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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!

How to Can Fresh Tomatoes

August 16th, 2010

Freshly canned tomato salsaTomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown in home gardens, and canning is a brilliant way to enjoy their flavor throughout the year. Tomatoes need to be preserved correctly to avoid spoilage and to ensure safe consumption by your family.

These canning tips should help you avoid the processing errors that can make your hard work a waste of time.

There is a great deal of satisfaction to be achieved by growing your own produce, and then harvesting and preserving your home-grown bounty. There is even greater satisfaction when you get to enjoy the fresh flavors of summer in the dead of winter. So, follow the simple tips below, and rest assured that the tomatoes you can today will be just as flavorful and nutritious months from now.

There are many things you can make with tomatoes, such as salads, sauces and salsas, but this article focuses only on canning whole, halved or chopped tomatoes.  The first thing you should know is how many tomatoes it will take to yield your desired number of quarts or pints. It takes approximately 2.5 to 3.5 pounds of fresh tomatoes to yield 1 quart or 2 pints, depending on whether you chop them. Having a kitchen scale can take a lot of the guesswork out of knowing how much you'll actually end up with, but experience is the best teacher.

Whether you can in pints or quarts will depend on the size of your family, the way you plan to use the tomatoes, and how 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 diseases or insect or worm infestations. If you can store-bought tomatoes, 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.

You will need clean and sterile canning jars. You may be able to find boxes of canning jars at garage or yard sales or even on Craigsist, 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 any with these imperfections. If the jars have a white discoloration, don't even consider using them. Your jars should be free of staining and look new, once washed. You should also only buy jars meant for canning by Ball, Kerr or Mason. The name will be displayed on the jar. The screw-bands can also be bought second-hand or acquired from other people, 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 you have personally purchased new. The screw-bands should not be dented or rusted.

Your jars should be washed with soap and very hot water (in the dishwasher is fine), even if they are brand new out-of-the-box. Rinse them really well. You want them to be 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 keep the water level over the top of the jars and bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat until I'm ready to use them.  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 saucepan, alternating lids by placing some up and some down, just because it keeps them from nesting. I cover them with water and 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 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 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 and the white core beneath the stem, peel the skin off and trim off any obviously bruised or discolored areas.

Fill the jars with tomatoeswhole, halved or choppedincluding 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 headspace 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 them from the water and place them on a rack, a towel or on newspaper. Don't place them on a cold, hard surface, as they might crack from the temperature difference. When you start removing them, you are liable to hear metallic pops as the lids start sealing. (This always makes me smile.) It can 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, although you may be tempted to just leave them out for a few days to admire your work.

*You can reprocess any 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 they still don'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, 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 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 commercially prepared foods. 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' skinor 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

Tomatoes are the most widely grown vegetables in home gardens. Thriving in warmth, tomatoes are happy in garden plots and in pots on patios. This is usually the first vegetable plant that novice gardeners grow. Knowing what the most common problems are and what the solutions will be, in advance, will help you be a successful, happy tomato grower.

  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. Top 10 Tomato Plant ProblemsTomato 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 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. Here is a list of the most beneficial insects and how to attract them to your garden. Or you can use the all-natural spray Thuricide® Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). This caterpillar killer is very effective.
  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 nationthe 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.

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

Pick a Peck of Pickling Peppers

August 6th, 2010

sweet pepperSweet peppers have so much value in the kitchen, it's tough to tally all the ways a good harvest of peppers can be enjoyed. First of all, peppers are easy to grow, and their plants are neat and compact, taking up little space in the garden for the wealth of fruit they produce. They're relatively resistant to pests and disease.

It's time to pick your peppers when they reach the full size for their variety, based on the maturity date on the seed packet or growing instructions. Bell peppers should have a glossy surface and deep green or brilliant gold or vibrant red overall color. Some varieties have variegated hues at maturity. They should feel firm but not hard when squeezed with slight pressure. Sweet banana peppers are generally ripe when they reach a bright yellow, yellow-green, lime green or red color and yield to slight pressure, as well.

That's when to pick. And now for the how to pick and how to feast on your harvest.  Peppers sometimes are stubborn, so it's best to cut them off the plant with clean, sharp shears or a knife. Leave the stem end attached, to preserve the fruit as long as possible. Store at room temp, in a slightly cooler root cellar, or in the refrigerator, until ready for use. They're at their peak flavor when fresh off the plant.

Sweet peppers are delicious raw, and are colorful and crisp additions to veggie trays, served with hummus, ranch dip or cream cheese fillings. They can be sliced or diced to mix into tossed salads. And, they add color and texture when used as garnishes on entrees.

Cooked, bell and banana peppers are a bold flavor enhancer. They add a full, sweet taste to nearly any recipe. They can be cut into large or small pieces or long skinny slices.  Tiny diced red peppers add zing to simple cooked corn or green vegetables. They soften when cooked but can be added early or late in a dish's preparation, depending on how much crispness or wilting is preferred.

Pickled peppers are a good source of nutrition and a delicious side dish throughout the cold season, when store-bought peppers just don't satisfy. Peppers can be preserved in any traditional manner. Gourmet kitchens are never without roasted bell peppers in jars filled with brine or olive oil and they can be added last-minute to perk up even the most boring dish. Peppers can also be frozen for use months after the garden has retired for the season. Just chop and freeze in airtight containers.

The flavors and colors of sweet peppers marry well with onion, garlic, and most other vegetables, meats and spices. Many traditional American foods, as well as ethnic cuisines, call for sweet peppers, and no garden harvest is complete without them.

How Do I Kill Bedbugs?

August 5th, 2010

bed bugSo, you've discovered that you have an infestation of bedbugs. That is definitely one of the most unpleasant surprises ever. You might have found them in your home, but the most common places to find them are in University dorms and in hotels, motels or hostels.

Bedbugs are notorious hitchhikers though, so if your high school student goes and spends a college experience in the dormitory of the local university that is infested, he or she may very well bring them home. The same holds true of your children going on sleepovers or even hanging out in the home of a friend. In fact, if you live in a multi-family dwelling, they can move from unit to unit along the wires or water pipes, just like cockroaches do. The good news is that they are not known to carry any human pathogens from one person to another or from pets to humans, so you won't get deathly ill from them. But, the little sores they leave can become infected and the itching can be downright uncomfortable and annoying. Calamine lotion, Campho-Phenique® or other similar solutions may help, but that still leaves the problem of getting rid of the bedbugs.

Your first line of defense, if you can afford it, should be a professional exterminator. They can utilize a fogging type of insecticide that will get into every nook, crack and cranny that a bedbug might choose as its daytime hideaway, though a combination of dusts, sprays and aerosols may be the best option for your particular infestation. Their solutions will also take care of the eggs that have been laid and will be approved for use on bedding, which is the most difficult place to get rid of them.  A thorough inspection of your home should be accomplished and the exterminator should be able to show you the signs of bedbugs and be able to point out to you some live adults. It's important that you recognize the bugs and know what it looks like if you start to see an infestation again.

If you are unable to afford an exterminator and think that your infestation may be confined to only one small area, like a single bedroom, you can try a number of home remedies that have been proven to work, to one degree or another:

  • Vacuuming & CleaningThis will work in the short term, but it's important to realize that cleaning up will NOT get rid of bedbugs completely. They are not attracted to dirty houses and they are such experts at hiding under baseboards, in the tiniest cracks and nail holes and even behind artwork hung on the wall that no amount of cleaning will get rid of them. Their eggs are hardly even visible, resembling the smallest bits of dust when on a dark surface. Dismantling furniture, scrubbing the undersides and the interior of every drawer, pulling baseboards off the walls and using caulk to seal up every single minute access or hiding spot will probably not be enough to find every single bedbug and eradicate them.
  • Steam CleaningExtreme heat, anything above 120°F, will kill bedbugs and their eggs, but you must steam clean every single surface. Most steamers will exceed this temperature, but you may want to get a commercial steamer so as to be able to run it for long periods of time and to be able to thoroughly steam all possible accessible areas. There is also a dry steam option that has a much lower risk of mold which can be a problem when using wet steam on fabrics, carpeting and carpets. You will also have to be absolutely sure that you have applied steam to every single crack and crevice. If the head of the steamer cannot reach far enough into these areas, the heat may dissipate before it reaches the little suckers and then all your work will have been for nothing. Leave one egg, one nymph or one adult female and you will soon have the same problem that you worked so hard to eliminate.
  • Diatomaceous EarthFood Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is one of the few really effective all natural home remedies for killing bedbugs. Consisting of very fine fossil dust, it has really jagged edges that are lethal to the exoskeleton of many insects, to include bedbugs. Fleas and ticks are also on this list, so using DE will not only work on bedbugs, but will rid your home of other biting insects as well. DE can even be used outside of your house in the yard and is completely safe for your family and pets. The jagged edges that kill the bugs are so tiny as to be completely safe when coming into contact with your own, your children's or pet's skin. You can sprinkle DE around the floor under and near your bed and along the baseboards. You should also sprinkle it over your mattress, topping it with a mattress cover, and between mattresses and inside the box springs if you can do so. Putting it in all of these places will pretty much guarantee that the bedbugs will cross it and will therefore be rendered deader than a doornail. When treating, make sure to wash your bed linens in hot water to get rid of any bug signs and eggs that may have been laid. The hatching nymphs will have one thing on their mindtheir first blood feast on your nice warm body. One word of cautiononly use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth. There is another form that is often used in swimming pool filters and is not as safe for your family and pets, especially if inhaled. You also might want to wear one of those simple paper masks to avoid inhaling the Food Grade DE; it is quite fine and easily inhaled and though it won't harm you, it doesn't taste that great. Then, after a couple of weeks, vacuum the evidence completely away. If you vacuum in between, reapply the DE so as to make sure to kill those hatching nymphs. Eggs hatch in 10 days so a 2-week treatment should work very well.

Some of the things that are pretty much a total waste of your time will be:

  • Leaving stuff out in the heat or in the cold. As stated above, it would have to be over 120°F for an extended period and it would have to be below zero for a week or two in order to freeze them out. That also will do nothing for the little buggers hiding behind baseboards, in nail holes, behind artwork, in electrical outlets or in any other number of interior spaces.
  • Mattress Covers or encasements, which completely zip around your mattress, will eventually kill the ones trapped inside, but keep in mind that they can live up to 18 months without feeding. As long as they can't get out and you don't mind knowing that they're in there, it's a good solution for your mattress.  It will, however, do absolutely nothing for the ones that are hiding elsewhere.
  • Lavender oil is a complete waste of your time and money. Though touted as a solution, there is no evidence that it works at all.
  • Bleach will also not work. It is toxic when inhaled; it irritates your skin and can damage just about any surface it comes in contact with.

So, the informed agree; short of a professional exterminator, which can be quite costly and may have to treat more than one time, Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth will do the absolute best job. You can even buy a small quantity and take it with you when traveling or include it in your son's or daughter's college dorm furnishings.

Season Starters Are Season Extenders, Too!

August 4th, 2010

season starterAll gardeners know that water is the essential ingredient to a successful crop, but water can also be a used as a tool to extend the growing season by as much as 4 months!

Season Starter Plant Protectors are designed to shelter plants against damage from extreme temperatures, allowing some garden plants to go into the ground as many as 6 weeks before the last frost and likewise, to stay in the ground long after the first frosts of fall. Season Starter Plant Protectors are designed like the original Wall O Water but include updated features that make them the ultimate chill repellent.

The Season Starter works miraculously well, considering it doesn't require much effort or maintenance.  The concept integrates natural laws of physics, and operates like a solar panel for plants.  The lightweight plastic protector is similar to an inflatable pool float, with a row of hollow tubes.  In this case, the Season Starter's tubes are filled with water.  The empty Season Starter is stood up around the plant with the tubes aligned vertically with their openings on top.  It creates a physical protector around the plant but is transparent, so it allows sunlight in.

Once in place, the tubes are filled with water, so the protector is weighted down and stays put.  The water serves to conserve energy from the heat of the day, then releases it as nighttime temperatures drop.  As the water gets colder, it actually releases heat to the core of the protector, and thus to the plant.

If the water freezes because temps drop below 32 degrees, your plants will still be kept well above freezing, because the water in the tubes turns to ice and then releases even more calories and heat to the center.  The sun's heat is stored and released like magic, not only keeping the plant warm, but keeping the ground around the plant's roots from freezing.  Frost can't even settle on the plant's leaves, meaning the plant can withstand unseasonal or seasonal dropping daytime and evening temps.

When the fall approaches, you can put Season Starters around any plants that still have produce in the works.  Harvest your late-season vegetables much later than you have ever imagined by buying an extra month or more of growing time.  Season Starters are very affordable, and are available in 3-packs.  They're lightweight, collapsible, and store flat to take up no space in your garage or shed between seasons.  They're durable and should last through several garden cycles.

A fall harvest must end at some point, but why not extend your growing season as long as possible, when it's as easy as using Season Starters and your garden hose?

Questions Regarding Harvesting of Habanero Peppers

August 2nd, 2010

harvest habanerosI currently have 3 habanero plants growing. I am planning on making and bottling a small amount of hot sauce. My habaneros are approximately 1-inch long, and still green. I have been searching the internet for 2 days now trying to figure out how to harvest them. I know when to harvest, and I know I need to use rubber and not latex gloves. My question is, should I just pull the fruit off of the plant, or should I use scissors to snip them off? I’ve never ever grown anything before, but I’ve found that I love it and next summer I hope to grow a full garden. But I need to know if I should snip them off, or if that will hurt the plant. Thank you very much for your time.
 
Sincerely,
Josh F.

Answer: There are many ways to judge when to harvest your hot peppers. The best clues will come from the color of the fruit.  Depending on your variety the mature color could be reds or oranges. Some varieties also develop small stress strips as they reach full size.

 The right time to pick may also depend on what you intend to use the peppers for. If you need them to stay crisp you might choose to pick them before they start to turn red, but habaneros are generally left to ripen to full color for your variety. Try picking at different stages to determine your preferred taste and crispness. If you notice signs of insect damage, pick the fruit before it deteriorates any further.

 Most of the peppers don’t break off easily, so use a pair of clippers or scissors to cut them. We recommend using Wolf-Garten Comfort Anvil clippers, they have a small and large size and help keep your hand from hurting by the time you are done. Do make sure you wear impermeable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly before wiping sweat from your face or rubbing your eyes. Milk is the best cure if you get the oils on your skin or body parts!

 Chilies can be kept refrigerated for up to a week. Leave the stem on and store in a paper bag for the longest period of storage before they start to spoil.

I hope your hot sauce is wonderful!

Karen

Tomato Blossom End RotThe Cause, The Prevention & The Treatment

July 30th, 2010

blossom-end rotBlossom-End Rot, a.k.a. BER, is not a disease, but the result of a calcium deficiency that is usually caused by inconsistent watering. Both drought conditions and over-watering from irrigation, heavy rains or even high humidity levels can cause your tomato plants to suffer from a calcium deficiency and BER. It is also thought that highly acidic soils contribute to this condition and any damage to the roots caused by severe root pruning or improper transplanting can also have the same results, so handle those roots carefully.

Blossom-End Rot can be recognized by a leathery, brown rot developing on or near the blossom end of the tomato. Normally starting with a brown lesion about the size of a dime, it will increase in size as the condition gets worse. Over time those lesions may become covered with a black mold. BER not only affects the quality of the fruit, but can affect the quantity as well.

There are some fairly simple steps that you can take to reduce the possibility of Blossom-End Rot:

  • Make sure to provide adequate water. While putting on fruit, tomatoes need about 1.5 inches of water a week. You may need to increase this during very hot times, watering in the early morning to prevent leaf burn. You may also have to decrease water during periods of heavy rain. If you are not sure how much water your tomatoes are getting, place a coffee can or other similar sized container near your tomato plants but unobstructed. You can then measure the amount of water mid-week and adjust accordingly. A more precise means of measurement is a strategically-placed rain gauge.
  • Using mulch will conserve moisture. You can use newspapers, straw or rubber mulches.
  • Tomatoes grow best and the incidents of BER are reduced when you keep the soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5. A soil tester is one of the best tools a gardener can have in his or her arsenal. The lower end of the pH scale represents more acidic soil while the higher end of the scale is indicative of more alkaline soil. 7.0 is the neutral point. You can decrease the pH by adding sulfur, which is approved for organic gardening, or by adding compost or other organic matter, which takes longer but builds soil quality as well as reducing the need for additional fertilizers. Soil, over time, will revert back to its natural state, so periodic soil testing is a good idea. Organic limestone is the most common additive to raise the pH in your soil. Some lime may require adding prior to planting, so read those package directions carefully. Wood ash is also effective, but it breaks down quickly which can result in over-application, which can be devastating to your soil.
  • Apply fertilizers or essential nutrients properly and with care. Over fertilizing can bring on BER. Soil testing is the only fool-proof way to insure proper fertilization.

If your tomato plants develop Blossom-End Rot, you can treat them by spraying them with a calcium solution at the rate of 4 level tablespoons per 1 gallon of water. You can use either calcium chloride or calcium nitrate, but be aware that when temperatures are higher than 85°F calcium chloride can burn your plants. You should spray 2-3 times per week, starting as the second fruit clusters are blooming.

It is also true that some varieties of tomatoes are more susceptible than others. It might be to your benefit to grow a number of varieties, making notes on which tomato plants perform best and have the fewest incidents of BER and other issues. When making notes, also note the weather conditions, as these can also affect how your garden grows. Taking this simple step will insure that you grow the best varieties for your soil and for your climate, insuring a most bountiful harvest.