gardening

Poop In The Garden

By: Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

insect on tomato in garden
Photo: Wes Kline, Rutgers University

Over the weekend, before the most recent snow, I looked out my kitchen window to see my dog squatting over the chive patch in our vegetable garden. It was too late to stop him.

I spend a lot of time with Connecticut farmers, talking about producing safe fruits and vegetables. We always talk about how animal feces can affect food safety. Animals and birds are often the source human pathogens or microorganisms that can make us sick. Some examples of those pathogens include E. coli O157:H7 (associated with many outbreaks tied to meat, poultry and fresh produce, most recently lettuce); Salmonella (eggs, poultry, pork, sprouts, cucumbers and cantaloupe); and Listeria monocytogenes (all types of foods, including processed meats, cheese, cantaloupe, apples, and frozen vegetables).

Wildlife can spread human pathogens by depositing feces in fields or water sources and spreading fecal contamination as they move. This is very difficult to control. Complete exclusion may not be possible, depending on the species of wildlife. It can be a tough job for farmers to exert any kind of control over geese, other birds, deer, or rodents.

Generally speaking, a home garden is a more manageable space. There are things you can do to discourage the presence of wildlife, though nothing is fail-proof. The first thing you may have to do is to identify the pest. Once you know which animal is eating the lettuce or leaving droppings around, knowledge of their habits and food needs can help you choose the best method to deter them. The University of Connecticut www.ladybug.uconn.edu site has fact sheets that give advice regarding control of wildlife in your yard. In addition, take a look at http://npic.orst.edu/pest/wildyard.html for additional suggestions on specific species.

Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Fence your garden. Fences can make for good neighbors, they say, and this is certainly true of fences that keep animals away from your tomatoes. The fence can be as simple as a strong wire mesh. You may have to bury the fence several inches into the ground to prevent creatures from burrowing under the fence. Some animals are perfectly capable of climbing the fence to get to the other side (did someone say, “squirrel”?). A metal shield at the top of the fence might be useful.
  • Be careful where you hang your bird feeders/houses/bird baths. If birds are feeding or nesting at the bird feeders or houses you have purposely added to your yard, they will be more than happy to poop on your plants as they fly back and forth. This is a lesson easily learned as our birdhouse attracts lots of birds and their droppings on our patio furniture and patio tomatoes alike.

In addition, do not let garden trash build up—dropped fruit and pulled weeds can feed and shelter small animals. Cover trashcans, compost bins and other potential sources of food.  Remove pet food or birdseed from the yard.

  • Use decoys or other deterrents. While these can be effective on a variety of wildlife, it is important to move the decoys every few days. Deer, birds and rodents may be smarter than the average bear: they can figure out when a fake coyote is fake.

One of the most difficult “pests” in the backyard vegetable garden can be Fido or Fluffy—resident dogs and cats. Fencing is most likely to help keep the dog away. Of course, you need to remember to close the gate. An open gate turned out to be how my dog got into the chive patch.

Cats love the soft soil of a garden and WILL use it as a litter box. Of course, the best course of action is not to let your cat out at all. There are too many ways they can get injured, sick, or worse whether you live in a city, suburb, or on acres of land.

If the dog gets through the gate or over the fence and poops on your edibles, there is little you can do. If it is early in the season and the plant has no edible parts, you can wait 120 days to harvest, treating the feces like raw manure—feces from another species. If harvestable or close to harvestable produce is affected, it is best to leave it on the plant. Do not harvest, do not eat; do not harvest, wash and eat. It is just too risky.

This would be true if you see signs that indicate the presence of other wildlife as well. Bird poop on the tomatoes or lettuce leaves; mouse droppings in the herb bed; or evidence that rabbits have been gnawing on the cucumbers. You really should not eat any fruits or vegetables that have been pooped upon. Washing is not necessarily going to totally eliminate any risk from human pathogens that might have been left behind. Do not toss affected produce in the compost bin either. Animal feces should never be added to compost that will be used on edible plants.

This advice is especially important if you have kids, seniors or others in your family who might have a compromised immune system. It is just not worth the risk.

For more information about food safety and controlling wildlife in your back yard, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out some of the links in the article, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Garden Master Classes Available

FANs gardenGarden Master Classes are offered through the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. For Certified Master Gardeners they provide continuing education as part of the Advanced Master Gardener certification process.

These classes are also open to the general public. Anyone with an interest in gardening and  horticulture is welcome!

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an Educational Outreach Program that is part of UConn Extension. The program started in 1978 and 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.

For more information and a class listing visit: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/garden-master-classes/.

Install a Rain Garden This Spring

rain garden appWhat is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a depression (about 6 inches deep) that collects stormwater runoff from a roof, driveway or yard and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens are typically planted with shrubs and perennials (natives are ideal), and can be colorful, landscaped areas in your yard.

Why a Rain Garden?

Every time it rains, water runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, collecting pollutants along the way. This runoff has been cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution to our nation’s waterways. By building a rain garden at your home, you can reduce the amount of pollutants that leave your yard and enter nearby lakes, streams and ponds.

Learn more, and use our app or resources to install a rain garden on your property.

Master Gardener Program Updates

vegetable gardenThe New Year ushered in a new crop of interns aspiring to become certified Master Gardeners. Classes began January 11th. The Bethel and New Haven classes alternate locations each year, and the 2018 class is being held in New Haven County at the Edgerton Park Carriage House. Both the New Haven County and Fairfield County coordinators work together each year facilitating the classes.

This year’s class has 40 students, the majority of whom will be completing their community outreach in New Haven County. However, at least a half dozen or more interns from the class are expected to complete their office internship in the Bethel office and complete their community outreach in Fairfield County.

2018 is the 40th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program in Connecticut. In addition, this is the first year the new hybrid Master Gardener classes are being rolled out. This year, students will be completing a substantial portion of the program online, where they have access to presentations and class materials that can be viewed asynchronously. After they view the week’s assigned material, they come to class, where discussions of the material, hands on activities, and workshops that supplement the material are held. Various activities are led by instructors and coordinators, assisted by certified Master Gardener volunteers.

To date, the new format seems to be working well. Students seem to be accessing the material, taking online quizzes, and coming to class energized ready to participate in discussions on the material and in hands on activities.

Classes are scheduled to run through the end of April, but are subject to an extension if weather creates any issues.

By Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator

Join Us at the CT Flower & Garden Show

garden show image

FREE Soil Testing and Gardening Advice at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, February 22 – 25, 2018 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The University of Connecticut Soil Testing Laboratory will offer free soil pH testing each day of the show. Bring in ½ cup of soil and we will test it and let you know how much, if any, limestone you need to add for optimal plant growth. Master Gardeners and staff horticulturists from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center will be on hand to answer all of your gardening questions. Free gardening handouts will help you make the most of your lawn and gardens this year!

Growing Gardens, Growing Health in Norwalk

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

Growing Gardens, Growing Health connects low income parents and their children to instruction, hands-on practice, and resources for gardening, nutrition, and cooking in order to encourage healthier food choices for the whole family. Over the course of the past 6 summers, participants worked with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from EFNEP and certified master gardeners from Extension to plant and grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Over ten weeks, families received practical, family- and budget-friendly information about nutrition and built essential skills by making fun, healthy recipes. Each week children of the families learned about MyPlate and the food groups through fun and interactive games and activities with the help of EFNEP volunteers and an Extension summer intern.

Economically disadvantaged families were recruited to participate in a 10-week, hands-on, nutrition and gardening education program (n=35). Program goals were to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing and consuming produce; incorporating physical activity into everyday life; and gardening and growing produce for personal use. Childhood obesity rates are higher than national average, 39% in this city. The Growing Gardens, Growing Health program helps families work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a community farm, learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods in the on-premises, fully equipped kitchen classroom, and enjoy the freshly prepared fruit/vegetable-based meals as a group seated around the table. Local health department educators partnered with University Extension educators including a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), bilingual program aide, Master Gardener (MG) volunteers and student volunteers to implement this program. Data collection included a pre-post survey (n=21), and participants demonstrated increased readiness to change physical activity behaviors (47%), cooking behaviors with vegetables/fruits (40%) and consumption of 5 servings vegetables/fruits daily (31%). A family shares, “I am so glad we committed to this. We are eating better, with more nutrition, using less of a budget.” In summary, garden-based nutrition education that is family-focused may improve physical activity, vegetable/fruit consumption and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming produce; such improvements may decrease risk of obesity.

New London County Master Gardener Signature Projects 2017

garden at Riverfront Childrens' CenterMaster Gardener Signature Projects 2017 

Camp Harkness for the Handicapped, Waterford. People with disabilities spend time at the Camp during the summer months. Master Gardeners assist the clients with gardening activities and maintain the wheelchair accessible plants. In the winter, they work with seniors in the greenhouse. This project has been ongoing for a long time with a regular group.

Connecticut College Arboretum, New London. Another long-time association. Master Gardeners lead tours, give lectures, and work on maintenance of the Arboretum’s conifer collection.

Gay City State Park, Hebron. This project is a collaborative effort amongst the Master Gardener Program (MG), the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the State Park Service (SPS). It is funded by the Salmon River Estuary Coordinating Committee (SRECC) and the Connecticut Master Gardener Association (CMGA). A water quality problem, identified by DEEP, was brought to the attention of the New London MG office by the SRECC. It was agreed that the water quality problem could be addressed with a habitat restoration adjacent to the swimming area that would discourage nuisance geese. The project design has been approved by the SPS and planting will begin in spring, 2018.

Riverfront Childrens’ Center, Groton. The Center received a grant from the Ledge Light Health District for refurbishing the Center’s raised bed gardens. The grant required oversight of the project by a master gardener, who has been educating the Center’s staff on gardening and involving the children with the planting and harvesting of vegetable crops. This project will be an ongoing program and fits well with the Extension Nutrition Education Program, which was already in place at the Center.

Fairfield County Master Gardener Projects

Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:

vegetable gardenThe Fairfield County Demonstration Vegetable Garden – Bethel, CT

In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.

As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.

The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT

This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.

The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT

Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.

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.