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Archive for September 2010

Mulberry Tree Trimming

September 20th, 2010

mulberry treeWe have 4 mulberry trees we planted several years ago. Each fall, after the trees go dormant, we trim the trees as per the recommendations. Each spring the trees literally grow 3-4 limbs in each place where we trimmed the previous fall. The end result over several years is that the trees have a sizable trunk but look very much like a wild bush with limbs growing everywhere in all directions but up. We just can’t get upward growth; it’s always outward. I’m sure we’re doing something wrong but am out of ideas. Please, do you have any suggestions to help us recover from the revenge of our mad mulberry bushes? Janet S.

Answer: Mulberry trees are loved by birds for their juicy fruits but these trees are such rapid growers and self-sowers that many consider them to be weeds. Any time you have trees or shrubs that are such aggressive growers, you usually have to implement some equally aggressive pruning to keep them looking good. When training a tree you want to ensure that you have a central leader or main trunk. Sometimes these get damaged when they are seedlings and that limits the plant’s ability to grow in a “normal” tree form and become more bush-like. A new leader can often be trained if this happens, but it takes some work with young branches and is almost impossible with older trees.  It’s a lot like training a tree into an espalier (flat, groomed) form.

For mature trees it’s important to know where to cut to limit that over-sprouting of new growth. Here are a few tips. All pruning does not need to be done in the winter. It does help to see branching structure but is not requisite. It is also not necessary to treat wounds with tree paint. If made correctly, the tree will heal these cuts and fend off any parasites. When trimming, it’s better to take branches back to either the main trunk or to a larger adjoining branch. This will help eliminate the dense growth at the ends of pruned branches. This growth is not only weak and subject to damage or disease, but it also gives the trees a leggy or wild appearance.

Do a search online for state extension colleges. Most all consumer horticulture offices have great publications about pruning, including detailed drawings or photos on exactly where to cut. Once you have read through these you will know exactly where to trim all your trees and shrubs.

Just remember, never ever top trees. It only creates weak and dangerous trees.

Good luck, Karen

How to Can Peppers, of Any Persuasion

September 15th, 2010

Tips on how to can peppers at homeBesides the peppers, your most important piece of equipment will be a pressure canner. It has the high temperatures required to kill the botulism bacteria that can be present in processed peppers. Peppers do not have the acidity to make that happen naturally though raw peppers don’t present this threat. If you are concerned about the price, remember that this canner will last you a lifetime. If you don't have a pressure canner and can’t buy one now, consider making pickled peppers instead. You can process those using the water bath method and you can find numerous recipes by searching online or in a cookbook.

You can grow your own, pick your own or buy peppers at the grocery store, but growing your own is definitely the most satisfying and economical option, which is partly the reason you want to preserve them to begin with. Also, there is nothing that tastes quite as good as your fresh produce in the winter time. The yield on peppers is about 1-pound per pint.

I’ve found that being organized is the key to not only making sure that one canner load doesn’t take all day, but that it is just so much easier to have everything within arm's reach. So, figure out how many jars you will probably get out of the peppers that you have and if you aren’t positive, then pull out a couple more. Make sure you have the same number of screw-bands and lids or seals. Always check your jars for cracks and chips. A chipped rim will prevent a proper seal. Your jars, if not new, should look new and your lids should always be brand new. Check the condition of your screw-bands before canning. They should not be dented or rusted and since these are re-used over and over again, a thorough check is important. Your jars should be washed with soap and water, even if they are brand new out of the box. You do not need to wash the lids, as you’ll keep them in steaming hot water until use, but the screw-bands should be washed, rinsed and set aside. If you are preserving hot peppers, you will want to have plastic or rubber gloves handy. You’ll want to have containers or cookie sheets for “blistering” (read ahead) and a regular pair of kitchen tongs and a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler. You’ll also want to have your jar lifter, a jar funnel, a clean cloth for cleaning the rims, a ladle or Pyrex measuring cup for filling the jars from the pot of boiling water and a towel, rack or newspaper handy for putting the jars on after you’ve processed them .

To keep the jars hot, after they’ve been washed and rinsed really well, I load them in my canner, fill the jars with hot water and add water to about 1/2 the height of the jars. Bring it to a boil; then  reduce the heat to a simmer. Then, as I need them, I pull them out with a pair of tongs, pouring the water back into my canner.  In this manner I have my canner ready to put the jars back into once full. (Make sure to check your canner’s instruction booklet for the proper depth of the water in the bottom.) You can also use the “sterilize” mode of your dishwasher and just pull the jars out as you need them. Put the lids (seals) in a saucepan. I always alternate mine, placing them facing up and down to prevent them from “nesting”. You shouldn’t boil the seals, but bring the water to steaming and then reduce the heat under them to very low, just to keep the water hot. You can lift them out with a pair of tongs, but I absolutely love my magnetic lid lifter. It's inexpensive and works so much better than a pair of tongs or a fork to pull the lids out, saving time and aggravation.

For peppers, you also want to have a large pot of boiling water at the ready. You’ll use this to fill the jars after you've filled them with peppers and to add to the canner to bring up the water level if necessary.

How to grill peppers for canningNow, let’s get canning!

The first thing to do is to wash the peppers in either cold or lukewarm water. You can leave small peppers whole, but larger peppers should be halved or quartered with the cores and the seeds removed. Cut two to four slits in each pepper skin.

Pepper skins can turn pretty tough when processed, but you can choose to can them with or without the skins. If you want to remove the skins, you perform a process called “blistering” which loosens the skins. There are a number of ways in which you can do this:

  • Frying PanHeat a fry pan to medium hot and lay the peppers in skin side down. It won't take long for the skin to start to bubble and darken. If the peppers are whole you'll want to turn them with tongs to “blister” all sides. Remove the peppers to cool and repeat the process.
  • Oven or BroilerHeat your oven or broiler to 400° – 450°F. Place peppers on a cookie sheet and put in the oven or under the broiler for 6 to 8 minutes, turning with tongs until the skin is blistered evenly on all sides. Remove peppers to cool and repeat the process until all are done. If you have a convection oven, you can use multiple shelves and use the convection option to complete this process much quicker.
  • Stove TopPlace the peppers on a wire mesh screen over a hot burner. Use tongs to turn until all sides are blistered evenly. Remove to cool and repeat the process.
  • Outdoor GrillPlace peppers on the grill about 5-6″ above the coals or flame. Use tongs to turn, if necessary, until blistered evenly. Remove to cool and repeat for the rest.
  • MicrowavePut peppers in a microwave-safe dish that is covered with an air-tight lid so that steam can build. Pyrex® or Corning® with glass lids works the best. Microwave for 7 to 8 minutes, turning every couple of minutes if you don't have a rotating plate. You will not be able to see the skin blister, but the skin will be more brittle compared to the raw peppers. Let the container stand for a couple of minutes to allow the process to complete and be really careful when removing the lid as steam burns are really painful! Tip the lid away from you and be careful of your hands.

As you remove the peppers to cool, place them in a container covered with a damp cloth until you are ready to peel them. This just makes the process easier. Gently remove the skins, scraping those areas that didn't totally blister with a knife or vegetable peeler.

Pull the jars out, one by one as you fill them. Use your jar funnel, filling each jar with peppers leaving 1″ headspace, which is the distance between the peppers and the top of the jar. This will allow for expansion during processing. Then add water from the pot of boiling water, just to the top of the peppers, retaining that important 1″ headspace. Wipe the rims with a clean, moist cloth, put on a lid (seal) and twist on the screw-band. The band should be snugly finger-tightened, not twisted tightly.

Now use your jar lifter to put the jars back in your pressure canner and check the water level again. Add boiling water from the other pot to increase the water level if necessary, put the canner lid on, but leave the weight off or the valve open, depending upon the type of pressure canner you have. Turn the heat up and let the steam escape through the vent for 10 minutes. This purges the airspace inside the canner. After 10 minutes, put the weight on or close the valve and close any other openings, allowing the pressure to build to the recommended pressure for your type of canner and for the altitude where you live. If you cannot locate your canner manual, you can search for the manual online or even for the pressure recommendations for your type of canner, be it the weighted kind or dial-gauge.

Home Canned Peppers with Glass JarAfter processing for 35 minutes, turn the heat off and let the canner cool down naturally. A dial-gauge will show a zero pressure and you will usually hear the “click” as the safety release vents open. Wait another three minutes and then open the vent or remove the weight to allow the rest of the steam to escape. You do not want a steam burn, so as a final precaution, tip the lid of the canner away from you as you open it. Remove the jars using your jar lifter and place them on a rack, towel or a thick layer of newspapers to cool. I absolutely love the metallic “pop” as the jars seal. It just makes me smile. Some may even seal as you are removing them from the canner, but it can take as long as overnight. Make sure the jars are in a draft-free place and one where they will not be bumped or handled. The next day you can verify the seal. The middle of the lid should be slightly concave and when pressed should not give or pop. If the seal has not happened, the middle of the lid will be slightly convex and will “pop” up and down as you push on it. Once you've verified the seal, you can remove the screw-band, if you wish, label the jars with the contents and the date and place them in a cool, dry, dark place. The shelf life on home-canned goods is usually one year, though if you have them longer, just make sure to do the “check and sniff” test. This just means checking the seal and the color and sniffing the contents to make sure they smell okay.

What is the Best Mosquito Repellent?

September 3rd, 2010

mosqitoThe answer is: A natural one.

The most commonly recognized and the most widely utilized commercial preparations all contain DEET, sometimes up to 100% concentration. While it is generally effective, its prolonged use can result in possible damage to brain cells. Studies have shown that DEET has caused brain cell death and resulting behavioral changes in laboratory rats. Neurons actually died in regions of the brain that control concentration, memory, learning and muscle movement and are wholly consistent with symptoms in soldiers and civilians following DEET use in the Persian Gulf War. Some of these symptoms are just starting to appear, creating no end of heartache and tribulations for our veterans and their families. Testing is still underway to determine if there is a safe concentration and what safety guidelines will guarantee the safe use of DEET, if any. You should use extreme caution when using DEET in any concentration and should definitely NOT combine the use of DEET with any other pesticide.

Instead, you should rely upon all natural repellents. We have a number of all natural Mosquito Repellents that are so much less expensive than DEET, don’t require the same cautions for use as DEET and that don’t have any of the harmful side effects of DEET, on you, your family, your pets or on the environment.

The first is St. Gabriel Organics Mosquito Repellent. It comes in a 32-ounce sprayer that attaches to the end of your garden hose and is for mosquito control over large outdoor areas. One economical and easy-to-use sprayer will protect up to 5,000 square feet and lasts for up to 60 days. Not only does this solution provide full mosquito control, it acts as a barrier against fleas, ticks and gnats. You don’t have to worry about odor either. It becomes odorless within minutes of its application.

If you prefer a granular repellent, consider using Dr. T’s Mosquito Repelling Granules. This reasonably priced alternative to expensive chemical treatments will protect up to 4,000 square feet and provide protection for up to 3-weeks, much longer than most chemically-based treatments. You just spread it over the area the night before your outdoor activity. The effectiveness of the granules is not destroyed by rain or other weather conditions, though for the very best results, it should remain dry for the first 48 hours after application.

NOCDOWN III – Insect, Mosquito and Snake Repellent is a chemical-free cedar oil that is lethal to mosquitoes, snakes and other non-beneficial insects that are driven by odor and heat stimuli. This solution interferes with the creatures’ receptors that enable them to detect food and likely habitat for reproduction. When this happens, they either relocate or die. 100% safe for your children, your pets and for the environment, it has a zero toxicity rating and no allergens. Sight-driven beneficial critters like frogs, butterflies, garden-snakes and ladybugs will not be driven away. Highly concentrated, you can use it in hand sprayers, foggers or in irrigation systems for large areas. Applying just prior to a rainfall will actually help the absorption into the soil. It will also control flies, silverfish, chiggers, fire ants, fruit flies, spiders, mites, ticks, grasshoppers, Japanese beetles and many others.

Finally, in order to control the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, use Summit Mosquito Dunks®. By being aware of the areas that water collects around your house, like in bird baths, ponds, gutters, low areas in your yard, etc. you can be proactive in making sure these noxious pests don’t breed near your home. The Dunks are completely biodegradable and when left in areas that are dry that are known to collect water, they will activate upon becoming wet. In fact, you can leave them in place and let them dry out and when it rains or you water, they will reactivate and ‘get to work’ again. What could be easier than that?

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