When should I harvest garden crops?

You may have noticed when reading canning recipes list only unblemished fruits and vegetables at their peak size and degree of ripeness. You may wonder what the best size and degree of ripeness is for some of the vegetables you planted.  Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the weeding and regular care of the garden and it is easy to let some vegetables grow past their prime.  Here is a short list of common vegetables and descriptions of when they are at their best for food preservation.  I’ve used some information from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension; you can check with them for more information.

  • Cherries: Sweet cherries should be fully colored with the stems firmly attached. Sour cherries should be sampled to determine proper harvest time. Be sure they are fully colored and flavorful as they will not ripen further after harvesting.
  • Peaches: The background color of the peach skin is your best guide. Pick when the background color changes from green to yellow. The reddish color on the skin is not a good guide. Taste to be sure.
  • Plums:   Pick when the flesh begins to feel soft. The skin changes color before the fruit is ripe.
  • Strawberries: Pick when the fruits are uniformly red and beginning to soften.
  • Beans:  Pick when they are small in diameter and crisp enough to snap when picked.
  • Beets: Pull when the roots are between 1 ¼ and 2 inches in diameter. Some, but not all, beets will still have good quality when a bit larger.
  • Broccoli: Harvest when the head is fully developed but before the yellow blossoms open.
  • Carrots: Pull carrots when they are ¾ to 1 inch in diameter. Larger carrots can become woody.
  • Cucumber: The end use of the cucumber will determine when to pick. Pickling cucumbers are ready for sweet pickles when they are 1 ½ to 2 inches long. Dill pickles require 3 to 4 inch long cucumbers. For slicing choose cucumbers that are 7 to 9 inches long. Do not allow the cucumbers to yellow or become too mature.
  • Kohlrabi: Harvest these when the stem is 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
  • Okra: The pods are best when they are 3 to 5 inches long. Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting as the plants are spiny.
  • Onions: Green onions can be pulled any time. Onions for storage should be pulled with half of the tops are dried and the bulbs are at least 2 inches in diameter.
  • Summer Squash/Zucchini: Pick these when the fruit is young and tender. Your fingernail should easily pierce the skin of the squash. Use zucchini when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and between 4 to 8 inches long. Check your garden every day as zucchini grow so very fast.
  • Sweet corn: Pick when the cob is filled with kernels and still in the milky stage. Use a fingernail to pierce a kernel. A milky liquid should be released. The silks should be dry and brown. Preserve within 4 hours of picking for the best possible result.
  • Tomatoes: Pick when the fruits are fully colored and firm. During hot weather you may want to pick tomatoes that are only pink and allow them to finish ripening inside the house.

Remember that if you need any advice or recipes to preserve these or any other fruits and vegetables you can call us and we will be happy to help. Happy gardening.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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What if my rhubarb freezes?

A sure sign of spring at AnswerLine are the calls from people concerned about the safety of their rhubarb plants. It seems like every year we have a week or so of really nice temperatures that allow the rhubarb plants to grow vigorously. Then the temperatures take a dive and we have a frost or freezing weather.  There is an old wives tale that says rhubarb that has frozen is poisonous and that you should destroy or dig up your plants to stay safe.

That old wives tale is just that; a tale that is not correct.   If your patch of rhubarb freezes, the fleshy part of the plant will freeze.  After a day or two, the frozen leaves and stems will become soft and blackened.  This is a result of the damage that freezing and thawing cause to the plant.  Most people, when they pick rhubarb, are particular and choose the nicest, freshest looking stalks.  They would not choose softened, black, or mushy stalks.  Those stalks should be pulled and discarded; this is something most people would do without thinking.

Remember, only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.  It is generally recommended that home gardeners stop harvesting rhubarb in early to mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months would weaken the plants and reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks may become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous. Sometimes we have callers wanting to harvest enough for a crisp or a pie during mid-summer.  We tell them to look for some smaller, tender stalks that could be pulled.  If the rhubarb patch is an older, established patch pulling a few stalks should not cause permanent damage to the patch.

Enjoy your rhubarb.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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It’s Morel Time!

It is time to start hunting for morel mushrooms. I have been looking at some advice from experienced mushroom hunters to see what tips might help me find some morels this spring.

The first tip is to post pictures of morels all around the home or office. The theory is that if you are very familiar with the shape, they will be easier to spot.

Remember to check for signs that it is time to start hunting. You should see oak leaves that are the size of a squirrel’s ear, budding lilacs, dandelions, and other early spring flowers in bloom. At this time of the year, expect daytime temperatures in the sixties and night temperatures in the fifties.

More important is the actual soil temperature. Temperatures in the low fifties are best; temperature seems to be more important than the direction that the hillside faces. Earlier in the spring seems to be the best time to begin searching. If a cold snap occurs, there may not be as many morels growing after the weather warms up again.

Dead trees seem to be a great spot to search. Elms, Ash trees, Apple trees, and many other trees provide just the right nutrients for morels.

If the spring has been dry, look at the base of a hill. The soil will still be a bit moist there. Creek bottoms that get some sunlight are also great spots to hunt.

Once you have found some morels, remember:

  • Don’t collect morels that have been exposed to pesticides.
  • Don’t mix morels and other types of mushrooms
  • If the morel doesn’t look good (old, discolored, decaying) don’t harvest it
  • Use paper sacks, not plastic for harvest and storage of morels. They will rot in plastic bags.
  • Always cook morels, don’t eat them raw.
  • Follow directions for cooking and freezing from our previous blog post.

 

Happy hunting and eating.

 

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Visit an Iowa Farm

Photo courtesy of and permission by Bloomsbury Farm, Atkins, Ia

Would your family enjoy visiting an operating farm?  A farm visit can be a tremendous learning experience and also great family fun.  Seeing how a farm operates and the effort that goes into growing crops or raising livestock provides appreciation for the food we consume daily or becomes an eye-opening experience on seeing non-traditional crops being grown.  Further its a great opportunity to try new products, foods and beverages produced from those crops.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, check out Visit Iowa Farms at www.visitiowafarms.org where you will find a listing of farms across the state willing to host visitors.  The Visit Iowa Farms program is administered by the Value Added Agriculture Program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Users of the site can find a farm by adventure type, county, or distance from a specific location.  Agritourism has continued to grow in Iowa and according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there were 275 farms in the state open to the public.  Agritourism in Iowa has been growing steadily.

The site is also useful to farmers wanting to list their operation on the Visit Iowa Farms website.  Besides registering, there are also resources for business planning, marketing, and legal and regulation considerations as they set up and publicize their agritourism operation.

For more on what to do and see in rural Iowa, download the Iowa Tour Guide (2015) which gives many ideas and even planned tours through the state to see agriculture in many different forms.  Agritourism is all about connecting travelers or curiosity seekers to life down on the farm.  Check out the opportunities!  You’ll be amazed!

Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Martin and provided with permission by Loess Hills Lavender Farm, Missouri Valley, IA
Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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African Violets

violet1 We have had a few questions about African violets lately and since they are one of my favorite houseplants I thought it might be interesting to learn a bit more about them.   I bought 8 African violets nine years ago for my son’s wedding rehearsal dinner.  Now, I only have one plant left.  I’d like to get more African violets but I’d like to know what I did wrong that killed the other 7 plants.

According to Richard Jauron, Iowa State University Extension Horticulturist, the best window to place the violet near is either north or east facing. This was good news for me as we recently did some rearranging at our home and my last surviving violet moved from a south window to a north window.  I was concerned for the health of my plant but now I know that the move shouldn’t harm my plant.

Transplanting the violets into larger pots may have caused the death of several violet2other plants. Apparently violets prefer smaller pots.  Violets will bloom and grow better in a smaller pot.  Small cuttings that are ready to be potted should be potted into 2” pots.  The plant can be transplanted into a 3” pot once good roots are established.  The plant should remain in this size pot until the plant measures 9 “diameter.  I know that I transplanted into larger pots before my violets reached this size.

I did remember to use potting mix designed for African violets and I am very careful when watering the plant to not splash water up onto the leaves. I wait until the soil seems dry before watering and I don’t over-fertilize either.

I’m excited to use what I’ve learned when I purchase my next violet.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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What to Do with All Those Fall Leaves

20161108_102513bThe wind is a blowin’ and the leaves are a fallin’.  It’s that time of the year to rake those leaves OR not?  Most people rake their leaves because their neighbors do and they want to avoid the condescending glares for not doing it OR they were taught that leaves can suffocate a lawn.  For years, we have been raking and bagging leaves because when leaves pile up with wet, heavy snow, it can mean problems for the grass below due to suffocating or snow mold (a fungal disease that attacks turf). So how should fall leaves be managed?

To begin, it is no longer acceptable to send leaves off to the landfill where they take up space and generate harmful gases.  So if your town or county doesn’t offer leaf composting as part of its leaf removal program, other options need to be considered to keep the leaves out of the waste stream, appease your neighbors, and better your lawn or garden. K-State Research and Extension offers some great solutions for getting rid of fall’s abundant leaves that include mulching, composting, stockpiling, and incorporating.

If you’d rather not rake and bag, mow mulching may work for you.  The leaves are mowed and left on the turf to degrade and returned to the soil. Research at Michigan State (MSU) has shown leaf mulching to be efficient and benefit the lawn when properly done. Besides cutting down on the need for fertilizers and other chemicals, the decomposing pieces of leaves cover bare spots between turf plants where weed seeds germinate. MSU research has shown a reduction in dandelions and crabgrass  after adopting this practice for just three years.

Composting may require raking or mowing with a catcher.  The horticulturalists at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offer some great suggestions on constructing and managing compost piles.  While this option will take some time, the leaves will be reduced to wonderful organic matter usable in the garden.

Shredding and stockpiling leaves in bags or containers allow the leaves to be used as garden mulch the following spring and then tilled into the soil at the end of the season for added organic matter.

Leaves can be incorporated into the garden in the fall; Mother Nature will compost them over the winter.  To do so spread a couple inches over the garden and work into the soil.

Not all of these solutions will work for everyone, but with a little thought, we can all do our part to keep the leaves out of the waste stream, be a good neighbor, and benefit our own lawn and gardens.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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What are hedge apples used for?

Osage Orange
Osage Orange

I, like many of you I’m sure, have seen what we refer to as hedge apples appearing in grocery stores, farmers markets, and garden centers recently. Have you wondered where they come from and if they’re good for anything? I have!

The yellow-green fruit, commonly called hedge apples, is produced by the Osage-orange tree. The female trees produce 3-to-5 inch-diameter fruit which ripens in September and October and falls to the ground. Other cultivated members of the Osage-orange family include the mulberry and fig.

I have heard many people say hedge apples are great for pest control. They put them around the foundation of their homes or in the basement to deter cockroaches, spiders, boxelder bugs and crickets. This however seems to be folklore. There is no scientific research to support hedge apples are an effective insect repellent.

Hedge apple, or Osage-orange, trees are not related to apples or oranges and their fruit is inedible. The milky juice present in the stems and juice may cause irritation to the skin so be cautious if you are handling them.

The most common use for hedge apples that I could find in my research was found with the wood. It is extremely hard, heavy, tough, and durable. Many archers consider the wood to be the finest wood for bows. It is also used for fence posts and furniture.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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When should I harvest my vegetables?

We have been getting a lot of questions this week from callers that want to know just when they should be harvesting different vegetables from their gardens. The Extension Store has a great publication that you may want to download and keep near your gardening supplies.  The chart below was taken from that publication.  In addition to this chart, there are descriptions for planting and harvesting times as well as methods to prolong harvest for some vegetables.

chart3

 

 

Remember that if you want to preserve your vegetables, you will have the best quality product if you preserve it as soon as possible after picking.  Please contact us if you have questions about the best way to preserve those vegetables.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Harvesting and Ripening Pears

Pear season is coming.  It typically starts early in August for early maturing varieties and continues into the fall for later maturing varieties.  Therefore, it is time to begin checking your trees for fruit maturity and harvest before the pears are fully ripe for later enjoyment.  While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, the classic European* pears are an exception and need to be picked before ripening.  Most varieties ripen from the inside out; if left on the tree to ripen, they will become brown at the core and mushy in the middle.  Further, pears have a grainy texture caused by cells in the fruit called stone cells.  Picking pears before they have matured, and holding them under cool conditions, prevents the formation of the stone cells and resulting gritty pear.

To avoid such results, pears must be picked when they are mature but not yet fully ripened.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a pat answer to knowing when pears are ready for picking.  Due to firmness and variations in color, neither touch or sight are good indicators of maturity.  Here are some tips to help determine whether pears a20160724_104315re mature and ready for picking:

  • Tree attachment:  Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs.  Take the fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally.  The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position).  If it holds on to the branch, it isn’t ready.
  • Flesh texture:  A mature pear should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh and give slightly when gently squeezed in the hand.  If it feels rock hard, it’s not ready.
  • Drops: Healthy pears begin to drop as they reach maturity.  If you see fruit on the ground, it is a sure sign that it is time to check the fruit on the tree.

Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (64-72F).  This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh.  If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up the ripening process.  Adding an apple or a banana to the bag will also speed ripening as these fruits release ethylene gas, a ripening accelerant.  If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator; they will keep for many weeks.

Ripened pears can be used in a variety of ways—fresh eating, baking, canning, freezing, preserving.  If canning, freezing, or preserving pears, check for recipes and guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

*Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree and need no ripening time. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the branch when lifted and twisted slightly and the green skin color starts to change to yellow. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Plants to avoid this summer

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all things that we want to avoid when spending time hiking, camping or even golfing (can you tell I have looked for a few golf balls in the woods). The first and most important part of prevention is learning to identify the plants. The attached links show what these plants look like to help you to know which ones to avoid when you are out having fun!

Here are some things to remember if you come in contact with any of these plants.

  • It is important to wash the oil off as quickly as possible with soap and water. The oil enters the skin quickly and can leave skin with an itchy red rash with bumps or blisters. Make sure that you pay attention to your fingernails as well.
  • The rash does not spread by the fluid from the blisters. Once the urushiol oil has been washed off the skin it will not spread from person to person.
  • Most people don’t react to the urushiol immediately. It can vary from 6-8 hours or it may even be days before you see the rash develop.
  • All items that have come in contact with the plant oil need to be cleaned well. The oil remains on tools, clothing, shoes and pets for a very long time. If you come in contact with those items in the future it can cause the rash to return if it was not cleaned off.
  • Keep your pets from coming in contact with these plants so the urushiol doesn’t stick to their fur which can spread to you. If you think your pet has been exposed give your pet a bath and use long rubber gloves to keep from spreading it to your arms.
  • Wash all of your clothes immediately in your washing machine. Be careful to not have the clothes touch the outside part of your washing machine or the floor. If you feel those areas may have been exposed wash with soap and water. Remember to wash sleeping bags, jewelry, gloves or anything that may have come in contact with the oil.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks when you are walking in areas that may have these plants.
  • Do NOT burn poison ivy, oak or sumac to get rid of it. The resins can be spread in the smoke and anyone breathing it could have severe reactions. See a medical professional immediately if you are having trouble breathing and you think you may have been exposed to smoke from the burning of these plants.

Being out in the woods is a fun summer activity but being aware of your surroundings and able to identify these plants is important. Teach yourselves and your kids what to look for and what to do if you are exposed.

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Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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