Tips for produce storage

potatoes with eyes4This is the time of year we begin to get calls from folks that worked hard all summer raising vegetables. After harvest and a few months of storage, some crops begin to deteriorate. Potatoes grow eyes, onions sprout, and acorn squash turn orange.

If these problems are happening in your home, we have great information from Richard Jauron at the Hortline.

Sprouting potatoes can be caused by storing at temperatures above 50°F. Potatoes prefer storage in cooler temperatures; but not in the refrigerator. Storage in the refrigerator can begin to turn the potato starch into sugar. Also, storing potatoes near fruit can cause sprouting as potatoes are affected by the ethylene gas produced by ripe fruit.

Sprouting or rotting onions can also be caused by storage at temperatures above 50°F. If the bulbs are kept in a damp area or stored with poor air circulation they are prone to rotting. The main determining factor in storage life of onions is the variety or cultivar of onion that you plant. For best storage life, choose varieties such as Dopra, Stuttgarter, and Red Zeppelin. If these onions are harvested when the tops begin to fall over and are cured in a warm, dry well ventilated location they should keep well.

Yellowing of acorn squash is also due to improper storage conditions. They should be stored between 50°F and 55°F. Storage above these temperatures can also cause the flesh to become stringy.

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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Safe Ice Melting this Winter

slippery sidewalksWinter snow and ice can be harmful to people trying to walk or drive but they can also be harmful to the environment.  Deicing agents can improve sidewalk, driveway and road conditions but they can also damage cement, cars and plants.  Using the correct deicer in the correct amount is important for the life of your sidewalks, driveways, lawns and plants.

Deicing agents work by lowering the freezing point of water below 32 degrees F.  These materials are salts and include sodium chloride (NaCl), calcium chloride (CaCl₂), potassium chloride (KCl), and magnesium chloride (MgCl₂).  Each of these products works at different temperatures and with different speeds.  Read the package directions to make sure the product is safe for where you want to use it.  Sodium and calcium chloride can damage newly poured concrete and should also not be used on brick or stone surfaces.  Abrasive materials like sand do not melt ice or snow but do provide traction when walking or driving on snow and ice.

Here are some tips for using ice removers correctly:

  • Remove as much snow or ice as you can before applying a melting product. The products should not be used instead of a shovel for large amounts of snow.
  • If applied before ice accumulates it is most effective. It is much easier to prevent ice from forming than to try and melt a thick layer. This is why you often see the roads coated before a storm is expected.
  • Avoid piling snow and ice that has been treated around trees and shrubs. When the ground starts to thaw in early spring, heavily water the areas where salt may accumulate over the winter. This should help flush the salt from the root zones of the plants.
  • Deicers can be used with sand. This will provide melting and provide for better traction when walking on the surface.
  • Be sure and buy deicers early in the season so you have it when you need it.
  • If an ice storm is predicted, try covering small areas with heavy plastic or other waterproof materials. This will give you an area where the ice is not allowed to form.

Use caution when dealing with ice and snow this winter.  Follow these tips to avoid nasty falls or damage to your plants next spring from using deicing agents.

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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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Gourds

goardsGourds are a fun sign that fall has arrived! They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.   If you would like to use some for decorating here are some steps to preserve them.

FIRST determine how the gourd will actually be used. If they are for decorative use only just until Christmas decorating time, then just go through step 2.  If you want to keep them longer or use them for art projects then continue on to steps 3 and 4.

1 – Gourds should be picked when the fruit are fully mature. At maturity, the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown.    Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of stem attached to the fruit.  Handle the gourds carefully as the skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching.

2 – Gently wash the gourds in soapy water and rinse in a solution of water and chlorine bleach. This should destroy decay organisms which could lead to fruit rot.  Gently dry each gourd with a soft cloth.

3 – Dry the gourds by spreading them on several layers of newspaper in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a porch, garage or shed. Place the gourds in a single layer, spacing them so that they don’t touch one another.  Avoid sunny areas as colors may fade. Rotate them every 2 or 3 days, gently wiping with a dry cloth to remove moisture.  Promptly remove any which begin to rot.

4 – Drying or curing may take up to several weeks. To hasten drying of large decorative gourds, small holes may be made in the bottom of the fruit with an ice pick or nail. The gourds will feel lighter in weight, and the seeds will rattle when the gourds are fully dry.

Once cured, the gourds may be used in their natural state. The complete drying of gourds may cause them to lose the bright colors.  They may also be painted, waxed, shellacked or varnished for crafts.

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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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Ready for rhubarb!

rhubarbIt’s the time of year for harvesting rhubarb!  The rhubarb stalk is used in tarts, pies, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and punch. Although classed as a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit because its high acidity gives a tart flavor.

Only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.   During hot, dry periods of weather eating the leaves could lead to severe sickness.

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.

While the flower or seed stalks should not be used, the leaf stalks are edible. However, the flower stalks should be promptly pulled and discarded. If allowed to develop, the flower stalks reduce plant vigor and next year’s production. Flower stalk formation may be caused by drought, infertile soils, and extreme heat. Age may be another factor. Old plants tend to flower more than young ones. Flower formation can be discouraged with good cultural practices. Water rhubarb plants once a week during dry weather. Sprinkle ½ cup of an all purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around each plant in early spring. Manure is an alternative to a commercial fertilizer. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of well-rotted manure around rhubarb plants in spring.

After picking, fresh rhubarb stalks can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks. If you have more than you can eat and want to save some to enjoy some during the winter months it can be frozen successfully.  To freeze wash, trim and cut the rhubarb.  Next blanch in boiling water for 1 minute then cool promptly in ice water which will help retain the color and flavor.  Measure the amount that you put in your freezer bag or container and label and date the package.  If you plan to bake with frozen rhubarb, thaw it completely before using. Drain the excess liquid in a colander, but do not press liquid out.

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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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EASY CONTAINER HERB GARDENING

herbs-pots-garden-decorations-33439875“Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme….” (Now that song will be stuck in your head all day!) I love cooking dishes at home with fresh herbs. Sometimes I go to the store to find they are sold out of the herbs I need and they also tend to be pricey. Many times you are forced to buy larger amounts of herbs than you need for a recipe and it rots in the refrigerator before you can use it for something else. So, I grow my own herbs at home. Herbs are simple to grow in containers and can add aesthetic beauty to small spaces. In addition, container gardens are excellent for advanced gardeners as well as beginners – even if your thumb isn’t exactly green!!

Containers can be grown where traditional gardens are not possible such as balconies, decks, small courtyards and areas with poor soil.

Tips for planting, growing and harvesting herbs in containers:

1)      Choose a container with good drainage. Plants will not grow well in water-logged soil.  Just about any container will work, just make sure it has never held toxic materials. The container should be large enough so the plants won’t dry out between waterings. The smaller the container, the more daily maintenance your plants will require.

2)      Use soil that’s free of disease organisms, insects, and weed seeds. Potting soil may contain pasteurized soil, sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and composted manure. Stay away from used potting soil from previous seasons, because it’s likely to contain disease organisms.

3)      Herbs that grow well in pots include: Sage, parsley, Greek oregano, rosemary, marjoram, bush basil, thyme, chives, and summer savory.   Select herbs that are small and still growing. Plants can be mixed together in a pot.

4)      Container plants require more frequent watering than in-ground plants because the exposed sides of the pots result in more evaporation.

5)      Apply water until it drips from the drainage holes. Do not over fertilize herbs. Pinch the plants during the growing season to keep them bushy and compact. Remove any dead or diseased leaves. Water plants only when the soil is dry.

6)      Check plants frequently for insects and treat appropriately.

7)      Leafy herbs need to be harvested when the leaf quality is optimal, as determined by the flower buds when they first appear. Remove top leaves and stems with a sharp knife. When harvesting annuals, leave four to six inches of shoots on the plant for better re-growth. Perennials should be harvested by removing only the top third of the plant since future harvests depend on new growth.

8)      Herbs can be used fresh or dried. Use roughly 3 times the amount of fresh herbs as dried in most recipes and vice versa.

After that long winter we had here in Iowa and many other locations around the country, it is such a pleasure to get outside and dig around in the dirt!! Enjoy those “herbalicious” herbs!

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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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Snow Melts Safe for Plants

slippery sidewalksJanuary in Iowa usually brings a certain amount of cold weather and snow. Snow can be good, acting as an insulating blanket for plants and eventually watering those same plants when the temperatures thaw. This snow on sidewalks, driveways and streets however,  can cause a huge headache for anyone trying to get around. To prevent accidents to motorists and pedestrians, it is common to use deicing compounds to melt the ice and snow. These chemicals certainly improve travel conditions, but they can be harmful to automobiles, concrete surfaces and plants.

The most commonly used deicing salts include: Calcium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride and Calcium Magnesium Acetate. Limited use of any of these products should cause little or no injury to plants. Problems appear when any of the products are used excessively.

Calcium Chloride  –  melts ice to -25 degrees F  –  not likely to harm plants unless used excessively

Sodium Chloride  –  melts ice to 12 degrees F  –  can damage soils, plants and metals   –   least expensive material

Potassium Chloride  –  can cause serious plant injury when washed or splashed on foliage; can also cause root damage to plants

Calcium Magnesium Acetate  –  melts ice to 20 degrees F  –  has little effect on plant growth or concrete surfaces  –  a newer product

To minimize damage, it is important to use any of these products according to the directions on the package. Always remove as much of the snow and ice as possible before adding the deicing chemicals. When spring arrives, heavily water areas where salt accumulates, focusing on any plants that may have been in the path of these chemicals.

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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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Putting the Garden to Bed

Garden ready to be put to bed

It’s that time of the year when cold weather has brought the growing season to a sudden halt. I always prefer to clean my garden in the fall, enhancing my chance of a jump-start in spring planting. Fall is a good time for many garden tasks, with the weather cooler, the bug activity reduced and the workability of the soil.

First you will want to remove all of the annual plants from your garden, including any leftover weeds, as they can harbor diseases and insects. Diseased debris should be discarded and not placed in a compost pile because temperatures in most compost piles do not generate enough heat to kill all pathogens.

Next, you might want to think about tilling manure, compost or other organic materials into your garden to improve the soil. Mulches can be worked into or spread over the soil surface. Mulches decompose more quickly and improve the soil structure when worked into the soil. They also decrease moisture loss and erosion and suppress weeds when spread over the soil surface.  Good mulches include weed and disease free chopped garden compost, leaves (no walnut leaves), straw, spent hops, and coffee grounds.

Finally, sit back and admire your clean garden with thoughts of how you want to fill it the following spring.

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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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Seed Catalogues are Arriving

tomato plantThe number of seed catalogs arriving in my mailbox reminds me it is time to start thinking about starting garden seed indoors. These  directions will help you get your garden started. Starting my own seed allows me to grow the varieties I prefer. This entails some work, but the satisfaction realized when you plant your precious plants in the garden makes it worth the effort.

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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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Poison Ivy

Watch out for this plant!

While walking along a forested path in our neighborhood last weekend I noticed the bright green foliage in the picture above. Thanks to my husband I soon learned its identity – POISON IVY! After a little research I quickly found out there is not only poison ivy, but also poison oak and poison sumac. It is the sap of the plant that reacts to the body. It you find that you have been exposed to any one of these plants, it is important to wash with cool water and soap as soon as possible. Water deactivates the oil which is a toxic resin called Urushiol. It is nonvolatile and dries quickly on your clothing, shoes, animals and tools. Surprisingly, it remains potent for up to a year. Evidence of contact with one of these poisonous plants, a skin rash, usually appears within two days, but may occur within eight hours. In rare cases, the eruption can be delayed by up to ten days. The skin usually heals in ten days.

A person does not have to come into physical contact with one of these plants to contract the rash. Exposure to smoke of a burning poison ivy plant can result in the dreaded rash. It is important to avoid inhaling smoke or contact of skin or clothing with smoke.

To clean clothing that has come into contact with one of these poisonous plants, wash as you normally wash them. The water will kill the resin. All items should be washed, including hiking boots and sleeping bags; back packs should be wiped down with water. REF: Jan Stone, First Nurse, 1998

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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Rhubarb is UP!

Rhubarb
Rhubarb on May 3, 2013

Yes, the rhubarb is up in my garden and now I must be patient for it to grow to maturity. At that point the stalks can be used in tarts, pies, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and drinks. My favorite way to use rhubarb is to make it into a crisp – it tastes as good as a pie but has far fewer calories since it has no crust. I tend to like my desserts a little less sweet, so feel free to use only as much sugar as you need for your taste.

Wait to harvest your rhubarb until the plant is three years old. This allows the leaves to grow and produce food for good crown and root development. During the third year, harvest only for a four week period. Wait until the stalks are 10 to 15 inches long, then grasp the stalk below the leaf and pull up slightly to one side. Remove leaves by cutting slightly below the leaf and discard them. Since the leaves contain a moderately poisonous oxalic acid, they should never be eaten.

If you have enough rhubarb to freeze, when it comes time to use the frozen rhubarb, measure while it is still frozen, then thaw completely. Drain in a colander and use the fruit in your recipe without pressing the liquid out.

The taste alone encourages me to cook with rhubarb, but the nutritional benefits of rhubarb are also significant. Rhubarb is high in calcium, lutein, vitamin k and antioxidants.

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.

More Posts - Website

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