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Cold Storage: A Sustainable Way to Preserve the Harvest

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

cold storage procedure at home for fruits and vegetables

Photo Credit: NAL/USDA

A young couple I know if looking to buy their first house. She prefers older homes with character, he wants space for a big garden. They came upon an older home with a dirt basement floor….I immediately thought that it might be a good candidate for a root cellar. In earlier times, when many people grew their own food, lived miles from the nearest grocery store, and did not have the benefit of electricity or refrigeration, they often stored some fruits and vegetables for the winter in root cellars or outdoor cold storage areas or pits.

Today it can be difficult to use the basement for storage as many of us now use our basements as living spaces. We may have furnaces, boilers or woodstoves in our cellars—instead of dirt floors and cold storage shelves. We do everything we can to keep out the dampness. And houses are built to retain heat in order to save energy. And, of course, in general, Connecticut temperatures seem to be warmer longer into late fall and early winter, than they used to be. All of this means that we just have to be a bit more creative if we want to store our late summer/fall crops into mid-winter.

You should recognize that “ideal” storage conditions for many vegetables are not attainable around the average home. Commercial cold storage options often involve a modified or controlled atmosphere, reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide level, while high humidity is maintained in an air−tight, refrigerated storage room. It is important to understand that these conditions cannot be achieved at home…your home-stored apples will not be equal to the quality of a store-bought apple in January or February.

That said, there are many lower-tech options for storing apples and other foods at home. You just have to remember to follow the rules!

  • Pay attention to and monitor temperature, humidity and air flow;
  • Keep fruits away from vegetables (fruits release ethylene which speeds the ripening process of vegetables);
  • Minimize the effects of strong smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage or rutabagas.

Outdoor Storage

Some vegetables can be stored outdoors—or even remain in your garden, if well protected. Root crops including carrots, parsnips and turnips can remain in the garden, if rodents are not an issue. A well-drained location is essential as a muddy puddle does not do much for your stored carrots. Once the ground is cold, or begins to freeze, protect the vegetables from frost and fluctuating temperatures with insulating materials such as clean straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil.

Mounds or pits are a good way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celery root, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. Use a well-drained location, and cover the ground with insulating mulch. Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most: use it up quickly or cook and freeze for longer storage. If rodents are a problem, try burying a 20-gallon trash can in the ground. Several small holes should be made in the bottom to allow for drainage (keeping in mind that rodents may be able to get through a dime sized hole).

Indoor Storage

A Connecticut home—especially an older one—offers several options for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. You could use a breezeway, a shed, a Bilco-type basement door area or a garage that is not used for storing your automobile, lawn equipment or chemicals that may affect the flavor of your stored produce. You may be lucky enough to live in a house with an old root cellar or a cellar that does not warm up too much when the furnace gets turned on. Check the room temperature to make sure that the area is cool enough (32˚F–60˚F) and be sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much. The relative humidity (moisture in the air) of these locations will also affect what type of produce can be stored. Some produce (garlic, onions) store better in dry conditions, while others (apples, root crops) prefer conditions to be more humid.

A pantry, attic, or unheated room is useful for short-term storage of potatoes and onions as long as there is no danger of freezing. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of dried foods, such as dried beans, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables. A warm storage area, such as an attic, can be a good environment in the fall for drying herbs, beans, walnuts, or hickory nuts.

A well-ventilated basement with central heating is generally dry and has a temperature range of 50˚F to 60˚F. It may be used for ripening tomatoes and for short-term storage of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Managing your storage area

Once everything is stored away, you will need to monitor your storage areas, paying attention to temperature (can be made cooler or warmer with ventilating windows that can be opened and shut); humidity (a relative humidity of 90%–95% is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. A relative humidity of 60%–75% is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and other squash). Check the storage area at least weekly. Look for evidence of rodents. Check to see that produce is still dry. Remove and discard anything that is rotten or moldy.

Food safety and cold storage

Exploding pressure canners and botulism scares can keep folks away from canning, but cold storage is pretty much risk free. If it doesn’t work, you will see, feel or smell that your food has spoiled—and you will not eat it! Cold storage temperatures also slow the growth of spoilage organisms and enzymatic action (causes over-ripening and rotting). However, there are a few food safety hazards you should pay attention to.

First, be sure to use storage containers that are food-grade. Never use drums, garbage cans or containers that might have held garbage, pesticides or other chemicals. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not contaminated with pesticides or manure. These should be new materials and should be used only once as they will become contaminated with mold and bacteria.

An important risk to consider is that when using cold storage, particularly outdoor storage options, you need to be wary of the presence of rodents or the pesky neighborhood raccoon. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the root cellar. Look for gaps (even very small ones) between the ceiling and walls, walls and floors and around any air vents or windows. Search areas around vents, joints between the walls and roof and the area under the cellar. Patch any cracks or gaps around pipes or plug openings with steel wool. Use storage containers that animals cannot chew through, such as metal, plastic or tightly woven mesh with openings smaller than ¼ inch. Secure the top of the containers in the cellar or the lids of buried containers so that they cannot be opened by animals.

When you are ready to use your fruits and vegetables during the winter months, inspect everything you take out. While small amounts of mold can be removed from hard fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, generally, if there is mold, we recommend tossing it out. Mold toxins have been associated with allergic reactions and some are cancer causing agents. Wash everything thoroughly with water and a scrub brush before eating.

Finally, at the end of the season, be sure to clean all containers and the room itself in order to reduce the presence of molds and bacteria.

For more information about managing a cold storage area and a storage chart for specific fruits and vegetables, search for the following article, which was used as a source: Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, from Washington State University Extension, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Windham Master Gardener Program

By John Lorusso

FANs gardenWe have had a great year educating our new crop of Master Gardeners in Brooklyn this year. The group began classes in the dead of winter in January and have been diligently working on their plant identification and diagnostic abilities all summer. In addition to those actions, they have been very busy fulfilling the outreach requirements at incredibly worthwhile, important, and noteworthy projects in the community.

A partial listing of some of those community outreach projects: the Palmer Arboretum in Wood­ stock, People’s Harvest  Sustainable Community Farm in Pomfret, Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Goodwin State Forest & Conservation Center in Hampton, Camp Quinebaug Rainbow Garden in Danielson, CT Children’s Hospital in Hartford, Dennison Pequot-Sepos Nature Center in Mystic, Camp Harkness in Waterford, the Belding Butterfly Garden in Tolland, the Emerald Ash Borer Surveillance Program of the CT. Ag Experiment Station, and Natchaug Hospital courtyard gardens. Over 2200 hours have been logged by our Master Gardeners and interns at these crucial programs in the community.

We have exhibited and engaged the public this year at The Woodstock Fair, Willimantic’s third Thursday street festivals, The Killingly Great Tomato Festival, Children’s programming at the Sterling Library, and Celebrating Agriculture.

Upcoming events this fall and winter to include Garden Master Classes on growing giant pumpkins, evergreen identification and wreath making, and beginning floral design and miniature boxwood tree holiday arrangement. We also hope to organize a few movie nights in partnership with the Connecticut Master Gardener Association. We are tentatively scheduled for late Octobe1 to show Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home, a 90-minute environmental, education documentary focused on showing how and why native plants are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystems.

Next year’s Master Gardener class will be held in Tolland county, with the class returning to Brooklyn in 2019.

If you or someone you know is interested in taking the class, or any of the other opportunities listed in this article, please feel free to contact John Lorusso at john.lorusso@uconn.edu.

Deadline Extended for Master Gardener Program Applications

working in garden

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

Do you love gardening? Are you interested in expanding your knowledge and sharing that knowledge with others? Applications for the 2018 Master Gardener Program through UConn Extension are now due by Friday, November 17. Master Gardener interns receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts.

The 2018 class will introduce a hybrid course format. There will be 3-4 hours of online work before each of the weekly classes, and then a half-day course from 9 AM to 1 PM that runs for 16 weeks.

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

The program is broad-based, intensive, and consists of 16 class sessions (online course work and a half-day class each week) beginning the week of January 8, 2018. 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 $425.00, 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, who is graduating with the 2017 class in Hartford County. “There are some spectacularly engaging guest lecturers; this is not some amateur gardening club.”

Classes will be held in Torrington, Vernon, New Haven, New London, and Stamford. The postmark deadline for applications has been extended to Friday, November 17, 2017.

For more information or an application, call UConn Extension at 860-570-9023 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

working in garden

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

Do you love gardening? Are you interested in expanding your knowledge and sharing that knowledge with others? Applications are now available for the 2018 Master Gardener Program through UConn Extension. Master Gardener interns receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. Enrollment in the UConn Extension Master Gardener program is limited and competitive.

The 2018 class will introduce a hybrid course format. There will be 3-4 hours of online work before each of the weekly classes, and then a half-day course from 9 AM to 1 PM that runs for 16 weeks.

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

The program is broad-based, intensive, and consists of 16 class sessions (online course work and a half-day class each week) beginning the week of January 8, 2018. 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 $425.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.Master Gardener logo

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

Classes will be held in Torrington, Vernon, New Haven, New London, and Stamford. The postmark deadline for applications is Friday, November 3, 2018.

For more information or an application, call UConn Extension at 860-570-9023 or visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at: www.mastergardener.uconn.edu.

A Positive Approach to Service

volunteers

Master Gardener volunteers at an event.

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!

Sincerely,

Carol

Visit our Master Gardener program at http://mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Have Fun, Grow Healthy, Get Fit

4-H FANs group lessonConnecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion (CT FANs IM) is a 4-H STEM after-school and summer program and integrated research project, educating third and fourth graders in nutrition, fitness and gardening. The program is presented in collaboration with area 4-H clubs.

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.”

Going Back to Your Roots, or Tubers

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

Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator

 

vegetablesCorms? What are corms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Tips for the October Gardener

Iowa State mumsTen Tips for the October Gardener:

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

Deadline Extended – Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener

working in garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Donating Extra Garden Produce

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

Home Gardeners

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

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

*We suggest growing any of the following crops:

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