Gardens

Celebrate 40 Years of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Master Gardener banner photo
UConn Extension’s Master Gardener Program is celebrating 40 years of transforming academic research into practical gardening skills and techniques that everyone can use. The program sprouted in 1978 from the roots of the founding program at Washington State University. The program instructs participants in science-based horticulture practices and garden management, after which students apply their knowledge by engaging in community education, including lectures, educational displays, demonstrations and plant clinics, and various outreach projects throughout Connecticut.

Nancy Ballek Mackinnon of Ballek’s Nursery and Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of Natureworks are both presenting at a 40thAnniversary Celebrationof the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program on Monday, November 12thfrom 5:30-7:30 PM at the Pond House Café in West Hartford. Tickets are $75 per person and includes the presentations, small bites, door prizes, and a $50 donation to the UConn Extension Master Gardener program. The goal is to raise $40,000 to celebrate 40 years of wonderful work through several initiatives.

“We are marking the occasion in a few ways, but we’re really using the moment to look ahead to the next forty years,” says Sarah Bailey, state coordinator and Hartford County coordinator for the Master Gardener Program. “We love what we do and want to continue helping people of all ages learn and discover the joys of gardening and the natural world.”

Master Gardener’s outreach efforts are unique to each county and help meet local needs, often providing food to soup kitchens, food banks and residents living in food

students in garden
Nathan Hale students care for a garden bed.

deserts. UConn Extension Master Gardeners predominately work in community and school gardens and on farms and wildlife management areas, teaching crop selection and management practices to children and adults. In Pomfret, Windham County Master Gardeners care for People’s Harvest, a 15,000 square foot community garden that produces vegetables for area soup kitchens. People’s Harvest is popular with youth groups in the region, who learn about sustainable agricultural methods and food security from the volunteers. At Camp Harkness in Waterford, Master Gardener interns and volunteers practice horticulture therapy with adults with disabilities. Master Gardeners frequently attend farmers’ markets, fairs and other local events, eager to share their knowledge with the public.

Along with the certification process, the program offers Garden Master Classes, which allow further educational training. These classes are also open to the public,

providing instruction on gardening and a variety of related topics. The impact of their work has increased over time. In 2017, 574 Master Gardeners completed a total of 33,609 hours of service to communities and residents, compared to 23,500 hours in 2013. The restructured certification class debuting in January aims to create an even more robust and diverse group of Master Gardeners.

“The Master Gardener Program was founded to meet public need and encouraged individuals to participate. We’re continuing those traditions by growing as our audience changes,” says Bailey.

Tickets for the 40thAnniversary Celebration are available at http://s.uconn.edu/4hcor by contacting Amber Guilllemette at Amber.Guillemette@uconn.eduor 860-486-7178. To learn more about the UConn Extension Master Gardener program visit MasterGardener.UConn.edu.

Text by Jason Sheldon for UConn Extension

Ask UConn Extension

food, health and sustainability venn diagramDo you have questions about food, health, or sustainability topics? Ask UConn Extension. Extension educators are working in every town and city in Connecticut to bring the research of UConn to our communities.

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.

Do you have a garden and need help identifying why a plant is dying, or the insects that are eating your vegetables? Or maybe you want to start a garden, but have never planted one before? Our Extension Master Gardenervolunteers are at 9 locations statewide, including the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford.

We received this email from Gloria, a resident of Middletown who recently visited our Master Gardener office in Haddam: “Hi, Just, a note to thank you for taking the time and effort to find answers to my gardening questions. I am starting to try some of your suggestions. Thanks again. I really appreciate your help.” You can also email or Facebook message your questions to our trained volunteers.

Many of our programs work with land use and municipal officials, connecting them with the education and resources needed for their positions. Carol Noble is an Engineer from Bristol who has worked with our Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR)MS4 program.

“Thank you and the NEMO staff for the support provided for theMS4 program. 2017 was a busy year to complete the updated municipal Stormwater Management Plan (SMP), public notifications, submittals and follow-up tasks. The guidance for the submittal requirements and the review comments you provided on the Bristol SMP were extremely helpful. Also, the NEMO webinars provided valuable information and training. The NEMO website for CT MS4 Guide; the GIS Mapping, Control Measures summaries and educational materials have been and continue to be valuable resources for the Bristol MS4 program. Looking forward to your continued support for pollution prevention in CT,” says Carol.

The UConn 4-Hyouth development program serves over 16,000 youth across the state every year. Volunteer leaders are an integral part of the program’s success, and work with Extension educators in our eight county offices.

“By the 2014 4-H Fair I felt ready to impart my knowledge onto others. For the first time I was able to walk someone through all of the steps of an archer. I would always

Garret helping a younger 4-H member
Garret works with a younger 4-H member at the Middlesex-New Haven 4-H Fair. Photo: Kara Bonsack

begin by strapping an arm guard on them and showing them how to position their feet. Then I would go on to explain how to hold the bow, nock an arrow, and pull back the string. What surprised me was adults’ willingness to learn. Although towering over me, they politely listened while I taught them what to do, letting me know that my voice mattered,” says UConn 4-H member Garret Basiel of Middlesex County. Garret is a freshman at UConn in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

“UConn: Thank you so much for all the time and effort put into having these classes for seniors. They have made a real difference in my life. Sincerely, Fran.” We received this letter from Fran, a Tolland County resident, after one of our recent classes with our Center for Learning In Retirement (UConn CLIR). CLIR offers meaningful and serious intellectual activities for adults from all walks of life, conducted in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. There are no academic requirements.

Extension has worked with farmers in Connecticut for over a century, and we continue to serve farmers in all sectors of agriculture, and at various experience levels. “As a new farmer, there are many things you don’t know that you don’t know. So, these programs encourage you to ask new questions you hadn’t previously thought of before and therefore to be better prepared for the growing season. Since many of the trainers are local, the content of the trainings is more relevant (versus online content) and it’s great that you can follow up with them after the training,” states Yoko Takemura of Assawaga Farm in Putnam, a participant in our Solid Ground Farmer Trainings.

Collaboration has been a cornerstone of Extension’s mission for more than a century. Our most effective programs are built upon collaborations with state and federal agencies, communities, volunteers and families. With these partners, Extension has created and expanded knowledge in the areas and disciplines we serve; food, health, and sustainability.

How can UConn Extension help you? Just ask. Our Extension educators work statewide and are based at 10 locations throughout the state. We have resources available to help solve problems in your community. Find an Extension educator or location on our website at http://extension.uconn.edu, email extension@uconn.edu, message us on Facebook, or call 860-486-9228 with your question.

Open House with Fairfield County Master Gardeners in Bethel

Craft Fair and Open House Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

 

Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018

(rain date Saturday, October 13)

Time:9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Where: Fairfield County Extension Office and Grounds

67 Stony Hill Road (Route 6), Bethel, Connecticut

 

vegetable gardenThe UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is celebrating 40 years as the premier example of a Master Gardener Program in the United States with a craft fair and open house. This outdoor event is free and open to the public. Expert Master Gardeners will give tours and demonstrations, and answer gardening questions. Vendors, many showcasing the creative endeavors of our Master Gardeners, will be offering a variety of gardening and nongardening crafts and goods for sale to benefit the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program.

The day will feature:

Tours and demonstrations

Walking tour and talk at the Extension Demonstration Vegetable Garden.

An 80-ft. by 100 ft. Demonstration Vegetable Garden on the Fairfield County Agricultural Extension Center site, built and maintained by Master Gardener mentors and interns, is used to teach the importance of current best practices in gardening and horticulture, and also donates its weekly harvest to local food pantries.

Composting Demonstration

Learn how you can make and maintain your own backyard compost with easy to build bins and a few simple steps.

Invasive Plant Guided Walk

Learn to spot the invasive plants trying to take over Connecticut’s gardens and natural areas. Find out which plants are considered invasive and why, and how they got here. Learn design alternatives for these aggressive invaders.

Information booths

Master Gardeners

Meet our Master Gardeners! Get answers to your questions about your gardens, lawns, trees, plants and insects. Learn how you too can become a Master Gardener.

All About Composting

Master Composters answer questions about backyard and worm composting, explain why it is important to reduce the waste sent to landfills, and how individuals and communities benefit from making compost.

Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station/UConn Forest Pest Education

Learn about the Asian Long-horned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, and how Connecticut is battling these and other threats to our trees and forests.

Craft fair

As of this writing vendors will be offering for sale:

  • Vintage costume jewelry
  • Natural-dye yarns and scarves
  • Alpaca wool and products
  • Botanical stationery and notecards
  • “White Elephant” table of gardening and other items
  • Used gardening books
  • A specialty rake
  • Tillisandia’s glass globes and fairy gardens
  • Painted rock art
  • Hand-crafted wooden bowls and other items
  • Floral design kits

Plus —

  • Meet the author of Success with Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide Book(B&B Publications, 2017), Connecticut horticulturist, garden writer, speaker and Advance Master Gardener Lorraine Ballato.
  • Bid on our Silent Auction gardening and specialty items.

And much more!

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an Educational Outreach Program that is part of UConn Extension, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Master Gardener logoResources, University of Connecticut. Started in 1978, the program consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focus on the community at large. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn and share their knowledge and training with others. What sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special horticultural training. In exchange for this training, Master Gardeners commit time as volunteers working through their local UConn Extension Center and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford to provide horticultural-related information to the community. The staff and volunteers of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program and the UConn Home & Garden Education Center are informational resources for the residents of Connecticut and beyond, who are urged to contact us for accurate, thorough, and timely information on home and garden topics.

The cooperative extension system connected to land-grant universities was established in 1914. Before the 1970s, extension horticulture programs focused on crop production. In the early 1970s Washington State University Extension agents, responding to increased public demand for gardening information through an urban horticulture program, proposed recruiting and training volunteers to respond to gardeners’ questions as a way to serve the needs of home and community gardeners. Although initially met with skepticism, the first Master Gardener training classes were offered to about 200 people in 1973. Today, Master Gardener programs are active in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces, and in South Korea. According to a 2009 survey, 94,865 Extension Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States contributed 5,197,573 hours educating the public, providing youth programs, and facilitating produce donations to food banks, an estimated contribution of $101.4 million to the public.

Horticultural Opportunities

 

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

The UConn Extension Master Gardener program is a program that offers many different opportunities through the horticulture world. There are many qualities that are vital to becoming a Master Gardener, such as being eager to educate your community, participating in training programs, and wanting to learn more about plant care and gardening. It is never too late to become a Master Gardener. Applications are available now at MasterGardener.UConn.edu and due October 9th.

Once you have enrolled to be a Master Gardener, you will start working on your certification to become an official Master Gardener. Some things that you need to do to achieve this certification is completing a 16-week course that meets once a week, and complete a 60 hour internship that includes working in one of 9 UConn Extension offices statewide for hands on training, and working on a community outreach program. Rebecca Foss, one of the class of 2015 Master Gardeners talks about her experience in the Master Gardner’s office in the Tolland County Extension office, and how she was always eager to help out with anyone that had questions about plants.

“One of the most rewarding experiences was in the Tolland Master Gardner office. I had approached my office hours with an open mind but some underlying (but mild) trepidation as I wondered whether or not I would be able to actually make a correct diagnosis.” Rebecca later found a piece of pine that had some sort of disease on it and the owner of the pine wanted to figure it out so he could try and treat it. Rebecca and her co-worker went underway to try and figure out what they were dealing with. “We quickly ruled out some causes (we hadn’t had a drought last year) and focused on others. Soon, diplodia tip blight (Sphaeropsis sapinea), which my partner found in a book, began to look like the potential culprit.” Rebecca states. Once Rebecca and her partner got the specimen under the microscope, “I looked under the papery leaf sheaths as recommended and… Bingo! There they were!”

The Master Gardener Program is full of many different opportunities for you to learn new things about plants, but to also fulfill a lifelong hobby you may never have thought pursuing. Learn more at MasterGardener.UConn.edu

Article by Katy Davis

Enroll in the Master Composter Program

holding a wormEnroll Now in the UConn 2018 Master Composter Program

Almost 25% of household waste can be recycled through composting. The purpose of the UConn Master Composter program is to educate and train residents about the basics of small scale composting and in exchange for the training, volunteers will pass on their knowledge to others through outreach activitiessuch as talks, demonstrations, tabling at events, providing promotional activities, working with schools or community gardens etc. Master Composter classes will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon. There will be 4-week night lectures (October 16, 18, 23 & 25), Worm Day (Oct 20) and 2 Saturday field trips with only one being mandatory. The cost of the program is $100. The Master Composter brochure with registration information is available at www.ladybug.uconn.eduor www.soiltest.uconn.eduor call (860) 486-4274 for more information.

 

WORM DAY

Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Tolland County Agricultural Center from 10 am to 2 pm.

Want to learn more about invasive earthworms in Connecticut? Ever thought about making a worm bin to recycle kitchen scraps into rich vermicompost? Join us for Worm Day! It is free and open to the public. Following presentations on beneficial and invasive earthworms, and how to make and care for a worm bin, folks are invited to make their own worm bins. Attendees supply the materials and we will supply the worms. A $5 donation is suggested to cover the cost of the worms. Go to www.ladybug.uconn.eduor www.soiltest.uconn.edufor more information. Please RSVP as we need to know how many worms to bring!

Building Community Through a Garden

Dozens of bright yellow Goldfinches flew alongside as I made my way up the winding driveway past their meadows and into the heart of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. The high, wiry whistle of the birds sounded the alarm at my arrival. I parked behind the barn, and climbed the hill to the Foodshare Garden, a project of the UConn Extension Master Gardener program.

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program has provided horticulture training and a community outreach component for the last 40 years. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic and willing to learn. They share their knowledge and training with others through community outreach projects.

The 120-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is a private, non-profit education center. It was deeded to the Connecticut 4-H Development Fund by the family of Beatrice Fox Auerbach in 1976. Over 15,000 students and family members participate annually in year-round 4-H curriculum-based school science programs, animal clubs, and Junior Master Gardening projects.

One of the Master Gardener volunteers is Marlene Mayes of West Hartford. She grew up on Tariffville Road in Bloomfield. The 1774 house was the only one left standing after King Philip’s War and later, was part of the Underground Railroad. The oldest of six children, Marlene spent her youth playing in the woods and building hay forts with her sister in the neighbor’s barn. Life often has a way of coming full circle, Marlene is back gardening in the same area of Bloomfield as the lead volunteer in the Foodshare Garden.

The Beginning

Marlene and student at Auerfarm
Marlene (far right) with a group of students at Auerfarm. Photo: Sarah Bailey

Marlene retired in 2001 from the Torrington Public School System, but wasn’t ready for full retirement, and became the School Administrator at Grace Webb School in Hartford. She also wanted to take the Master Gardener course, and the director at Grace Webb allowed her to use her vacation time for the Wednesday class each week from January through April of 2004.

“I was lucky to merge the ending of one phase with the beginning of another, and hook into something I was so interested in,” she says. The 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm was one of the group outreach assignments for Master Gardener interns.

“When we went up to the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in the beginning it was just a field, an overwhelming field. We started by weed whacking rows between the grass,” Marlene recalls. “There was no coordination, it was very frustrating. I decided to take over, and got my husband Ed involved and a couple of other guys. They weed whacked, mowed and rototilled for us.”

“Our goal is to raise sustainable, low-maintenance plants that people can replicate at home,” Marlene says. “We planted currants, elderberries and asparagus. The whole garden is about teaching and getting people to grow things in their own backyard.”

In 2006 Marlene and her group of volunteers at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm asked the Hartford County Extension Council for money to build raised beds, and began installing them. There are 50 raised beds in the garden now. The following year, she found herself serving on the Extension Council too.

“Sarah Bailey became the Master Gardener Coordinator for Hartford County the year after I began volunteering. She’s been supportive from day one, and we’ve also become very good friends. Sarah is a big part of creating that community around the program. She talks with us about problems and helps us find creative solutions. She has wonderful leadership skills. We also developed the Junior Master Gardener Program and conducted a teacher training for some school gardens, and developed curriculum for them to use.”

The Volunteers

The volunteer community in the Foodshare garden at 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm has a lot of fluidity; people come and stay for as long as they can. Marlene tries to plant something interesting every year to engage the volunteers. Many of the volunteers are consistent and have been with the program for six or eight years; for example, one gentleman is totally focused on the maintenance and has been coming for years to help with it. Over the course of a summer there will be 600 volunteers total working in the garden. High school students volunteer in May and June fulfilling the hours required by their school. These students often keep volunteering after their hours are done.

“There is a sense of community and excitement to whatever it is we’re doing at the garden; every day is a new day,” Marlene says. “We had a woman come with her son this summer, and she stayed while her son was volunteering. They were planting a new succession of beans, and she said, ‘This is fun!’ – it’s really neat to get that reaction from adults. You’re up there almost next to the sky when you’re working in this garden.”

The volunteer schedule hasn’t changed since Marlene took over in 2004. Volunteer days are Thursday and Saturday from 9-12, unless it’s raining. In the hot weather the volunteers take more breaks and use the benches. The benches also enhance the meditative function of the garden.

Thursday is harvest day and Saturdays are for maintenance. Marlene’s husband, Ed, loads up the car on Thursday and takes the produce to Foodshare. “Ed has been a consistent back-up for me all of these years, I couldn’t have done it without him,” Marlene says. “Our son Tim has also helped with maintenance.”

“We’ve met people from all over the world in the garden,” Marlene continues. “It’s absolutely amazing. African exchange students in the agricultural business program at UConn come up every summer. We learn a lot by comparing notes. We also had a fellow Master Gardener from an Israeli kibbutz who was very interesting to talk with.”

In 2017, the garden produced 4,423 pounds total that was donated to Foodshare. This year, the volunteers are measuring donations by the number of meals, although Marlene notes that the total may be lower because of weather related challenges.

The Gardens

The Foodshare garden is ¼ acre. Two years ago Marlene fundraised for a fence for the garden because the deer were eating everything. Now the challenge is the

raised bed in foodshare garden
A raised bed in the Foodshare Garden. Photo: Stacey Stearns

woodchucks and the rabbits.

The Medicinal Garden, Greenhouse and Herb Garden were all funded by UConn Extension. Marlene designed the circular herb garden. Funding for projects that the Master Gardeners complete at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is from UConn Extension, the Connecticut Master Gardener Association, or fundraised from private donors. Even the seeds used to grow the garden are obtained through donations.

Projects are implemented in phases. The greenhouse was built with funds from a grant by an anonymous donor to the UConn Foundation who greatly appreciated what the Master Gardeners are doing through their community outreach. The first-year volunteers had to haul water up the hill in buckets from the kitchen. This year, irrigation was installed for the greenhouse, solving the water problem.

“You keep learning as you go – mechanics, botany, pest management and whatever else is needed. We all work together as a team,” Marlene says. “It’s not a one-person thing. We’re all passionate about gardening, creativity, and work together to make it happen.”

“It never stops at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm; something is going on all of the time. If you tie into any part, it’s fascinating. Everything is research-based, the greenhouse is always a research project. We also have to factor in daylight hours, watering schedules, and how many growing seasons we can fit in each year. There is enthusiasm for wherever the problem we have to solve is.”

The next challenge for this intrepid group of volunteers is figuring out how to run the greenhouse in the colder winter months. The cost of propane has been a challenge; however, the group wants to donate consistently to Foodshare throughout the year. They are discussing raising house plants or some sort of tropical that can be sold as a fundraiser, and used as a teaching tool for the students that visit the farm each year. Tomatoes and peppers will be transplanted from the garden into the greenhouse this fall, and microgreens will also be raised for Foodshare.

Marlene also wants to continue expanding the medicinal garden and the educational component around it. Native American medicinals fascinate her as she discusses how it’s never a single herb, and always a combination of herbs.

“Our volunteer work at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is never boring, and I’m not tired of it yet,” Marlene concludes. “The Master Gardener program creates a sense of community and camaraderie. There is no judgement, everyone works together and has a sense of responsibility – it’s very binding in a nice way.”

Applications are currently available for the 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener program. Classes will be offered in Stamford on Mondays, Haddam on Tuesdays, Farmington on Wednesdays (an evening class), Bethel on Thursdays, and Brooklyn on Fridays. Applications are due by Tuesday, October 9th. More information can be found at mastergardener.uconn.edu.

To learn more about volunteering in the Foodshare Garden at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm for the 2019 growing season email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu or call 860-409-9053. To make a donation please visit http://s.uconn.edu/givemg.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

collage of Master Gardener photosDo you love gardening? Are you interested in expanding your knowledge and sharing that knowledge with others? Applications are now available for the 2019 Master Gardener Program through UConn Extension. Participants receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. Enrollment in the UConn Extension Master Gardener program is limited and competitive.

The program is taught in a hybrid class format. There are 3-4 hours of online work before each of the weekly classes, and then a half-day classroom session. Most classes run from 9 AM to 1 PM. New this year is an evening session, from 5:30 – 9:30 PM, which will be held in Farmington on Wednesdays.

“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 FANs gardenBartlett 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 (online course work and a half-day class each week) beginning the week of January 7, 2019. The Master Gardener program includes over 100 hours of training and 60 hours of volunteer service. Individuals successfully completing the program will receive UConn Extension Master Gardener certification. The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

“I would recommend the UConn Master Gardener program to anyone with a serious desire to learn more about horticulture,” says Holly Maynard, a 2017 graduate of the Hartford County class. “There are some spectacularly engaging guest lecturers; this is not some amateur gardening club.”

Classes will be held in Farmington, Bethel, Haddam, Brooklyn and Stamford. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, October 9, 2018.

For more information, call UConn Extension at 860-409-9053 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu, where both the on-line and paper application can be found.

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.