Our UConn Extension Master Gardener volunteers are located in each of the eight county Extension centers, and at the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford. Master Gardener volunteers donate their time each year to answer horticultural-related questions for the community.
In May, Gail Reynolds, our Master Gardener Coordinator at the office in Haddam received this letter from Carol of Chester, Connecticut:
Dear Ms. Reynolds,
I am writing to make you aware of the exceptional service I received at the Extension program on May 26, 2017 when I brought an insect sample to your office. Your volunteer employees, Kenneth Sherrick, Susan Goodall, and Liz Duffy could not have been more motivated and interested in identifying the specimen and providing me with appropriate information. These employees exhibited a level of energy and competency that I have honestly never encountered in either a public service or private setting. Together they critically analyzed the resource materials, collaborated effectively to identify the specimen, and patiently explained their findings. They were sincere, welcoming, and friendly. My issue was positively resolved in a short time.
Certainly, we are all used to accessing public and private services – libraries, post offices, school systems, doctor’s offices – and we are accustomed to a particular, acceptable standard of service. But when one encounters a greater level of service, a higher degree of motivation, and a overwhelmingly positive approach to service it is remarkable indeed. These three volunteers operate in excellence, and they exceeded my expectations in every regard. You are quite fortunate to have them!
As the end of June looms, back yard gardeners and farmers alike are beginning to see the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Already we are enjoying locally grown spinach, lettuces, herbs and other greens, peas, and perhaps locally grown broccoli and cabbage. Asparagus season is over, and strawberries, thanks to a later season, may be around for a few more weeks. But as we go through July, we can look forward to blueberries, summer raspberries, green beans, beets, cucumbers, peppers, and the holy grail of fresh sweet corn and field tomatoes. So far the growing season has been blessed with sufficient rain and good weather, crops are happy and will likely be very productive.
So, now is the time to begin preparations for safe home food preservation, whether you have a garden or a favorite farm or farmers’ market.
First, determine what method of home food preservation works best for you. Your choice may depend on your preference for the resulting product (frozen vs canned green beans, for example, are very different in taste and texture); your storage space; the tools or resources you have at your disposal (Canner? Pressure canner? Separate deep freezer? Refrigerator freezer only?); and, perhaps, the cost of the process. Since most folks think that preserving at home will save them money, a recent article from the University of Maine, The Cost of Preserving Food in Maine (https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4032e/ ), might make a good read.
They looked only at the costs of energy (in Maine) and equipment used to preserve food as the cost of the food itself varies depending on where it is purchased. When freezing, the most expensive part of the equation is the freezer itself. After that, they factored in the cost of energy and the container, which in this case was a reusable container. One time use containers and freezer bags will add to costs. Freezing was estimated at 38 cents per pound of food.
The cost of pressure canning is $1.14 per pound, while using a water bath canner will cost approximately 73 cents per pound. The difference here is the cost of the canner. A pressure canner is over three times the cost of a water bath canning pot when amortized over 20 years. (Using these figures and assuming the cost of a pound of fresh tomatoes is $3.50, and 91% of the pound is useable, the cost of a pound of home canned tomatoes is approximately $3.92. The cost of a pound of commercially canned tomatoes is about 92 cents.*)
Finally, dehydration is a rather costly operation in this part of the world at 99 cents per pound. You must use an electric dehydrator to be successful as the climate (some heat, more humidity) will not allow us to use the sun alone.
The differences may not seem significant unless you are putting away large quantities of food. I had always thought that freezing was the most expensive option. Not according to this study. The efficiency of modern freezers has probably changed this.
Once you decide which method you will use, then start gathering your supplies. As someone who likes to procrastinate, local sources can get depleted over the course of the summer season. Online sources are more reliable as it gets closer to September.
If you need to purchase a freezer, keep in mind that a full freezer is more efficient. Buy only the space you need, do not overbuy. An upright is less efficient than a chest freezer, but I find it very easy to lose things in a deep chest freezer!
If you own a freezer, eat what you can out of your freezer to make room for the new crop.
Stock up on containers. Reusable are best. Make sure they are appropriate for the freezer. Some plastics will crack when frozen. Rigid containers stack more easily. If using freezer bags, again, make sure they are freezer and not simply food storage bags.
A permanent marker and freezer tape or labels are essential as well.
Purchase a new or check the condition of your water bath canner. The water bath canner or large pot should be clean, have a lid, and a rack to hold the jars off the bottom. Be sure you can locate all the pieces and replace what might be missing.
Purchase a new pressure canner or, if you already own one, keep in mind that a pressure canner with a dial gauge needs to be tested yearly. Have that done now. We do pressure gauge testing here at the office (email@example.com) or call 203.407.3163. If you cannot make it here, you can send gauges to your canner manufacturer to be tested. That will take some time, so get it done as soon as possible. Be sure to check your gasket and other rubber parts to make sure they are not dried out or cracked. If they are, replace them. Make sure there is a rack to keep jars off the bottom of the canner.
Check your supply of jars, lids and rings. The sealing compounds on lids can dry up and crack. Check the date on the box. If older than two or three years, it would be best to buy new. If jar rings are rusty, you should replace them. Check your jars. If the rims are chipped or cracked, replace with new. A chipped rim will prevent a good seal from forming.
Find or replace your other tools: timers, spatulas, jar lifters, ladles, funnels, etc.
Purchase or check on your dehydrator to make sure that it is working and that you have sufficient racks or screens.
Purchase your storage equipment, whether it is freezer bags, canning jars or other air tight, food-safe containers.
Of course, when you get ready to can, freeze or dehydrate, be sure to make sure all of your equipment is cleaned with detergent and hot water prior to using. Follow instructions for preparing canning jars and lids.
Last, but not least, update your information regarding safe home food preservation. Check with the National Center for Home Food Preservation http://nchfp.uga.edu/. In addition to safe processing methods, they also have a blog that provides timely information and advice: https://preservingfoodathome.com/. The Ball Blue Book, generally recognized by Extension food safety professionals as safe, is updated regularly.
*Based on figures from USDA/ERS Fruit and Vegetable Prices, 2015
For more information on home food preservation, go to foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271.
CT FANs IM is supported by a five-year $2.5 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and is an offshoot of the original 4-H FANS program, which also focused on fitness and nutrition for school-aged children and their families.
“We’re bridging community connections with Extension, by serving youth and families in under-served areas,” says Umekia Taylor, associate educator and project director. “With the startling statistics on obesity in our country, I find it exciting to promote healthy lifestyles by combining nutrition and fitness in programs that engage our youth.”
Amy Walker, third grade teacher at W.B. Sweeney Elementary School in Willimantic, serves as adult leader for the school’s new 4-H Club. Funded through CT FANs IM 4-H STEM grant, the program started last winter with the planning and construction of six raised bed gardens.
“This school garden has been a wonderful opportunity to connect young, urban children with healthy, local produce,” says Marc Cournoyer, UConn Extension 4-H Youth Development Program Coordinator. “These kids are very excited to not only learn where some of their food comes from, but they also get to know the pride of growing, harvesting and eating food that was created by their own hands.”
Desiree Parciak, Sweeney Before and After School Program coordinator, worked with the CT FANs IM 4-H STEM staff to help establish the club. Students from her program were given the opportunity to join the club. In addition to Walker, the team includes Extension Public Service Specialist Kelly Caisse and CT FANs IM 4-H STEM teen mentor Mackenzie Hill, a former Sweeney student.
Linda Castro, Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs IM 4-H STEM program administrator, assisted the team with several training sessions. “It was very interesting because we did some great activities that really identified our unique personality traits and showed how different we work,” Walker says. “I think that is what makes the team so successful.”
Last spring, eighteen students planted the gardens that by early summer were overflowing with of tomatoes, corn, peppers, cucumbers, string beans, dill, basil and strawberries.
The team planned a summer reading night, but due to construction at Sweeney, the event was held during the afternoon at Memorial Park. The gardens were harvested before the event. Children heard a story about gardening while parents watched a food demonstration. Families left with a healthy recipe and an armful of vegetables.
“We had adorable chef hats for the children, which they loved,” says Walker. “And story time was a hit. Families from the school attended as well as a few other residents from town. It was a wonderful feeling to share the vegetables. There was enough for all the children and everyone went away happy.”
With the gardens still brimming with produce, Walker plans to continue harvesting as the students return to school. She hopes to secure additional funding to continue the program, expand the gardens and include educational sessions on nutrition and fitness.
“We had parents from the PTO notice how excited the kids were with the program,” Walker says. “Every administrator wants parents involved in their kids’ school, but it’s difficult for many parents in this district, where so many work multiple jobs to support their families. My goal is to encourage the students to eat healthier through gardening, while increasing parent involvement at the school. That’s the big thing for me, to see parents interested in learning with their kids and sharing the gardening process.”
Planning for the Regan Elementary School garden in Waterbury began during the winter of 2015, under the direction of technology/library teacher, Kimberly Williams. The cold frames and raised beds arrived in spring, along with seeds and worms for the worm factory. Students planted carrots, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, watermelon, pumpkins, lettuce, basil, beets, spinach, snapdragons, and cosmos. The first family harvest was held in July, followed by summer maintenance and fall clean up. A fall planting of broccoli rabe, lettuce, and carrots went in during October. The school club is in the works. Club recruiting began with Family Night events.
“Our parents have been very enthusiastic about the program and have enjoyed the Family Nights that we’ve held,” Williams says. “Students and families are excited to be part of the program. Everyone is looking forward to playing fitness games, getting into the garden and making healthy choices. Our staff is excited to see the science learning in our club translate to the classroom, and enable our students to make connections in their learning that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
In March, two New Haven schools, Hill Central Music Academy and West Rock STREAM Academy, will begin a spring CT FANs IM 4-H STEM program.
UConn Extension’s Bug Week is right around the corner, from July 24th to 29th, 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 24th at 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/3r7 or call 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 25th from 9-10:30 AM. The rain date is July 26th.
Join the Museum of Natural History, AntU and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for an exciting afternoon on campus on Thursday, July 27th from 12:30-4:30 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/3r7
Pollinators at Auerfarm in Bloomfield on Friday, July 28th from 9 AM -12 PM will 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. Please register at http://s.uconn.edu/3r7 or 860-486-9228.
Find out all about insects and where to look for them at Bug Walks at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Saturday, July 29th 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.
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.
Did you know that the UConn Extension Master Gardener program has 9 locations statewide, and our trained volunteers are ready and able to help you answer garden questions. Find a location near you at http://mastergardener.uconn.edu.
This article was originally published in a longer format in the Eastern CT Forest Landowners Assn. Newsletter 39(1):1-3; 5.
Connecticut’s fields, forests, suburban backyards, and urban parks are under threat, imperiled by non-native plants from the faraway continents of Europe and Asia or in some cases from other regions of the U.S. Invasive plants are a problem because they establish easily and grow aggressively, disperse over wide areas, displace native species, and reduce biological diversity. These plants invade not only terrestrial habitats but water bodies as well, where they can grow and proliferate undetected for many years. Some invasive plants are more newsworthy because of their beauty (purple loosestrife), their poisonous traits (giant hogweed), or homeowner frustrations trying to control them (Japanese knotweed).
How do we reduce the harmful environmental impacts of woodland invasive plant species? Let’s talk about one of the most troublesome woodland invaders, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), also known as Asiatic bittersweet. Oriental bittersweet was first confirmed in Connecticut in 1916 and today can be found in all towns statewide. Originally from Eastern Asia, this species was first introduced in the US in the 1860’s as an ornamental.
The woody vines of Oriental bittersweet, with reddish-orange roots begin as small, sometimes unnoticeable seedlings in the forest understory. Within several years, if their growth is undetected the young vines will develop from a tangled mass growing along the forest floor to wrap around desirable vegetation: trees and shrubs, or any other vertical structure they encounter. The alternate leaves of Oriental bittersweet are rounded (orbicular; as described by the genus), with fine teeth or serrations along the edges. Clusters of small greenish flowers are produced on female vines in May, followed by the development of red, succulent fruits (ovaries) enclosed in a yellow covering (the ovary wall) that splits open when fruits mature. The fruits consist of three fleshy arils encasing several seeds each. Oriental bittersweet fruits are fed upon by birds and other wildlife in the fall and winter, and the seeds disperse to new locations with the movement of wildlife.
How can Oriental bittersweet be successfully controlled? There are several options for management of this invasive, with the greatest successes occurring when
control begins early and woodlands are monitored for several years. Learn to recognize what young seedlings look like, and they can be easily hand pulled during the first year or two of growth. I make a point of walking through the wooded sections of my property several times during the summer and fall and pull up Oriental bittersweet seedlings, which I typically find under conifers and other trees where birds roost. If vines have been growing undetected for many years and you have dense, woody vines wrapped around desirable vegetation, cut out a section of the vine (several inches in length) in late summer to early fall, separating the top growth from the crown and roots. This mechanical control method will stress the vines and force the plants to use up food reserves in the roots to develop more shoots, and the top growth will die and slowly break down. You will need to continue to cut any regrowth that forms from the crown for several years, but if this method is practiced diligently it can be successful.
A chemical control option is the “Cut and Paint” method, which should also be done in late summer to early fall. Make a similar cut in the vine as described above, and within 20 to 30 minutes, carefully apply a concentrated herbicide (triclopyr products are most effective with woody invasives) to the lower cut surface with a paint brush or other applicator, reading and following all directions on the herbicide label. Avoid making herbicide applications on rainy or windy days, and be sure to avoid herbicide runoff onto the forest floor or onto non-target vegetation. Monitor control sites the following year, and if necessary, repeat the Cut and Paint procedure.
Visit the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) website (www.cipwg.uconn.edu) for information on invasive plant topics that include identification, management, the Connecticut state list of invasive plants, a photo notebook with a gallery of invasives, non-invasive alternative plants, legislative updates, and a calendar listing invasive plant management events and other outreach activities. CIPWG is a consortium of individuals, members of environmental organizations, and affiliates of municipal and state agencies whose mission is to promote awareness of invasive plants and their non-invasive alternatives.
This is a re-post from October 9, 2013. As the weather gets warmer, the problem is resurfacing.
UConn Extension has noticed a growing problem in Connecticut landscapes – tree volcanoes. A tree volcano occurs when mulch is piled around the base of the tree and climbs up the trunk. The shape of the mulch resembles a cone or a volcano. Mulch volcanoes waste money and damage trees.
Mulch is useful at the base of a tree for many reasons. When done correctly, the mulch protects the tree from a lawnmower or string trimmer, aids in keeping the soil moist and keeps the ground cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Mulch also improves soil structure, aeration, and prevents soil erosion and runoff.
Bark is the outermost protective layer or skin of a tree. To properly function, bark needs to be exposed to air. When mulch is piled around the trunk of the tree, the mulch softens the bark and allows outside organisms like varmints, insects, bacteria, virus and fungi to penetrate into the tree. Over time a tree volcano will kill the tree.
Ideally, a mulch ring is placed at the base of the tree immediately after the tree is planted. Follow these steps to correctly apply mulch to the base of your trees:
Before you apply mulch, remove any weeds from around the tree.
The mulch ring should be 2-3 feet wide around the tree trunk radius.
Maximum depth of the mulch is 2-3 inches – the roots need to breathe. Taper the mulch layer to the grass at the edge of the ring.
Aged wood chips or shredded bark are the best choices for mulch.
Mulch shouldn’t touch the bark of the tree.
Trees 10 inches in diameter and larger don’t need mulch.
For more information on tree volcanoes or other home and garden questions, visit a UConn Extension Master Gardener program office. Locations can be found at: http://mastergardener.uconn.edu
There are more than one hundred UConn Extension specialists working throughout Connecticut. These educators are teaching and training in local communities, sharing their experience and knowledge with residents through a variety of programs. These instructional activities now will be easily accessible with the creation of an online extension course catalog.
Extension classes address a wide range of topics, including issues related to agriculture and food systems, the green industry, families and community development, land use and water, nutrition and wellness as well as numerous 4-H and youth activities. The website uses these groupings and an A to Z index so finding offerings is simple and straightforward. Each program links to a page with information on the objectives, goals, components, intended audience, the time of year and how often programs run and a link to the program’s website, that provides additional information.
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.