« Back to all News

Archive for 2010

How to Can CornRaw or Hot Pack

October 4th, 2010

When it comes to preserving corn on the cob, the best way is to freeze it, which is a really simple process and results in much better summer flavor. But, if you don't have an extra freezer or room in the freezer(s) that you do have, you may want to can it using either the Raw Pack or Hot Pack method. There isn't much difference between the two methods. Some prefer that the corn is evenly heated through prior to canning, which some think is safer, but the flavor is pretty much the same. Corn is a low acid vegetable, which means that you should use a pressure canner in order to process it. Yes, pressure canners cost a bit more, but they last a lifetime and chances are that your grandchildren and their children will be using it one day. Our Presto® models double as both a water-bath canner and pressure canner, so you are getting two for the price of one. I have both, but only because I bought  my water-bath canner first when I was uninformed and just a little ignorant of what my needs would be. I purchased a pressure canner the following year. There are times that I use both.

I like to gather all my materials in advance so that I'm not running around trying to find them. In fact, during canning season, I have a table that I keep all of my canning supplies on, all in one place, only putting them away when the season is over. To can corn you will need:

  • Fresh corn on the cobthe fresher the better. The ideal ears are ripe, but not bloated and the kernels can easily be punctured with your fingernail and will produce milky juice. If you can't can it as soon as you pick it or if you have bought it at the grocery store, you want to put it in the refrigerator or put it in a tub with ice on it. The sugars, which make for its sweet flavor, break down quickly at room temperature. It takes an average of 4.5 pounds of corn in the husks per each quart of processed corn. Bi-colored corn makes for really appetizing looking jars.
  • A sharp knife or a Corn Cutter, which makes removing the corn from the cob a real time saver. I definitely recommend this gadget. Your hands can get pretty sore using a knife to take the kernels off the cob.
  • A medium-to large-sized pot of boiling water.
  • Canning jars, lids (seals) and screw-bands. Your jars should appear new with no cracks or chips. Chipped rims can prevent proper sealing and cracked jars can break while processing. The jars should also be free of rust, as should the screw-bands. The lids should only be new or never used. If you have any doubt, buy new lids.
  • A large spoon, ladle or Pyrex measuring cup with which to put boiling water into the jars once filled with corn.
  • A large bowl or bags to put the corn in as you take it off the cob.
  • Indispensible canning gadgets like a jar lifter, jar funnel, lid lifter, or you can just buy a whole kit that has everything above, and also includes a jar wrench and jar cleaning brush.
  • A towel, jar rack or thick layer of newspapers on which to place the jars when they come out of the canner.
  • A soft vegetable brush for washing off the more stubborn corn silk.

Now that you have everything you need, you can start the fun part!

Get your jars and canner prepared. The jars and screw-bands should be washed with soap and water and rinsed well. Afterwards, you can use the sterilizer setting on your dishwasher and pull the jars out as you need them or you can fill them with water and put them in your canner, adding enough water to go about 1/2 way up the jars. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer while you are prepping the corn. You should also put the seals (lids) in a saucepan with hot water and heat until the water is steaming, then reduce the heat to keep them hot. Don't boil the lids. I also like to alternate my lids facing up and down so they don't nest together which makes it much easier to grab one at a time.

Husk the corn, removing as much of the silk as possible. Then use the soft vegetable brush to remove the rest, but don't bruise the kernels while doing this. Remove the kernels from the cob. If you're using a knife, hold the cob at the small end and slide the knife down the ear. A sharp knife is critical, so you might want to consider having a good knife sharpener handy. You should be cutting about 2/3 to 3/4 of the depth of the kernels. (If making creamed corn, you cut about 1/2 the depth of the kernel and then scrape the cob with the back of the knife to remove the juice and the heart of the kernel.) The kernels will come off the cob in strips but readily fall apart while handling. You can put them in a bag or in a bowl, though a bowl is much easier to use. You might want to gently play with the kernels to get them to separate.

When ready you can pull your jars and start filling them with corn, using your jar funnel to make it quicker and cleaner, and then add hot water to the jars. (If you have previously heated the corn by covering it with water and heating until evenly hot, not boiling, then you can use the liquid from the corn, topping jars with hot water from the boiling pot to bring the liquid level up.) You should leave 3/4 to 1-inch headspace, which is the space between the corn and the top of the jar, to allow for expansion when processing. Jostle them back and forth a bit to allow air bubbles to escape, double-check the headspace, adding or removing liquid if necessary, use a clean, wet cloth to wipe the rims of the jars, put a lid on each and finger-tighten the screw-band snugly. Don't tighten forcefully or use a jar wrench.

The processing time will be 55 minutes for pints and 85 minutes for quarts but the pressure will differ with the altitude at which you live. Check the book that came with your canner, or you can go online and check the manufacturer's manual or research the correct pressure setting with your local university extension service.

Once you've reached the allotted processing time, turn the heat off under the canner and allow it to cool down gradually. You should NOT put it in cold water or move it to a cold, hard surface. Once the pressure gauge has reached zero or you have heard the safety release valves open, then you can remove the weight or open the valve. Wait another three minutes before opening the lid and make sure to tip the lid away from you in order to avoid a steam burn. Be careful of your hands and make sure you have someplace to safely set the lid.

Remove the jars using your jar lifter and place them on a thick layer of newspaper, a towel or a jar rack to cool. You may start to hear that unmistakable metallic pop as the jars seal, but it can sometimes take overnight for the jars to all seal. They should not be jostled during the cooling process.

To verify the seal, check the middle of the lids. If the lid is slightly concave and does not pop up and down when you push, then the seal is good. If it is not sealed, the middle of the lid will be slightly convex and will pop when touched. If this is the case, you can reprocess it, but you might want to consider making creamed corn at this point as it makes the texture a bit mushier. You can also put it in the fridge and use it within the next week or so. At this point you can remove the screw-band if you wish, label the jar with the contents and the date and place in a cool, dark, dry place.

I always get great pleasure out of hearing that pop when the lids seal. I don't care how often I can, it always makes me smile. I also tend to let my most recent canning project sit on the counter for awhile so that I can just admire the pretty jars.

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?

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,


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.


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.

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.

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 oftenyou 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. Peaches, pears and nectarines will turn brown with exposure to the air, so you can either sprinkle 1/4 cup lemon juice or use a 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.

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

Geranium plants growing in containersOf 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. Keep in mind that geraniums need more light than the winter sun will provide, so if you do not augment with an additional light source, the plant will become gangly and probably refuse to bloom until around the end of February. Keep it pruned and watered during this time as well as making sure to turn your container occasionally so all sides get equal sun exposure.

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

Vegetables growing in a fall garden

At Garden Harvest Supply we offer the best selection of fall vegetable plants, along with fertilizer, natural pesticides, garden tools and everything else you’ll need to enjoy a bountiful harvest. We know you are gearing up to plant your fall veggies, so this newsletter contains a step-by-step guide to fall vegetable planting. Although it’s simple enough for a beginner, 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, cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes. Hardy and semi-hardy crops include beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, and lettuce.

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 organic vegetable seed.

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.

From all of us at Garden Harvest Supply, happy planting!

Discount Coupons
Ask a Master Gardener