It has been a great year for growing tomatoes in Connecticut, but the season is rapidly coming to an end with the change to cooler temperatures. As much as we love our delicious vine ripened summer-red tomatoes, it is time for a reality check—summer is over.
If you are a home canner, end of summer tomatoes can be a bit more risky to water bath can. Research has shown the some of the growing conditions and characteristics of late season tomatoes may contribute to a lower acidity or higher pH product. This is one reason it is recommended that when canning tomatoes, you add one tablespoon of commercial lemon juice to pints and two tablespoons to quart jars.
Tomatoes grown in the shade, ripened in shorter hours of daylight, or ripened off the vine tend to be lower in acidity than those ripened in direct sunlight on the vine. Also, tomatoes attached to dead vines at harvest are considerably less acidic than tomatoes harvested from healthy vines. Decayed and damaged tomatoes and those harvested from frost-killed or dead vines should not be home canned—it would be better to freeze them.
What to do with green tomatoes
Still have a bunch of the green ones hanging on the vine? Tomatoes are actually a fruit that can finish the ripening process even when picked green. So if the temperature falls below 50°F for a day or two, start picking the green tomatoes. Be sure to harvest them before the first frost.
Pick ripe, nearly ripe and mature green fruits. Mature green tomatoes are those with a glossy, whitish green fruit color and mature size. It is best to pick fruits only from strong healthy vines and only those fruits free of disease or insect damage. Remove stems before storage to prevent them from puncturing each other. If dirty, gently wash and allow the fruit to air dry (if they do not dry completely, mold and rot are more likely to occur.) Now you are ready to store the tomatoes.
First, sort the tomatoes by degree of ripeness. Greenish-whitish tomatoes have more ripening to do than a tomato tinged with orange or red. Wrap the tomatoes in newspaper or brown sandwich bags. Place in a box or on a tray no more than two layers deep. Store the tomatoes in a cool, dark room.
As tomatoes ripen, they naturally release ethylene gas, which stimulates ripening. To slow ripening, sort out ripened fruits from green tomatoes each week. To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.
Green, mature tomatoes stored at 65-70°F, will ripen in about 2 weeks. Cooler temperatures slow the ripening process. At 55°F, they will ripen in 3-4 weeks. Never expose tomatoes to temperatures below 50°F for more than a few days—the quality will suffer. An airy cellar or outbuilding with moderate humidity is ideal for storage. Too much humidity will cause decay and too little will cause shriveling.
Every week, check to see how the tomatoes are doing. Separate the red and green tomatoes and to dispose of any rotted fruit. Enjoy the red tomatoes for a snack or your next meal.
Some folks may determine that the results of even the best efforts at ripening these late fall tomatoes are disappointing. They just don’t taste like those August fruits, bursting with tomato-y flavor. I have found that roasting them in the oven can help to intensify the flavor of less than perfectly ripe tomatoes. Toss them with some olive oil in a 350-degree oven and roast until melty. Spread them on toast or toss with some pasta—a simple and delicious meal from the late fall garden.
Try cooking with green tomatoes
Of course you also have the option of enjoying green tomatoes just as they are. Green tomatoes can be tasty, but some may find them astringent. The Southern dish made popular by the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, is one way to bring out the flavor and sweetness of the tomatoes. Tomatoes are sliced, dipped in flour, beaten egg, and seasoned cornmeal or breadcrumbs, then fried in oil or bacon fat. Yummy, but probably something that we shouldn’t eat on a daily basis!
If you are more adventurous, try substituting them for apples in pies or breads or maybe a savory green tomato crisp with bread crumbs.
Traditionally, home cooks made good use of green tomatoes by making relishes, pickles, or chutneys. Search your cookbook shelf, your local library, or the internet for green tomato recipes. One good source is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/nchfp. Or, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271 for more information. Additional information on Food Safety can be found at: http://www.foodsafety.uconn.edu
Community Gardeners Reap Bountiful Harvests While Average American Family Tosses 25% of Food Purchases Each Year!
A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!
A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!
Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.
A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.
So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:
Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.
Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.
Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local UConn Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.
As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.
And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.
2. If the pH of garden and flower beds needs to raised, wood ashes may be used. Wood ashes have a pH of 11.0 and also contain phosphorous, potassium, and calcium. Use at 1 ½ times the suggested rate of limestone. (So if 5 lbs of limestone are called for, use 7.5 lbs of wood ash).
3. Apply fall fertilizer to lawns between Sept. 15th and Oct. 15th.
4. Watch for frost warnings and cover tender plants to extend the season.
5. Rake up leaves, twigs, and fruit from crabapple trees to control apple scab disease. Do not compost.
6. Remove the pesky seedlings of woody ornamentals such as maple or elm so that they don’t take over gardens and other landscape plantings.
7. Continue to water any new shrub or tree plantings until the first hard frost.
8. Plant asters and chrysanthemums for fall color in the landscape.
9. Plant/transplant peonies now. Plant the crowns to a depth of one and a half to two inches below ground level.
10. Stop by theCornucopia Festat the UConn Storrs campus on Sunday, September 21st, from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. to get answers to your gardening questions. Bring a half-cup of soil for a free pH test.
Where are all my summer squash? Why do my plants have many blossoms and not squash? These are a few of the questions I hear about yellow and zucchini squashes when the squashes look like they should be setting fruit. Be patient, gardeners, squash will come.
Squash plants produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers contain the pollen, the male part the reproduction process. The female flowers have the ovary at their base. The ovary looks like a very small squash. This ovary will not develop and will be aborted,(dropped off), of the plant if pollen is not moved from the male flower to female. The process is called pollination, resulting in fertilization, then the ovary will develop into the fruit, the squash. The male flowers are produced and open a few days before the female flowers open. So the males are ready before the females. (I am not going to comment on this.)
The male flowers are on a long stem with no little squash at the flower base. The female shows the small squash.
Insects such as bees are the common pollinators of squash plants. They feed on the nectar in the flower, and in the process pick of pollen from the male flowers, dropping some in the female flower when the move into it. If all goes well, fertilization happens and the squash will develop.
A common pest insect of summer squash is the squash vine borer which lays eggs on the stems of the squash. The eggs hatch into a larva which tunnel into the stem to feed. Their feeding damages the inside of the stems and the water conducting vessels of the plant, causing part or entire collapse and wilt of the plant. The squash vine borer is a clear winged moth with 1/2 inch long orange abdomen with black dots. It flies during the day and rests at night. The SVB is attracted to the color yellow. A trap can be made by filling a yellow bowl with with soapy water. The SVB will fly into the bowl and drown. Place trap near squash plants. Other management options are to plant a second crop of summer squash in early July that will mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs. Pull and destroy any plants killed by squash vine borers to keep the larva from overwintering after feeding for four to six weeks. They exit the stems and burrow a few inches into the soil to pupate where they stay until the following summer. There is only one generation per year.
I use a row cover as a physical barrier that keeps out all insects. The row cover is a poly spun fabric similar to mosquito netting placed over all of the squash plants in the bed, then held down with weights to exclude all insects. The row cover also excludes the pollinators, so I have to either hand pollinate each female blossom or remove the cover once the female blossoms appear to allow insects in to do their job of pollinating. If hand pollinating, do it in the morning as the pollen is most available then.
Basil downy mildew, a damaging disease of sweet basil plants, has been confirmed on plants at big box store garden centers (non-locally grown plants) in the Northeast. The major symptom is yellowing of the leaves, often between the veins. Dark, sooty-looking spores of the fungus-like pathogen (Peronospora belbahrii) are produced on the leaf undersides. These are spread to other plants by wind and splashing rain. Whether or not you purchased your sweet basil plants at one of these retail outlets, it’s important to keep an eye out for it on your garden basil because it spreads easily during damp weather. Plants can be protected by promoting good air flow around them for rapid drying. Do this by spacing plants generously, avoiding overhead irrigation, and controlling weeds near them. Preventive fungicides are available but once plants are infected they should be removed. Healthy looking leaves from infected plants can safely be used. For more information refer to the UConn fact sheet or contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or email@example.com
We New Englanders have had a long, cold winter through early spring. The plentiful moisture and chilly temperatures these past few weeks have stimulated growth of our cool season turf grasses like bluegrass, fescues and perennial ryegrasses. Once the turf reaches 3 inches in height, it is time to start mowing. Never remove more than one third of the grass blade when mowing for a healthy lawn.
Divide and Conquer Mints Now
Mints add a touch of scent to the garden and flavor to teas, cookies and other culinary treats. Some are quite lovely with their crinkled, shiny or variegated leaves. The only problem with mints is their desire to take over the world. Not everyone has a spot where they can roam. Now is a great time to get clumps down to a manageable size. One option is to dig up the clump and divide but another could be using a soil knife to cut a circle around a portion of the mint plant that is to be kept, loosen the surrounding soil and pull out all the unwanted runners. Plants can also be kept in contained beds or large sunk in the ground containers but these too need to be divided every couple of years.
Cheer Up With Marsh Marigolds
Passing by wet areas the huge leaves of skunk cabbage and bright gold blossoms of marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) can now be seen. The yellow flowers actually resemble buttercups more than marigolds but supposedly this was a flower used to honor the Virgin Mary and hence the marigold name. At one time it was used for medicinal purposes but all parts of the plant can be a strong irritant so just enjoy the sunny blooms.
If you have specific pruning questions, gardening queries or pest problems, check out our website, www.ladybug.uconn.edu or call the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (877) 486-6271 (toll-free in CT). Your local UConn Extension Centers are also listed on the website.
1. Thin or compacted turf will benefit from core aeration and overseeding.
2. Mow your lawn any time the grass is 1 ½ times the normal height, For example, if you mow at a 3-inch height, don’t let the grass get longer than 4 to 5-inches.
3. Remove spent blooms on tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. The plant will focus its energy on growing new bulbs rather than producing seeds.
4. Hummingbirds and orioles return to northern states by mid-May. Clean and refill feeders to attract these colorful birds to your backyard.
5. Plant tomatoes, peppers and melons after all danger of frost is gone and the soil is warm. This is usually the last week in May.
6. Plant tomatoes in a different spot each year to reduce fungal disease problems.
7. May is an excellent time to plant a shade tree or flowering tree in your yard.
8. Plant dahlias, gladioli, cannas and other summer flowering bulbs.
9. Insert stakes or hoops now to prevent plants like peonies, asters and baptisia from flopping over.
10. Herbs can hold their own in early spring containers. Snip leaves to season dishes and create salad dressings.