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Archive for August 2010

Keeping Hardy Hibiscus Over the Winter

August 30th, 2010

hardy hibiscusWe just planted three Hardy Hibiscus that we purchaed from Garden Harvest Supply. The plants are thriving! We need a little help to know your recommendation for winterizing. Mulch…Burlap…Fertilizing? Thanks for helping with this.  Mark and Jacquie S.

Answer: Thank you for purchasing some of our wonderful Hardy Hibiscus plants. They are such a great way to create that tropical feel in our yards for those of us in the northern areas. Hibiscus need a dormancy period during the winter. As a broad category, these plants are hardy from Zones 4-9, but some varieties have lower tolerance for cold. Check the information for your specific variety and check your Zone.

For winter care, wait until there has been a killing frost, one that turns the leaves brown, and then trim the stems back. Hardy hibiscus are considered a perennial plant, not a shrub, so they will die down to the ground each winter. To help them survive the cold, cover the plants with a thick, 8- to 12-inch layer of mulch, chopped leaves or pine needles. This will help protect the root ball. 

Mark the placement of the plants since these are slow starters in the spring. It’s very easy to think you have lost them, so have patience. The soil temperatures need to reach the 70-degree range to bring them out of their winter sleep. Once you see their new sprouts emerge, give them a dose of a slow-release fertilizer, such as Neptune’s Harvest. Also watch, as some varieties like to self-sow, and you may have some new plants to share with your friends.

Happy Gardening,

Karen

Radish Harvest

August 25th, 2010

radish plantRadishes grow so effortlessly even a young child can be a successful radish gardener.  This root crop is quick to yield crunchy, nutrient-rich produce, often within a month.  So, plant early in the spring and re-seed your radishes throughout the summer season.  They do best in cooler conditions, so plant underneath taller, leafy vegetation or in partial shade areas as soon as the danger of frost is past in the spring.

Container gardening is also an option for radishes, due to their small size and relatively simple growing needs. Keep the soil evenly moist, to prevent the roots from becoming woody.  Radishes are a flavorful addition to salads when chopped or sliced raw.  They’re delicious in soups, stews, and stir-fries, as well, adding a spicy piquant flavor. 

A popular heirloom variety is the German Giant, which produces baseball-size roots with deep ruby red outsides and crisp white interiors.  Their flavor is mild and their crunch is addictive.  They grow quickly and are not finicky about soil or water.  However, they do best with consistent moisture, especially in high heat.

Another interesting heirloom type is the Pink Beauty, which is a more standard size root that has a crisp white interior and a beautiful soft pink exterior.  The Sparkler Radish is half white and half pink.  Other varieties of globe-shaped radishes have purple, solid black or solid white exteriors.  The White Icicle is solid white with a long, carrot-like shape.

Radishes are best picked before they’re past their prime, so follow the instructions that accompany the young plant or on the seed packet to determine days to maturity. Don’t let them stay in the ground past their ideal time.  Their texture will become spongy and their flavor, too hot.  Pull them out of the ground (and they should be easy to remove from the soil with a gentle tug) as soon as the tops  of the roots indicate they’ve reached the right size for their variety. Thinning the crop will promote better growth throughout the summer.

Winter varieties will store for months in a root cellar, but traditional summer salad varieties need to be consumed within a week or so.  Remove the tops, and rinse and scrub the roots with a vegetable brush under cold water.  Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  Don’t discard the edible tops!  Like all cruciferous vegetables, the greens are loaded with nutrition and flavor.  Rinse them and store in plastic for up to a few days.  Serve the greens mixed into a stir-fry, soup, or stew.  The crunchy globes add color and texture to tossed salads, and they can be preserved in the same ways as turnips.

Don’t peel summer varieties.  Eat the entire root, skin and all.  Winter varieties like daikon, with tougher skin, need to be peeled before eating.

Tomato Fertilizing

August 23rd, 2010

healthy tomatoesI have some liquid iron and other plant nutrients made by Hi Yield. We have over the top besides the iron. What I want to know is can I put them on the tomato plants? Please reply as soon as possible.  Thanks, Don and Ann N.

Answer: Fertilizing tomatoes can be a bit tricky. In the early stages, you want them to develop strong, healthy roots and stems with a good amount of leaf growth, so during that time you would want to feed them a high nitrogen-based fertilizer. Once they have begun the onset of bloom you want to inhibit the growth of leaves and encourage blossom development. This is done by adding a fertilizer higher in phosphorous and potassium, so you would look for a fertilizer rated something like 5-10-10. Our Hi-Yield Garden Fertilizer is 8-10-8 which is a good balance for all blooming/fruiting plants. 

Liquid iron is a specific trace element that would be used if your plants were suffering from iron chlorosis. This shows up as leaf tissues turning yellow and the veins remaining green. This usually happens where soils are highly alkaline. The high pH binds the iron in the soil and makes it unavailable to the plants. You would want to do a soil test to confirm this before adding the liquid iron. 

I am not sure what you mean by “over the top” so I cannot comment on that. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and adding organic matter around the base of the plants is another way of providing nutrients for the growing plants. The high heat that we are experiencing this year can stress plants, so be sure to keep their roots thoroughly watered during extreme periods.

Here’s hoping for a bountiful harvest.

Karen

How to Can Peaches (Pears, Plums, Cherries or Nectarines)

August 19th, 2010

canned peachesThe most important part is choosing the right fruit. For peaches and nectarines your choice should be a “freestone” or “cling-free” variety, which means the fruit will separate easily from the pit. Not only does this mean more fruit to can, but it means a lot less work. The fruit should be mature and ripe, the same quality as what you would want to eat when fresh. When you open that jar in the wintertime, you want to have that summertime taste of the highest quality fruits.

You can pick your own or buy them, but when it comes to buying I would suggest a Farmer’s Market where you can buy larger quantities at really reasonable prices. It will take about 5 medium-sized peaches or 10-plums to fill a quart jar. Cherries, of course, will be a different story. The fruit averages out to about 2.5 pounds per quart jar.

Before getting started, I always like to have everything that I’ll need within arm’s reach. During the canning season I never even put my canning stuff away. It sits on a table, just for that purpose, and for each project I can select what I’ll need, moving it to my kitchen counter. I even have my canning spices there.

For these fruits you can use a plain water-bath canner as opposed to a pressure canner, but if you are buying one for the first time, I would recommend one that you can use both ways. Our Presto® canners are like getting two for the price of one.

You can use your choice of light, medium, or heavy sugar syrup, or you can use fruit juices, such as apple or white grape when canning any of these fruits. You can also use Splenda artificial sweetener or a mixture of part sugar and part Splenda.

  • Light Syrup: 2 cups sugar & 6 cups water yields 7 cups syrup.
  • Medium Syrup: 3 cups sugar & 6 cups water yields 6.5 cups syrup.
  • Heavy Syrup: 4 cups sugar & 6 cups water yields 7 cups syrup.

You can also use plain water. Splenda syrup requires 1/4 cup Splenda to 7 cups water. When using fruit juice, use 7 cups fruit juice. You can also make a reduced calorie fruit juice by using 4 cups water and 3 cups fruit juice. Very light syrup would be made by using 1 cup sugar to 7 cups water. You can experiment with a combination of any one of these in order to come up with your family’s favorite and one that meets your nutritional needs. The sweetness of the fruit may be a determining factor also.

To make the syrup, you just heat the water, adding the sugar slowly and stirring constantly to dissolve it. Bring the syrup to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat to keep it gently simmering, but not boiling. Be very careful you don’t splash the syrup mixture on you. It cools slowly and will burn hot if it splashes on your skin.

You should also have your jars ready. They should be washed with soap and hot water, even if they are brand new out-of-the-box. You don’t need to wash the lids (seals), as you will put them in a saucepan, bring the water to steaming and then reduce the heat to keep them hot. The screw-bands should be washed and both the bands and the jars should be checked for dents, chips, cracks and rust. Any of these conditions can cause breakage while canning or can cause the seal to fail, making your hard work a waste of time. You can buy jars used, but make sure to check them. They should appear new when washed and should definitely not have a white, calcified-looking stain. I like those rare garage sale finds of boxes of old canning jars that have never been used or that have been used gently. Some of them have a bluish or grayish tint to them and some of them are square and many have decorations or embellishments on the glass that you just won’t see today. I’ll always use those first and I always ask my friends and family to return my jars and bands when I have given them something. (I also don’t give out my “favorite” jars.) I’ve paid as little as $1 a box for 12 quart jars! That’s at least a $7.00 savings.

While putting the lids on to heat, you can also put on a large pot full of water and bring it to a boil. This will be used to remove the skins, a much easier process than peeling each fruit. You will probably not want to remove the skins on the cherries or plums and some people do not remove the skins from the nectarines. Some even leave the peach skins on, but I find them kind of slimy.

Once the jars are clean, they should be sterilized. You can either use the ‘sterilize’ setting on your dishwasher and then pull them out as you need them, or you can fill the jars with hot water and fill your canner with water to the top of the jars and bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to keep them simmering. As you fill the jars you simply use a pair of tongs to pull the jars out, dumping the water back into the canner. The screw-bands can just be set aside and the lids (seals) put into a saucepan as described above. I used to wrangle the lids out with a fork or with a pair of tongs, but grabbing just one in this manner can be difficult and sometimes downright frustrating. I just recently bought my magnetic lid lifter and wonder how I ever lived without it. It’s cheap and so worth the price!

Now you’re making progress!

Thoroughly wash the fruit in either cold or lukewarm water. Now, use a slotted spoon or similar utensil to dip the fruit in boiling water for 20 to 45 seconds. You can do 4 or 5 at one time, but not more than that because you don’t want to cook them. Then as soon as you remove them from the boiling water, submerge them in a large bowl or pot of water with lots of ice in it. (Throughout the process you may have to replenish the ice often…you want this water to be really cold.) Let the fruit sit for several minutes in the ice water, so if you really want to speed things up, use two large containers for the ice and water bath. Now the skins will slide right off! At this point you can save the peach skins in the fridge and make peach honey if you are just enjoying this so much you can’t stop.

Cut out any brown or mushy spots, remove the pits and cut the fruit into halves, quarters or slices. Cherries and plums can be canned whole, but you’ll want to pit the cherries. We carry a Cherry Stoner that can process an amazing 30-pounds of cherries per hour. Peaches, pears and nectarines will turn brown with exposure to the air, so you can either sprinkle 1/4 cup lemon juice or use Mrs. Wages® Fresh Fruit Preserver to prevent browning and to preserve the flavor as you fill the bowl.

At this point you can make the choice whether to cold pack or hot pack. The only difference is that you put the fruit into the simmering syrup for five minutes before pulling it back out to put into your jars. Hot packed fruits are less likely to float and this process softens the fruit so it is a bit easier to pack into the jars. It will also help to reduce air bubbles. Peaches tend to retain air in their cells and this procedure allows the air to be released. Hot packing also tends to produce brighter, more intense colors. If you prefer to “raw-“ or “cold-pack”, then just skip this step.

Pack the fruit into pint or quart jars leaving 1/2 to 1-inch headspace, which is the space between the fruit and the top of the jar which allows for expansion during processing. Cover the fruit with the syrup mixture and then run a rubber spatula down between the jar and the fruit to help air bubbles rise. Tilting the jar slightly will help and gently pressing the spatula towards the center of the jar, pushing the fruit will also help this to happen. You’ll definitely want to use a jar funnel to pack the jars. The syrup is sticky and this can be a messy process. The jar funnel just makes getting the fruit from the pot or the bowl to the jar that much cleaner. If you pay attention, you will know at exactly what spot to stop on the inside of the funnel to give you the headspace you need. Once packed and the air bubbles worked out, you can top the jar off with the syrup, reducing the headspace to 1/2 inch. The fruit should be covered completely.

Use a clean, wet cloth to thoroughly wipe the rim and threads of the jars, place a lid on each one and finger-tighten the screw-band snugly, but not too tight. In the canner they should be covered with at least one inch of water and the timing should start when the water returns to a full boil. Your altitude will determine the processing time, but in general it will be 20 minutes at sea level and not more than 30 minutes. You can also process these in a pressure canner if you wish, but that is not a necessity. The processing time will drop to 10 minutes, but you should still use the guidelines for the pounds of pressure relative to the altitude at which you live.

Use a jar lifter to lift the jars out of the canner and place them on a towel, a jar rack or a thick layer of newspaper. As you start to lift them from the water bath, you may here that tell-tale metallic “pop” that means that the jars are sealing. It may sound silly, but this always makes me smile. Try not to bump them or knock them together and place them about an inch apart. Let them cool overnight and then verify the seal. The sealed jars will have a slightly concave circle in the middle of the lid and will not move when pushed gently with your finger. If the lid did not seal, the middle will be slightly convex and will pop up and down when pushed. You can also check the lids while the fruit is still hot, waiting about an hour to check them, and then immediately re-process the jar(s) for the same amount of time. You should replace the lid with a new lid and again wipe the rim and threads of the jar before putting it back into the hot water bath. You can also put the jar(s) in the fridge and use within a reasonable amount of time.

Once the jars are cooled you can removed the screw-bands, if you wish, label the jars or lids with the contents and the date and store them in a cool, dry, dark place. I prefer to leave them sit on the counter for a few days so that I can get more pleasure out of looking at the pretty jars. Canned goods from the grocery store just do not compare!

Container-Grown Geraniums

August 18th, 2010

container geraniumOf all the flowers known for being at home in containers, one of the most popular is the geranium.  Since these plants are profuse bloomers and they have a neat, compact growing habit, they are perfect as potted beauties, in addition to being a lush color burst in any landscape bed or walkway. 

Geranium plants prefer a day of full sun, but they will thrive indoors in a bright window as well as outdoors.  So, choose your planter box, pot or other container (making sure it has proper drainage to prevent soil rot at the bottom), fill it with rich potting soil, add your favorite geranium, provide it plenty of sunlight, and then prepare to be dazzled. 

You can enhance the container-potted geranium with accents like tall, spikey Dracaena in the center of the planting, or asparagus fern or other trailing plants like Sweet Potato or Vinca Vine around the outer edges of the pot.  Since Geraniums flower continually and abundantly throughout the warm season, they do best with only foliage accents and not competing flowers in the same pot.

Regal Geraniums are available in a palette of rich, deep colors, including Velvet Red, Maroon, Burgundy, Black (which is really an intense, dark red), Double-hued Pink, and Clarina, a two-toned violet-colored flower.  They also are available in delicate pinks and lilacs.

Ivy Geraniums come in a rich dark burgundy appropriately named Merlot, Ruby Red and Salmon Rose.  Stars & Stripes Ivy Geranium and Sangria Ivy Geranium are bi-color, semi-double flowers.  All have a mounding habit and look neat and lush in a large pot.

Some geraniums are beloved for their foliage as much as their flowers.  There are varieties featuring scented greenery, with fragrances as interesting as Chocolate Mint, Citronella, Ginger and Cedar-Eucalyptus.  Some specialty varieties have brilliantly colored leaves, with hues ranging from yellow-lime to rich glossy emerald, and variegated with contrasting shades of cream, white, rust, gold or rings of red.

As a container plant, the geranium will thrive as a perennial, if allowed to winter indoors in a sunny window.  It will undergo a mild period of dormancy but can even flower in the off season, if conditions are right.  Whether indoors or out, make sure to turn your container occasionally so all sides get equal sun exposure, to allow the plant to grow symmetrically.

The biggest advantage of potting your geraniums is that you can continue to enjoy them indoors, long after the first frost has zapped the rest of your annual flowers.

The other obvious advantage is that you can surround yourself with color where you don’t have landscape beds available, like on porches, decks or patios.

Guide to Fall Vegetable Planting

August 17th, 2010

Do you know The Garden Song? Written by David Mallett and recorded by Pete Seeger and many others singers, it well captures the satisfaction of planting and growing one’s own produce. However, there’s also the Anti-Garden Song that well captures the frustrations of gardening that make some people want to throw in the trowel.

Here at Garden Harvest Supply we want to make gardening as enjoyable as possible for you by offering the best selection of fall vegetable plants, along with fertilizer, natural pesticides, garden tools and everything else you’ll need to have a bountiful harvest. We know you are gearing up to plant your fall veggies, so this newsletter consists of a step-by-step guide to fall vegetable planting. Though simple enough for a beginner, some veteran gardeners might also find things of value in it.

Soil Testing Is the Way to Grow

The first step to a successful fall harvest is to test your soil. As we mentioned last time, a soil test these days only costs about $1.50, and it’s worth ten times that for these two important reasons:

First, you’ll learn your soil’s pH, information that will enable you to know which crops will do best in it. If the crops you want to plant require a different pH, you’ll be able to immediately amend your soil to create more favorable growing conditions for them.

Second, the soil test will tell you whether your soil needs amendment. If the test indicates that your soil is fertile, you can proceed with confidence. If it reveals a deficiency, you can then choose a fertilizer that will give your soil exactly what it needs.

Gathering Information

Along with the results of your soil test, you’ll want to gather four additional pieces of information: the ideal pH of the plants you’re interested in, how much time they take to mature, how hardy they are, and the first expected frost date for your area.

These first two items can be found on our website at the bottom of each of our vegetable plant pages. A hardiness chart can be found here, courtesy of the University of Illinois extension. The average frost date for your area can be found at the Farmers’ Almanac site, courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center. You might also want to consider the Climate Zone you’re in and read up on what grows best in it.

Factoring In Hardiness

If your plants are ranked as hardy, they can overwinter, so you hardly need to consider their growing time at all. Semi-hardy plants can withstand a first frost but not repeated frosts, so you have to be sure they will be ready for harvest before the freezing weather really sets in. And with plants that are ranked as tender or very tender, you’ll definitely want to aim for a pre-frost harvest.

Some of the most popular tender and semi-tender crops are beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplants, okra, peas, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and watermelons. Hardy and semi-hardy crops include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce, onions, and turnips.

It’s best that you plant some from each category in order to extend your harvest into the winter, and to make sure your root cellar will be loaded with a variety of produce that will last until spring.

Preparing the Soil

Once you’ve decided what you are going to plant, order from us online or call us at 888-907-4769. We guarantee that they’ll arrive healthy, and, by the way, we’re proud of the extra care we put into our growing process, such as our use of large pots to ensure healthier root systems. We also sell a wide selection of vegetable seed, which has been certified organic by our friends at MOSA, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.

While you’re waiting for your plants or seed to arrive, go out to your vegetable beds and give them a thorough weeding. You’ll also want to remove any old crop residue, as well as plants that have become overgrown. These can all be composted, but any plants that show signs of disease or insect damage must be thrown away.

Wait until your soil is fairly dry—so that a clump of it will crumble easily between your fingers—and then thoroughly till your rows to a depth of at least 6–8 inches. Mix in compost, and if you need to fertilize or modify the pH of your soil, this is the time to add soil amendments, closely following the directions on the package.

If you’re starting new beds, we suggest a convenient spot near your house that receives full sunlight and can easily be watered. The soil should be fertile and drain well so you don’t get puddles after a rain. While good air movement is a plus, avoid windy areas. Also, if the location you choose contains grass, you’ll need to totally remove the old turf because you won’t be able to get rid of it by digging or tilling; the grass sprigs you’ve plowed under will cause you trouble for years to come. So get out all that old grass, and, while you’re at it, remove any stones, as well.

Planting Time

When the mail carrier arrives with your carefully packed GHS order, it’s time for the rubber of your wheelbarrow to hit the rows. If you’re planting from seed, be especially diligent that the soil has been well broken up so as not to form a hard crust over the seeds. In any case, carefully follow the directions that came with your order and remember that your seeds or transplants will need plenty of water, especially during the first two weeks. Depressions or basins around each transplant can be filled as needed with water, or just use a sprinkler.

Seeds as well as roots of plants need to be kept moist but don’t let them remain sopping wet or they will develop root rot and mildew. Once you’ve made it through the critical first two weeks, your seeds will have started to sprout and your plants will have enlarged their root systems so that active growth will begin.

Keep Learning

The more you know about gardening, the more you realize that there is so much more to learn. In our book store you will find a small handpicked selection of what we think are the very best gardening books on the market, including the Winter Harvest Handbook by Eric Coleman and the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith. We also have a few books on specialized topics such as natural pest control and companion planting. And for your leisure hours, we recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book of essays, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

We hope you enjoyed this little guide to fall vegetable growing, and most of all, we hope that your upcoming gardening experiences will leave you wanting to sing the Garden Song, not the Anti-Garden Song. From all of us at Garden Harvest Supply, happy planting!

How to Can Fresh Tomatoes

August 16th, 2010

tomato canningTomatoes are one of the most widely grown and home-preserved vegetables. As is true for any home-canned produce or meat, it is critical to process tomatoes correctly so as to avoid spoilage and safe consumption by your family.

These canning tips should assure that you do things properly and safely, avoiding the processing errors that can make your hard work a waste of time.

Most people that can, or preserve, their harvest do it because they enjoy it. There is a great deal of satisfaction to be achieved by growing your own produce, lovingly nurturing it and then harvesting and preserving your home-grown bounty. There is even greater satisfaction as you get to enjoy the fresh flavors of summer in the dead of winter. So, follow some simple tips and rest assured that the tomatoes you can today will be just as fresh and nutritious months from now.

Of course, there are many things that you can make with tomatoes, such as tomato sauces and salsas, but we will just concentrate on either canning whole, halved or chopped tomatoes.  The first thing you should know is how many tomatoes it will take to yield so many quarts or pints. It takes approximately 2.5 to 3.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes to yield 1-quart or 2-pints and that will also depend upon whether you are chopping them. Having a kitchen scale can take a lot of the guess-work out of knowing how much you’ll actually have, but experience speaks best. Whether or not you can in pints or quarts will depend upon the size of your family, the way that you plan to use the tomatoes and if you are preserving them whole, halved or chopped. Your tomatoes should be vine-ripened, not bruised and should have no sign of spoilage. You should not can overripe tomatoes or those that have been subject to insect or worm infestations or disease. You can can store-bought tomatoes, but use the recommendation below for adding lemon juice or citric acid. Tomatoes from the grocery store have usually been picked early and allowed to ripen off the vine making them less acidic.

Next you have to have clean and sterile canning jars. You may be able to find boxes of canning jars at garage or yard sales or even on Craig’s List, which can save you a lot of money. If you go this route, check the rims for chips and rust and the jars for cracks and discard ones that have them. If the jars have a white discoloration, don’t even consider using those. Your jars should be free of staining and look new once washed. You should also only buy actual jars meant for canning by Ball, Kerr or Mason. The name will be proudly displayed on the jar. The screw-bands can also be bought second-hand or passed from one person to the next, but the lids or seals must be brand new or never used. The only way you can guarantee that is by buying a factory-sealed box of lids or by using lids that you have personally purchased new, so if there is any question at all, don’t use them. The screw-bands should not be dented or rusted.

Your jars should all be washed with hot soap and water (doing them in the dishwasher is fine), even if they are brand new out-of-the-box. Rinse them really well. Then, you want them to be hot and sterile when you fill them, so you want to keep them hot. I put them in my canner and fill the jars with water and the water level to the top of the jars and bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat until I’m ready to use them. Then, as I use them, I pull them out of the water with a pair of tongs, emptying the water back into the canner and filling the jars as I go. Now my canner is already full of almost boiling water which I can bring back to a boil quickly when putting the jars back in to process. This method leaves much more room in your kitchen and on your stove and leaves one less pan to clean up.

It’s also best to wash the bands, but they don’t have to be kept hot. The seals or lids, on the other hand, should be kept very hot. I place them around a sauce pan, alternating lids by placing some up and some down, just because it keeps them from “nesting”. I just cover them with water and then heat them until the water is starting to steam and then lower the temp on the burner to keep them hot until I need them. You should not boil the lids. A magnetic lid lifter is one of the cheapest and yet one of the most valuable tools in my canning arsenal.

Tomatoes can be highly acidic, so you might want to consider wearing rubber gloves of some kind. I prefer the “doctor” type because they come in sizes that fit my small hands and they make the jars and lids easier to handle. Green tomatoes are more acidic than ripened tomatoes, but can be canned using the same method. Once you’ve canned tomatoes without gloves, you will probably never do so again.

Wash the tomatoes well and drain. A large colander is handy for this purpose. Use a large slotted spoon to dip the tomatoes, one by one into a boiling pot of water. You can actually just use a small to medium saucepan for this. Count to 30 or 60 seconds or until the skins split, then dip quickly in ice cold water. This will loosen the skin, making it really easy to remove. Cut out the stem, the white core beneath the stem, peel the skin off and trim off any obviously bruised or discolored areas.

Fill the jars with tomatoes, whole, halved or chopped, including any tomato juices that are made while slicing them. I use a plastic, flexible cutting board and a jar funnel for this purpose. Once the jars are full, add enough hot water or hot tomato juice to leave 1/2″ headspace, which is the space between the food and the top of the jar, to allow for expansion as it is processing in the hot water bath. Then remove any air bubbles by using a non-metallic spatula inserted between the jar and the food, slowly moving the spatula up and down as you turn the jar one full circle. Add more liquid to adjust the head space if necessary, use a wet clean cloth to clean the rim of the jar, put a hot seal or lid on the jar and add the screw-band. You only need to finger-tighten the band firmly; don’t use a hard twist. Place in the canner, bring the water to a boil and then time for the recommended time for your altitude. You can either use a water bath or pressure canner, both of which should come with recommendations. You can also search online for recommendations from the USDA or from your local college extension services.

Once the jars are processed for the correct amount of time, use a jar lifter to remove the jars from the water and place them on a rack, a towel or on newspaper. You shouldn’t place them on a cold, hard surface which might cause them to crack from the temperature difference. As you start removing them, you are liable to hear metallic “pops” as the lids start sealing. (This always makes me smile.) It can, however, take up to 24 hours for all of the lids to seal. Leave the jars alone and don’t be tempted to push on the tops of the lids to test the seals before the 24 hour time limit is up. The center of the lid should be slightly concave and not move. If it is slightly convex and “pops” when you push it, the jar did not seal and you should reprocess* it immediately or discard the contents. If the jars are sealed, you may remove the screw-band, if you wish, label the jars with the date and the contents and move them to a cool, dry, dark place, though you may be tempted to just leave them out for a few days to admire your work.

*You can reprocess jars that did not seal by putting the contents into a pot. Heat the contents just to boiling and then repeat the process for your selected canner. If it still doesn’t seal, discard that batch. You should also be aware that re-processing can result in a lessening of the Vitamin C and Vitamin B complex and may also result in a slightly different texture. It’s kind of like reheating leftovers.

You should also discard the contents of any jars in which the seals fail after a number of days or after a number of months. Some people make sure the acidity level of their tomatoes is up, which makes doubly sure that the processing will result in safe edibles for their family by adding 1 Tablespoon of bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid per pint, or 2 Tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to a quart of tomatoes. You can add this to the bottom of each jar before adding the tomatoes and liquid, though it is usually not necessary when you are using the high quality tomatoes right from your garden.

Once you get the hang of canning, you can experiment with new recipes on your own, maybe adding fresh herbs or onions to your tomatoes. You can search online for a recipe that sounds good to you and you will probably be presented with dozens, if not hundreds, of possibilities. The most important aspect to canning is that you have fun and that you do so safely. Your canned goods should be much better than the commercially prepared foods, but just as safe to eat. Enjoy!

How to Kill Fleas

August 13th, 2010

flea with bloodMost everyone that has pets, except those lucky enough to live in a flea-free zone, has had to deal with a flea infestation. Fleas can be difficult, though not impossible, to get rid of. Their life-cycle makes it possible for eggs to live in your carpet or fabrics for up to 200 days before becoming legless pupae. Then, the pupae can sit dormant for more than a year before growing into an adult. What does this mean to you? Well, eggs can accumulate over time, and then when the conditions are just right, transform into a huge infestation in a very short amount of time.

There are tons of flea products on the market. You can buy powders, foggers and sprays for your yard, your house and your pets. There are also any numbers of flea solutions on the market for your pets, from shampoos to collars to oily treatments that only require application once a month. The down side is that each pet will react differently and that many of these so-called solutions only work for a limited time and can be very toxic, not only to your pet, but to your family. Flea collars, for instance, give off an invisible and mostly non-odorous fume that has even been known to cause illness with regular exposure. You also need to use different products for cats than for dogs. What is supposed to be “safe” for a dog can kill a cat.

The other side of flea elimination is that you have to treat the environment as well as the pet. For example, you can steam clean your carpets and furniture to kill the fleas and the eggs, but the minute your pets venture outside, they are going to pick up more fleas and the cycle starts all over again. You also have to take into consideration your pets’ bedding and places they like to hang out, like under your bed. When treating for fleas, almost all of this needs to be done simultaneously.

When it comes to your pets, though there are tons of shampoos on the market, mild soap and water will work just fine. Soap will kill the eggs and the adults and the larvae and will probably not irritate your pets’ skin…or yours. You can choose a “nice smelling” soap, or one that is odorless and you don’t have to spend a fortune on it. In fact, we carry a number of very inexpensive and nice smelling doggie shampoos with conditioners that won’t break the bank but will leave your K9 friend smelling nice and with a well-conditioned skin and coat. We also sell an organic pet dip that will do the job. Then, once you have bathed your pet, isolate him or her to one area of the house, or even in a crate while you do the rest. But, make sure their bedding material has been washed in detergent and water before putting them in a crate or in a room with their bedding. The soap and water will kill on contact but has no residual effect, which is the reason for further treatment.

Now you can address your environment. Yes, steam cleaning will work for your carpets, but keep in mind that you also need to do your furniture, draperies and even your mattresses. This can be ridiculously time-consuming; a lot of hard work, and is also really effective. But you can’t steam clean your lawn.

When it comes to the yard, there are also a huge number of products to choose from. Most of them are chemical in nature and can be toxic to your family and your pets. Even rain runoff can cause these insecticides to get into ground water or ponds and kill turtles, frogs and other wildlife. But, they are usually very effective. If you choose to use such a product, read the labels carefully and definitely avoid using around your children or pets. You will probably have to keep your kids and pets out of the treated area for a period of time to allow it to dry or to water-in the powder, or whatever the directions happen to be for a particular product.

The employees here at Garden Harvest Supply have found the all around, all natural solution. Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE)! This fine fossil dust has a devastating effect, which simply put means that it kills them, on the exoskeleton of fleas, ticks and other biting insects. It is clean, it is all natural, it is non-toxic and you can use it anywhere, even directly on your pet.

You can simply spread DE with a spreader or applicator throughout your yard and the fleas and other insects that are in it will quickly die, as will all others who dare to cross it. Now that you have a flea-free zone of your own, you can turn your attention to your pet and the interior environment. You can powder your pets with DE and unless they get wet or you bathe them, you shouldn’t have to reapply it until you see signs of fleas again. You may want to shampoo them first and let them dry before application. Long-haired pets may require a bit more application. Make sure you rub it through their fur so that it comes into contact with their skin and you can use it from head to tail. In fact, some people even make sure they get it between the toes. J This application should protect them even if they venture out of your flea-free environment.

Finally, sprinkle DE throughout your house. You can sprinkle it in the carpet and in very short order it will sift through, even to the padding, coating all of those surfaces. You can steam clean your carpets and furniture first if you know that you have a bad infestation, then wait until its completely dry to use the DE, or you can skip the steam cleaning. You can sprinkle DE along the baseboards, under your couch cushions and even on your mattress and between mattresses. You will probably want to use a mattress cover after dusting your mattress though. You should also wash all bedding in the house, including your pets’. Hot water isn’t necessary, unless you prefer it. The detergent will kill the adults, their eggs and the immature pupae.

Using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is less labor-intensive than many solutions and much safer for you, your family and your pets. Its uses are almost endless, so visit our DE Product Details page and scroll down to see a great number of the uses that DE can be utilized for.

The 10 Most Common Tomato Plant Problems

August 12th, 2010

Top 10 Tomato Plant ProblemsThere is nothing quite like a fresh, juicy tomato right out of your own garden. Tomatoes are the most widely grown among the home-gardener. In fact, when gardeners don’t grow any other kind of vegetable, they will grow tomatoes in garden plots and in pots on patios. This is also usually the first vegetable plant that a novice will grow. It will help to know what the most common problems are and what the solutions will be, in advance, so that you can be properly prepared.

  1. Blossom-End Rot—Often called End Rot, Tomato End Rot or BER is probably the most common tomato problem for home gardeners. It appears as a leathery, brownish area that is indented on the blossom end of the tomato. It can be anywhere from the size of a dime to about the size of a half dollar. Fluctuations in moisture levels combined with a calcium deficiency will usually result in BER. Providing consistent moisture to your tomato plants and mulching to maintain moisture levels will help, as will insuring that you have the proper amount of calcium for all of your garden plants. Nutri-Cal® is our supplement of choice.
  2. Tomato Skins Splitting or Cracking—This, though an unsightly problem, is not a problem that will prevent the fruit from being eaten. Cracking or splitting usually occurs because of sudden accelerated growth that can come about due to a sudden increase in moisture after a dry period. It can also occur when the fruit is overripe. Providing consistent moisture and planting hybrid varieties that are less prone to cracking may solve the problem. Cherry tomatoes are the most prolific sufferers of cracking. Picking them when they are ripe or almost ripe, just before a predicted rain storm, will often prevent these from cracking.
  3. Tomato Hornworm—If you start to see chewed up leaves and fruits that are still unripe but damaged, start scouring your plants for tomato hornworms. Amazingly able to blend in to your tomato plants, once you see one you will wonder how in the world you ever missed seeing it to begin with. They are HUGE and one of the ugliest, grayish-greenish wormy looking things you’ll ever see. There are a few companion plants you can plant to discourage hornworms. You can plant marigolds, dill, or opal basil. You can also do things that will invite birds to your garden, such as putting out bird feeders and bird baths or providing bird houses. Ladybugs, wasps and lacewings will eat the hornworm eggs and some people have found that using a hot pepper spray is really effective. But, to begin with, you’ll have to pick those darn things off your tomato plants.
  4. Yellow Leaves—If the leaves are uncurled and yellowing at the bottom of the plant, this may actually just be a sign of the plant starting to die off at the end of the season; but if this occurs while your plant is still actively blooming or early in the season, you most likely have a nitrogen deficiency. This can also be an early sign of other problems like a pest, a fungus or a bacterium, but your first step should be to use a soil tester to determine if it is a nitrogen deficiency and then use a nitrogen-rich supplement in order to increase the amount of nitrogen. Proper soil preparation prior to planting, with good organic material or compost, would also have prevented this condition.
  5. Late Blight—This blight develops as water-soaked patches that turn brown and appear dry and papery. The fungus is normally present when the weather is very wet and the spores can travel long distances, infecting very large areas. Preventing Late Blight is possible by rotating your crops annually and by maintaining good air circulation around your plants. If you think that you have Late Blight, remove all the diseased stems, leaves and fruit and throw them away. You shouldn’t put them in the compost pile. In fact, if your plants are severely infected, you may have to dispose of all of your plants. If you think your plants are salvageable, you might try Bonide Copper Dust.
  6. Early Blight—This is a fungus that survives the winter on old vines and then rears its ugly head on your new plants. The best solution is to clean up old vines when the season ends, rotate your planting areas and space the plants according to recommendations in order to allow for good air circulation. You will know its Early Blight when you see blackish-brownish spots on tomato leaves, the leaves start to drop off or you have “sunburned” fruit. If caught early, you can use Bonide Copper Dust, which can be used as either a dust or a spray and is an organic solution to Early Blight and many other diseases that has been used for more than 150 years.
  7. Flowers Form But Drop Before Fruiting—This normally happens when the weather is going through changes that are not common for your area. If nighttime temperatures drop below 55°F or if daytime temps are higher than 95°F with nighttime temperatures that don’t drop below 75°F, you may have a much larger occurrence of blossom drop. If the plant is not blooming during these periods, you have nothing to worry about. Mulch can help to keep the moisture level in your garden adequate for the plants. If the hot temps are occurring at the same time as hot, drying winds, mulching can be really important. Garden Harvest Supply staffers use Bonide Tomato Blossom Set on their own tomato plants. This organic growth hormone not only allows the blossoms to withstand these weather extremes but will increase the yield and quality of your tomato plants.
  8. Shiny, Sticky & Deformed Leaves—This condition can be the result of aphids, whiteflies or spider mites. Aphids are the most common. They suck the plant sap and excrete a sticky substance on the leaves and fruit. They tend to congregate either on the top growth or the undersides of the leaves and are small, dark, pear-shaped insects. Spider mites will cause bunches of small yellow specks and spin fine webs on the leaves, making them feel sticky. Whiteflies, on the other hand, will actually fly when you brush the plant. If you shake the plant, they may look like dust. So, how do you deal with them? Keeping your tomato plants well-weeded will help, to some degree. But to obliterate them and keep them totally under control, use Safer® Insecticidal Soap.
  9. Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt—Both of these are caused by an incurable fungal infection. Once a plant has either one, you should dispose of the plant immediately, in the garbage; do not add to the compost pile. You will recognize Fusarium Wilt when the leaves on one branch of the infected plant start wilting and then turning yellow. Verticillium Wilt is noticeable as yellowing starts appearing between the major veins on already mature leaves. The only way to avoid either of these is to select a hybrid variety that is resistant to wilt or to buy your plants from a very reputable grower like Garden Harvest Supply. Almost without fail, these two types of wilt will occur in plants from a large retailer that doesn’t specialize in gardening. Garden Harvest Supply grows all of their own plants and adheres to strict organic guidelines. All of our seeds are “certified organic”, which means they are grown by “certified” growers all over the nation—the best of the best. If you experience either of these problems, we want to know.
  10. Nematodes—This insect is virtually invisible. They live under the soil and cause the root of the plant to swell. The only sign will be stunted plants and discolored leaves. These microscopic eelworms are soil-born, so there is no “cure” for them. Fortunately, your tomato plants will still bear edible fruit, but once you;ve discovered the culprit, you will have to wait until next year to address the problem. One of the most common fixes is to simply plant marigolds with your tomatoes. They look pretty and killing Nematodes is not the only beneficial reason to plant marigolds. You might try “Nema-gone”, “Golden Guardian” or “Tangerine”. These varieties, among others, release a chemical into the soil that kills Nematodes. There are also many plants that you can “companion” plant that will “help” the tomato plant. Check out this fantastic book from our library.

I’ve grown tomatoes and had none of these problems on a good year and multiple problems on a bad year. I’ve learned that soil quality and paying a bit of daily attention to my tomato plants will yield the best crop. Here’s wishing you many beautiful and yummy tomatoes!

Oleanders Among Vegetable Plants?

August 9th, 2010

poisonous plantWalking with a neighbor one morning we noticed that someone in our neighborhood had a nice looking little vegetable bed planted along their fence line. We also noticed that they had planted the vegetables between some mature oleander bushes. Considering that oleanders are known to be poisonous, this just seemed dangerous to us and we were wondering what an expert might think. 

Karen G.

Answer: Well, the good news is that while all parts of the plant are poisonous, it does not affect the soil or other plants around it. Surprisingly there are quite a few garden plants that can be considered poisonous, some very common, and some are grown for a part that is consumed. For instance, tomatoes leaves, vines and sprouts are considered toxic, as are green, unripe potatoes. So are quite a few ornamental plants and common houseplants.

Best word of caution: if you have vegetables near toxic plants, be sure to thoroughly wash all produce before consuming. Also thoroughly wash your hands and arms after working with any plant considered poisonous. If you happen to ingest some of the plant, call the poison control center nearest you. If your pet has been chewing on the plant, call your veterinarian immediately, as they are just as toxic to dogs and cats.

Happy gardening,

Karen

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