. The report highlights program achievements from the past year.
Originating from eight Connecticut Extension Centers, the Sea Grant program at Avery Point and the UConn Storrs campus, programs use various educational methods to reach individuals and groups. UConn Extension partners with nonprofit organizations and state agencies, training volunteers and staff. This magnifies the scope and impact of Extension’s outreach. We have no fewer than seven programs in every town in Connecticut, with some towns having over twenty-two Extension programs. Thank you for your support in helping to make these programs possible. To see UConn Extension’s latest updates, read the Highlights of Extension or visit the web site at www.extension.uconn.edu.

Controlling Ticks

deer tickThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends creating a tick-safe zone. Ticks feed on blood of animals including humans. Tactics to reduce the attractiveness of animals traveling into your yard will keep the number of ticks dropping off of them reduced. Do not feed the birds as chipmunks, squirrels and many other animals visit to eat fallen seeds. Remove leaf litter as a hiding place for small animals and ticks. Clear tall grass and brush from edges of turf and around home. Keep lawn mowed. Keep any wood piles dry and neatly stacked to discourage rodents from using it as a home. Do not place patio or play areas near wooded areas where animals and ticks will be living. Use fencing to keep out deer and larger animals from the yard. Create a 3-foot wide barrier of gravel or wood chips between lawns and woods to stop ticks from entering the lawn. Ticks do not like to cross hot, dry expanses.

Chemical control includes the active ingredient bifenthrin or carbaryl or permethrin or pyrethrin. These are best applied when the ticks are in their small nymphal stage during the month of May and early June. See the CT Tick Management Handbook written by the CT Agricultural Experiment Station for much more detailed information.

Written by Carol Quish

Originally posted by UConn Extension in 2014.

Can I Water Vegetables with my Rain Barrel Water?

By Joan Allen

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center

rain barrel against side of house in with shrubs
Photo credit: CT DEEP

Collection of rain water from roofs using rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. It can help the environment by diverting water that might contain contaminants away from storm drains and the natural bodies of water that those empty into.  Depletion of well water can be a benefit when this non-potable water is used instead of the tap for things like washing cars, irrigation of plants, and flushing toilets. If you’re on a city/public water system, it can save money to use rain water where you can, too. But is using rain water to irrigate vegetables and fruits safe? Are there contaminants in it that could make people sick? Let’s take a look at what’s been studied.

A few universities in the U.S and abroad have done some work to look at potential contaminants in roof run-off water including heavy metals like zinc, copper, lead and others as well as bacteria such as E. coli and other pathogens. Testing done so far has shown low risk from these, but there is some. And of course, it depends on the type of roofing material, the environment (ie acid rain, urban vs. rural, etc) and possibly other factors. In one study, most of the metals tested the same in rain barrel water as in rain water before it hit the roofs, so little to no concern there. One exception was zinc, and elevated levels could lead to build up of this element in soils. At high enough levels, this can cause injury to plants and those plants should not be consumed (1). Monitor for this by having the soil tested.

While risk appears to be low, there were a few samples in studies (1, 2) where E. coli or total coliform bacterial levels exceeded official standards for some uses. Rain barrel water should NEVER be used for potable purposes such as drinking water, cooking or washing. Where do the bacteria in run-off come from? The main sources would be fecal matter from animals such as squirrels and birds that land and move around on the roof.

But if you’d like to water your vegetable garden with rain barrel water, are there ways to do it safely?

Dr. Mike Dietz, Assistant Extension Educator at UConn with expertise in water management recommends “not using roof water on anything leafy that you are going to eat directly. It would be OK to water soil/plants where there is no direct contact”. This is consistent with recommendations from other experts who suggest applying the water directly to the soil and avoiding contact with above-ground plant parts. An ideal set-up would be to hook up a drip irrigation system to your rain barrel(s). Pressure will be improved when they are full and if they are elevated. A full rain barrel can be pretty heavy, at about 500 lbs. for a 55 gallon unit, so make sure they are on a solid and stable base such as concrete blocks.

If possible, and this is done in larger collection systems automatically, don’t collect the ‘first flush’ of water off the roof. This would be the first few gallons. In a ¼” rainfall as much as 150 gallons can be collected from a 1000 ft2 roof surface (3). The first water to run off tends to have higher concentrations of any contaminants because of them building up on the roof since the previous rainfall event.

Another more practical way to minimize risk of pathogen/bacterial contamination is to treat the collected water with bleach. Rutgers University recommends treating 55 gallons of water by adding one ounce of unscented household chlorine bleach to the barrel once a month (or more often if rain is frequent). Allow this to stand for 24 hours before using the water for irrigation so the bleach can dissipate.

Apply collected water in the morning. Wait until leaves dry in the sun before harvesting. Ultraviolet light from the sun will have some disinfecting effect.

It is recommended to have the rain barrel water tested for E. coli. Be sure to follow the testing lab’s instructions for collection, storage and time sensitivity of the samples.

Thoroughly wash all harvested produce. In addition, you should always thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water after they are in contact with collected water.

In summary, there are risks to using collected rain water for irrigation of food crops. In most cases, the risk appears to be low, and using the above sanitation practices can reduce risk.

References:

  1. DeBusk, K., W. Hunt, D. Osmond and G. Cope. 2009. Water quality of rooftop runoff: implications for residential water harvesting systems. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
  2. Bakacs, M., M. Haberland and S. Yergeau. 2017. Rain barrels part IV: testing and applying harvested water to irrigate a vegetable garden. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Fact Sheet FS1218.
  3. Rainfall as a resource. A resident’s guide to rain barrels in Connecticut. CT DEEP.

Extension Offers Greenhouse Biological Control Conference

 

liliesUConn Extension is sponsoring a Greenhouse Biological Control Conference.  This one-day educational program will be held onWednesday, June 20, 2018 at Room 100, WB Young Building, University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.

The speakers featured at this educational program include:

  • Michael Oleykowski,  Syngenta  who will be speaking on Developing an Effective, Integrated Control Program 
  • Debbie Palumbo-Sanders, Bioworks, Victor, NY   who will be speaking on Biofungicides and Their Fit into Your IPM Program
  • Kerri Stafford, Cavicchio Greenhouses, Sudbury, MA  who will be speaking on Implementing Our Biological Control Program
  • Annie White, Nectar Landscape Design Studio, Burlington, VT  who will be speaking on Top Plants for Attracting Pollinators: Natives and Beyond
  • Carol Glenister, IPM Laboratories, Locke, NY  who will be speaking on Plants Talk Biocontrol: How to Use Plants to Manage Pests

A registration fee of $40 is due by June 14 payable by check only to the University of Connecticut. Included in the cost of admission: coffee, continental breakfast, lunch, informational handouts and parking.

Five pesticide recertification credits will be offered. For more information contact: Leanne Pundt at leanne.pundt@uconn.edu or call 860.626.6855 or click here for the program brochure or visit the website: http://ipm.uconn.edu/pa_greenhouse/

This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management grant no. 2014-70006-22548/project accession no. 1004700 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.