vegetables

Successful 2016 Connecticut Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers’ Conference

By MacKenzie White, UConn Extension

 

Gresczyk speaking small
Bruce Gresczyk Jr. from Gresczyk Farms discussing “How to Grow for a CSA”. Photo: Jude Boucher

Another great annual conference is in the books for UConn Extension and the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station. 266 growers, agricultural exhibitors, and educators came together Monday January 11th at Maneely’s in South Windsor for a session filled with valuable information in which growers will take back and apply to their operations.

Topics covered included how to comply with labor laws, heat treating seeds for disease management, the effects of environmental extremes on crop physiology, weed management in berries, irrigation, how to grow for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). The crowd was also given some great updates on risk management and crop disaster assistance programs from USDA-Farm Service Agency given by Bryan Hurlburt, grant opportunities from the Department of Agriculture given by Commissioner Reviczky, Worker Protection Standards given by Candace Bartholomew of UConn Extension, and updates on the Food Safety Modernization Act given by Diane Hirsch, also from UConn Extension. The growers who were licensed Pesticide Applicators received 3.5 pesticide credit hours from this event.

Not only were the talks great but so was the tradeshow. Coming from all New England states, New York, and Ohio 43 exhibitors represented 26 organizations. These ranged from seed companies to agricultural service providers as well as the UConn publications stand where growers could purchase beneficial publications such as the “2016-2017 New England Vegetable Management Guide”.

The crowd also enjoyed a delicious locally sourced lunch on Monday. Locally grown and made products were provided for the conference from 8 businesses in Connecticut. The conference received outstanding ratings and positive feedback through the evaluations where 95% of the recipients rated the program as “excellent” or “good”.

New Greenhouse Teaches Science of Gardening

New Greenhouse helps 4-H Center at Auerfarm Teach Youth the Science of Gardening

By Sarah Bailey, Master Gardener Coordinator, Hartford County Extension Center

 

Auerfarm greenhouseWinter may have been unusually cold and long this year, but there was a sunny and green oasis at the 4-H Center at Auerfarm. Spinach and herbs grew throughout the winter, to be joined by all manner of vegetables, herbs and flowers as the seasons shifted. Over the last year students planted seeds, weeded the ground-level beds and sampled fresh produce right from the source. The first killing frost is no longer an end to the growing season; it simply signals a shift into the new greenhouse. Funded by an anonymous $50,000 grant, the 20 x 48 foot polycarbonate rigid-walled structure provides both in-ground and bench-top growing space, along with room for classes and demonstrations. While heated, it is being run as a “cold house” with minimal non-solar heat in the winter, yet stays warm enough for several cold-hardy plant varieties. On a sunny January day, it feels like July!

The building is home to a variety of programs and events. Area schoolchildren take part in Farm to School programs, and Junior Master Gardener (JMG) participants learn about how plants grow, do plant science experiments, and plant and harvest produce. Teachers receive JMG program training to bring gardening and environmental hands-on curriculum back to their schools. Along with the specific youth programming, the greenhouse also hosts programs for the adult UConn Master Gardeners who help grow plants for the Foodshare production garden on the farm.

Additional growing space and an extended spring and fall growing season have allowed for additional gardening and food-related events throughout the year. An additional benefit has been the creation of venues for multi-generational experiences. Currently under development is a series on Gardening with Families along with a Saturday program on gardening and the environment for youth.

Vegetable IPM Program

Jude Boucher of our Vegetable Crops Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program has had a busy summer. He helps commercial vegetable growers find sustainable solutions to pest problems. The program emphasizes healthy soils, balanced plant nutrition, proper pest and beneficial identification, scouting and monitoring techniques, preventative management strategies, reduced-risk pesticide selection and application, and resistance management. This summer he worked with farmers across the state, including Daffodil Hill Growers in Southbury and the Enfield Prison. Daffodil Hill Growers is part of UConn Extension’s Scaling Up for Beginning Farmers program.

Sara in greenhouse
Sara Blersch of Daffodil Hill Growers. Jude Boucher photos.
Dan in high tunnel
Dan Slywka of Daffodil Hill Growers

Making Soup

Minestrone soup

At St. Luke’s food pantry in Bridgeport UConn Extension reaches SNAP recipients with healthy eating tips and recipes. Heather Peracchio made minestrone soup with attendees. Canned vegetables are best for our health when labeled “no salt added,” or if you have regular or reduced sodium rinsing and draining the veggies or beans can help to remove up to 40% of the sodium. Here is the recipe.

 

Meal Preparation for Infants

UConnExtension’s Heather Pease worked with students at the New Britain CREC Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy to make meals for children ages 6-months to 12-months. Some food groups are not represented because they did not have access to all food groups. The focus was on portion and texture of mainly vegetables, fruit and cereal. They also learned how to make formula and the importance of measuring. A special thank you to teacher Julia Porter for all of her efforts on this.

meal for 7-8 month old

 

10 Tips for the April Gardener

grass and tree trunk

 

  1. Purchase onion sets for planting and set 1 inch deep and 4 to 5 inches apart when soil can be worked.
  2. Early spring is a great time to spot spray or hand-dig dandelions. If spraying, choose a product that won’t kill grass. If digging, wait until after a rain, when soil is soft.
  3. Apply horticultural oil sprays to control insect pests on fruit trees if temperature is over 40°F.
  4. Fertilize all fruits mid-month except for strawberries- these are fertilized later in the season.
  5. If you have dead spots in the lawn, patch them before the summer heat. Top dress bare areas with a mix of topsoil and compost, then reseed.
  6. Raised beds dry out quicker in wet springs, keep soil from becoming compacted by foot traffic and make crop rotation simpler.
  7. Plant dahlia tubers indoors in pots. Pinch the growing tips when they reach 6 inches to keep the plant stocky and make transplanting easier.
  8. Prune ornamental grasses, sedum, hydrangea, and buddleia to a height of 6-12 inches before new growth appears.
  9. Make a note of gaps in flowerbeds and fill in with spring flowering bulbs next fall.
  10. Sow peas, carrots, radishes, lettuces, and spinach weather permitting. Plant seedlings of cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli but cover if frost threatens.

For more information please visit the UConn Home and Garden Education Center.

Gardens, gardens, everywhere…

….be sure to grow with food safety in mind

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator – Food Safety

raised garden bedsIt is hard to believe that spring is just around the corner. Though we in Connecticut were all teased with 35-degree temperatures, we are quickly back in the deep freeze, surrounded by ugly, dirty snow piles that are just not going away.

But go away, they will…and it won’t be long before many churches, schools, community organizations and day care centers are planning, digging and planting their vegetable garden. Gardens have become very popular. It seems like everyone has or wants one: to teach kids about where their food comes from, to grow food to donate to food pantries or community organizations, to save a little money on the ever increasing food budget, or simply for a little outdoor exercise. The locally grown movement has also helped to fuel the garden trend.

If you are working with a group of folks on a community/school/church garden, have you thought beyond the seed catalogues, watering schedules or how you are going to share your bounty? Will this bounty be grown, harvested and handled post-harvest in a way that will minimize the possibility of contamination with the microorganisms that might cause foodborne illness?

Did you know that fresh produce is the number one food source of foodborne illness in the US? The Centers for Disease Control found that 46% of all foodborne illnesses from 1998 to 2008 were attributed to produce and 23% of deaths from foodborne illness (meat and poultry contributed to more deaths-29%).

And yet, few think as they are growing produce to be shared with school children or those with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables that they might want to consider the fact that there are microorganisms in the soil, in bird poop or on the hands of the harvesters that could, in fact, make someone sick—especially those that may have a compromised immune system such as those that have a chronic disease, are pregnant, or are malnourished.

So what should you do? By using good gardening and harvesting practices, you can help to reduce potential food safety risks from the food you grow.

When planning your garden…

Locate vegetable gardens away from manure piles, garbage cans, septic systems, run-off from any potential sources of contamination, and areas where wildlife, farm animals, or pets roam. Test soil for contaminants, particularly lead, prior to planting. If lead levels are greater than 100 ppm, precautions should be taken as outlined in the document, Soil Lead Interpretation Sheet, available from the University of Connecticut Soil Laboratory at 860-486-4274. Do you want to use compost? To be safe for gardening, your compost must reach a temperature of at least 130°F. Check the temperature with a compost thermometer. Don’t use untreated manure in a garden that feeds a community group, school or neighborhood.

vegetablesWhile your garden is growing…

Know your water source and its potential for contamination. Irrigate using water from an approved public water system. You can be sure that water from a municipal or public water system is safe and potable (drinkable). However, water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams can be polluted by human sewage or animal waste, fertilizers and pesticides from lawns and farm fields, or chemicals from industry and is more risky. Even water from a rain barrel can be contaminated – best to save that for non-edible plants. If well water is used, be sure to test it at least annually to ensure its safety. During the gardening season, keep cats, dogs and other pets out of the garden, as animal waste can be a source of bacteria, parasites and viruses. Curtail nesting and hiding places for rats and mice by minimizing vegetation at the edges of your fruit and vegetable garden. Fencing or noise deterrents may help discourage other animals.

During harvest time…

People who are sick, particularly with vomiting or diarrhea should not work in the garden or harvest produce. Everyone should wash their hands with soap and water before and after harvesting fresh produce. Do you have hand-washing facilities nearby? Harvest into clean, food-grade containers. Food-grade containers are made from materials designed specifically to safely hold food. Garbage bags, trash cans, and any containers that originally held chemicals such as household cleaners or pesticides are not food-grade. If children are helping out, be sure they are supervised by adults who understand safe harvesting practices. It is best not to let them eat fresh picked food before it is washed. If tools are used for harvesting (knives, clippers), make sure that they are cleaned regularly and designated only for garden use.

Once harvested…

If you choose to wash fruits and vegetables before storing, be sure to dry them thoroughly with a clean paper towel. (NEVER wash berries until you are ready to eat them). If you choose to store without washing, shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. Store unwashed produce in plastic bags or containers. Keep fruit and vegetable bins clean.

When washing produce fresh from the warm outdoors, the rinse water should not be more than 10 degrees colder than the produce. If you are washing refrigerated produce, use cold water. Fresh fruits and vegetables needing refrigeration can be stored below 41° F. Those that are safe to store at room temperature (onions, potatoes, whole, uncut tomatoes) should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.

For more information about safe produce gardening and food handling, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.edu or visit www.foodsafety.uconn.edu.

Eat locally grown, even in winter….

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

UConn Extension Educator, Food Safety

Photo: Tomatoes at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Credit: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension

tomatoes

After a food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad…), it is time that many of us resolve to eat healthier and, perhaps, to attempt to eat more locally grown foods.  It sure can be difficult to live with THAT resolution during winter in Connecticut.

 

Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety.  But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods.  You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you.  Actually, there are 10 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you.  Included are the Fairfield and New Canaan Farmers’ Markets in Fairfield County; the Hartford Market at Billings Forge in Hartford County; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven, Madison farmer’s market and Guilford farmers’ markets in New Haven County; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market in New London County; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington farmers’ market in New London County. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times.  Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.

 

Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter.  If it is an outdoor market, it WILL be cold—or there may be snow on the ground.  Indoors or out, the food choices will be different.  You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash.  If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.

 

You might also discover Belgian endive, broccoli, broccoli raab/rapini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, or radicchio.

 

Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad.  Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods.   Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts.  Or try making a cole slaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.

 

Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.

 

While you’re at it, this might be a good time to splurge a little and buy some locally produced meats, poultry or shellfish.  Locally produced animal protein foods may be a bit more expensive, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it.  Most farmers’ markets will have these products as well as local artisanal cheeses and other dairy products.  Give them a try and you will be hooked.

 

Finally, while not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a “seasonal” food.  It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market.  First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet.  Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!).  Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive.  The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens.  Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.

 

Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread.  Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin.  A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.

 

For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.

Connecticut FoodCorps

One experience at a time, children in Connecticut are learning where their food comes from, how to grow their own, and how to prepare local fresh produce to nourish themselves.

Beginning last August, FoodCorps service members have been placed in five communities across the state for a year of service. Their efforts focus on connecting with parents, school administrators, teachers, food service staff, and community members, to create healthier food environments for children.

FoodCorps service members
FoodCorps is a new national service program in its second year, it is similar to Teach for America or Peace Corps. The program works with state organizations to host young leaders, known as service members, in low-resource communities to help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Through hands-on nutrition education, garden program building and support, and farm-to-school procurement assistance for cafeterias, the goal is to change the food systems children are a part of, from the individual to the institutional level.

The five service members are in: Norwich, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Windham.  They have been developing new programs, like the Food Day event at Barnum Elementary in Bridgeport.  Service members are also expanding the reach of existing programming, they coordinated “Fuel Up to Play 60” trainings in Norwich, Windham, and Bridgeport schools.  FoodCorps is also acting as an extra pair of boots on the ground for service site organization initiatives, for instance helping Common Ground develop the School Garden Resource Center in New Haven and Bridgeport.

Individuals come to this year of service with a wealth of experience, inspiration, and a desire to contribute something positive to the world. As Liz, the service member in Norwich explains, “I now know that there are people struggling every day to put food on my table, sometimes at the expense of putting food on their own. I know that there is an epidemic of obesity in America, posing serious health risks to children. I have learned that food has the power to bring people together, but also to tear communities apart. I want to be a part of the food movement that encourages healthy food environments, healthy kids, and healthy communities, even if that requires a lot of time, hard work, and personal change”

The FoodCorps program is run out of the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon by Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator.   FoodCorps co-captains are:  Dawn Crayco, Deputy Director of End Hunger CT!; Christiana Jones of Jones Family Farm, and Dana Stevens, Connecticut FoodCorps Fellow. The FoodCorps Connecticut program hopes to expand to additional sites across the state in 2014.

If you would like more information about the program, you can like “FoodCorps Connecticut” on facebook, or email Jiff at jiff.martin@uconn.edu, or Dana at dana.stevens@foodcorps.org. For those interested in becoming a FoodCorps Service Member, applications for next year can be submitted from January 15th through March 24th. Please visit www.foodcorps.org for more information.