Tips for Preventing Gardening Injuries

60 plus couple garden planting
Woman and Man Gardening. Photo Source: Getty Images.

Spring is here! Time to get active and enjoy the outdoors! Gardening and caring for outdoor plants is one activity that allows one to combine physical activity with outdoor beauty and fresh air. Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or to landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise.  The pulling, digging, reaching, twisting, and bending of gardening amounts to light aerobic exercise, which improves psychological wellbeing, heart and lung health, helps prevent obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, and so many more healthy benefits. In addition, these whole body movements increase endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, better hand function, bone density as well as burns calories. Regular garden chores can burn anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per half hour depending on the intensity of the activity.

For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken.  Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury from movement or improper use of tools.

Regardless of age, experts quoted in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit.  Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment.   The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:

  1. Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength. Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
  2. Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility. Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
  3. Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain. There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
  4. Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands. Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
  5. Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.

Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and for the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind: 

  • warm up and stretch prior to activity;
  • begin with light movements;
  • stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
  • lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
  • avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
  • practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from Virginia Cooperative Extension to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
  • kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
  • apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
  • consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
  • wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
  • wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
  • use the correct tool for the job;
  • maintain your tools and use them properly. (See Hand Tools Safety: Lawn Care Training Guide. Hand Tool Care and Safe Use and Lawn and Garden Safety Tips – CPSC Urges Care with Springtime Chores.)

Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.

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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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Time for Spring-Dug Parsnips

As the days get warmer and the ground thaws, it is time to dig spring-dug parsnips. Characterized by some as ‘the cream of the crop’, spring parsnips come from seeds sown in the spring of the previous year, grown during the summer, allowed to die back in the fall and freeze in the ground over the winter.

Parsnips
Parsnips.

Parsnips can also be dug in the fall after a frost or two, but those left over the winter are sweeter and more flavorful. The extreme cold converts the starches into sugar and allows the flavor to mellow.  The timing is critical for spring-dug parsnips; they need to be dug as soon as you can get into the ground with a shovel or fork and just as their tops start to show new growth.  If they are left in the ground too long in the spring and the tops start to grow out, they become woody. 

Never had parsnips?  Some mistakenly refer to them as white carrots, but while they may be related to carrots distantly, they are actually part of the parsley family.  They are a cream-colored, gnarled, carrot-shaped root vegetable.  They can be eaten raw but are best prepared by roasting, frying, grilling or steaming to bring out their distinct succulent flavor and nutty sweetness.  They have a tan peel that is typically removed before use; peeling also removes their gnarly surface.  The flesh is cream-white.  They are a very versatile vegetable with recipes ranging from roasted side dishes, soups and stews, mashed, turned into fries, and even made into wine.  They pair well with other root vegetables, too.  Like potatoes or an apple, parsnips oxidize when exposed to air after their peelings are removed. If not prepared right away, cut parsnips should be placed in water to reduce the effect.

Being white in color, one would tend to believe that they offer little nutrition.  Quite the opposite is true.  According to the USDA, a half-cup serving of parsnips are high in heart-healthy fiber providing 3 grams of fiber and only 55 calories. They are a low-fat food yet a good source of numerous vitamins (especially C and K), minerals (especially folate and manganese), and antioxidants.  (Note that the level of vitamin C is somewhat reduced with the cooking.)

Besides the home garden, parsnips are available at the supermarket and likely can also be found at the late fall and spring farmer’s markets. Spring is the best time to give them a try if you are new to parsnips.  If you are lucky enough to find this once-a-year spring treasure, choose fleshy, fresh, firm, medium-sized and even surfaced roots.  Avoid woody, over-matured, long, thin, and tail-like roots as they are off-flavored and have tough fiber.  Also avoid soft, pitted, shriveled, knobby, or damaged roots. 

Fresh parsnips should be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where they should last three to four weeks. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen for later use by cutting into 1/2-inch cubes, water blanching for 2 minutes, cooling promptly in cold water, draining, and packing and sealing into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months for best quality.  Drying is another method for preserving parsnips as well.

For more information on parsnips, check out Growing Carrots and Parsnips in Home Gardens by the University of Minnesota Extension.

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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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Tis the Season to PLAN Your Garden

With the arrival of seed catalogs, the next garden season begins. Before you place an order from catalogs or online sources featuring beautiful photos and enticing descriptions or purchase plants in the spring from garden centers, get your garden PLAN in place.

Flower and shrub garden on left; vegetable garden on right
Two Garden Types. Left – flower and shrub garden planned to attract butterflies and pollinators.
Right – small vegetable garden with tomato and pepper plants. Photo: M Geiger.

It may seem that gardening is merely picking out some seed or plants, putting them in the ground, and watching them grow. Seasoned gardeners will tell you that growing a successful garden is also an investment of time, patience, and hard work and begins with a PLAN, whether it be flowers, herbs, fruits, or vegetables. There is no need to be a master gardener to create a PLAN that brings joy or an abundant harvest.  Here are a few tips to help get your garden PLAN started or improved upon. 

P – Ponder your project.

Before getting carried away with ordering or buying seeds, plants, or stock, ask yourself some important questions.  What kind of garden do I want?  What do I like?  What piques my interest?  How much space do I have?  How much space is needed for the individual plants?  How much time can I commit to seed starting, planting, weeding, mulching, watering, maintaining, pruning, or harvesting?  What will I do with the produce?  Which plants will thrive in my plant hardiness zone? Will I plant from seed or transplants? Is there a location where a garden can be placed or would containers be a better option? How will I control weeds? Answers to these questions will help develop a plan for your location and lifestyle. 

L – Location and layout.  

Once you have decided what you want to grow, consider the location of the garden. How will it fit into your outdoor space? Do the plants require sun or shade? Most vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowering plants grow best with at least six hours of sun so a sunny location is needed unless you are considering a shade garden. How level is the ground? Should the beds be raised? How close is a convenient water source? Avoid locations near trees or shrubs, north-facing slopes, and low areas. These locations pose potential problems with shading and roots robbing nutrients and moisture, cooler temperatures and less sun, and extended periods of wetness nurturing disease and rot, respectively.

Once the location has been determined, sketch a layout of the garden site on graph paper or use a computer program. If growing a vegetable garden for your own food, calculate how much to plant per person using this K-State guide. Determine the distance needed between rows and plants. The recommended spacing is usually given on the seed packet or plant tag; it is also important to allow enough space between the rows or plantings for cultivation and access. A north to south layout is ideal according to Michigan State University. If a garden has been previously grown in the location, plan to rotate the plant families by moving them to a different location within the garden to increase soil fertility and crop yield as well as to cut down on common plant diseases that overwinter in soil.

A – Analyze the soil.

A soil test is the only way to determine soil pH (acid or alkaline) and what nutrients are needed to amend the soil to maximize plant potential. Most garden plants grow best when the soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.8. Once the analysis has been made, you will know what is needed to amend your soil and prevent over fertilization and some plant diseases. To get an accurate soil test, sample collection needs to be done carefully. University of Minnesota has an excellent ‘how to’ YouTube video to correctly collect a soil sample. Soil testing is done by private and state laboratories. A list of certified labs in Iowa can be found on the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship website. Most labs do not test for nitrogen because nitrogen is not retained in soil making it necessary to replenish it annually. After getting the results, you may want to contact your local Extension Office for help in understanding the results.

N – Notes.

Keeping good records, notes or a garden journal is imperative to learning from previous garden experiences. Notes should include sources of seeds or plants, where and how planted, time of planting, yields or outcomes. One should also record the layout, number of plants, spacing, soil test results, inputs added prior to planting and during the growing season along with any chemicals that were applied during the season for insect control, fungus, or disease. At the end of the season, notes should include “to dos” for the next growing season such as pruning, transplanting, or anything else that would improve the health and wellbeing of plants in the next garden. Pictures, seed packets or plant tags, and chemical labels are also great keepers. And it doesn’t hurt to add a “wish list” for the next growing season as well—books, tools, plants to try, resources, tours, workshops or webinars, podcasts, etc.

Along with notes, one should also take stock of any seed that may have been left from planting a previous garden or collected. When stored in cool, dry, and dark conditions, seed may remain viable for one to five years or longer. Charts indicating the average viability of properly stored seed can be found on several internet sites; some seed catalogs also have charts. Clear Creek Seed is one source for vegetables, flowers, and herbs; UNL Extension has a more extensive guide for vegetables. If you are uncertain about whether seeds will germinate, an easy germination test will be beneficial to determine viability.

Let the season begin! Make your PLAN now and put it into action to achieve your best garden yet. 

Happy Gardening!

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Sources:

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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Preserving Summer Squash

One zucchini, two zucchini, three zucchini . . . . four . . .

Summer squash is now in plentiful supply.  When a plant begins to produce, it often produces an overwhelming amount of produce.  While there are several varieties of summer squash, zucchini is the one we hear about the most.  And perhaps the one we have the most ‘fun’ with when surprise care packages show up on co-workers’ desk or neighbor’s doorstep. Before giving all away, consider saving a few for off-season use by preserving.

Assorted summer squash
Assorted summer squash – Photo: canva.com

Summer squash is at its very best when it is eight inches or less in length and an inch or two wide (about two to three days of growth) or, in the case of odd-shapes, picked right when the flower falls off. When picked and eaten at this size, the inside texture is consistent throughout the fruit, never pithy, and the seeds aren’t yet developed. The skin is incredibly tender, and the flavor is mild and sweet–sweet because the plant creates sugars as energy to make seeds; when picked before the seeds develop, those sugars are still present in the flesh. If left on the vine longer, the skin begins to toughen and quality decreases. When cooked the tender squash create uniform, never mushy or stringy, delicious additions to soups, kebabs, sauces, salads, and stir-fries. And, yes, they make a fine zucchini bread or zucchini cake, too.

Fresh squash should be washed in cold water to remove all visible signs of soil before using or storing. Handle carefully as summer squash bruise easily. Store fresh squash in the refrigerator crisper in plastic storage bags or rigid containers to retain moisture. Stored in this manner, squash will maintain quality for 5-7 days. 

So while we know how to use them fresh, what about preserving them?

CANNING
The USDA does not recommend canning summer squash or zucchini alone.  Rather the recommendation is to preserve by freezing, pickling, or drying.  An adequate processing times has not been established for a safe product.  Squash are low-acid vegetables requiring pressure canning to destroy the bacteria that cause botulism. The heat required to can squash results in the squash flesh turning mushy and sinking to the bottom of the canning jar. The compacted flesh does not heat evenly.  Zucchini may only be canned when paired with tomatoes using a tested recipe from The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) OR paired with pineapple juice, sugar, and lemon juice for Zucchini Pineapple. Zucchini Pineapple maybe used in salads, desserts, or other recipes calling for crushed or chunk pineapple.

FREEZING
There are three different ways to successfully freeze summer squash./zucchini.  Begin by choosing young squash with tender skin and washing.  There is no need to peel but squash must be blanched before freezing.  Blanching slows or stops the enzyme action which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture.  Blanching also cleanses the surface of dirt and organisms, brightens the color, helps retard loss of vitamins and wilts or softens vegetables making them easier to pack. Blanching may be done in boiling water or steam.

  1. Slices – Slice ¼ – ½-inch thick.  Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes on in steam for 4 1/2 minutes; cool in ice water for at least 3 minutes.  Drain well and package.  If packaged in freezer containers, leave ½-inch of headspace.  Slices may also be flash frozen using the tray method and packaged.
  2. Preparation for Frying – Follow instructions for blanching.  Before packaging, dredge in flour or cornmeal.  Flash freeze using the tray method and package.
  3. Grated for Baking – While some grate, package, and freeze squash for future baking, it is recommended to steam blanch squash for best quality.  Steam blanch small quantities of grated squash 1 to 2 minutes (until translucent) followed by packing measured amounts into containers.  Cool containers in ice water, seal and freeze.  When ready to use, thaw containers of frozen squash in the refrigerator prior to use. If the squash is watery when thawed, discard the liquid before using in baked goods.

Varieties for freezing include cocozelle, crookneck, pattypan, straightneck, white scallop and zucchini.  Chayote is also regarded as a summer squash but requires slightly different preparation for blanching.  Chayote is diced and seeded before blanching for 2 minutes. 

Remember to label and date packages. Properly packaged and frozen, squash should maintain high quality for approximately 10 months in the freezer.  Vacuum packaging can extend the shelf life of frozen squash but cannot be used as a food preservation method alone. Flash freeze squash slices before packaging, package frozen squash and return frozen squash to the freezer. Vacuum packaged frozen squash will have a longer shelf life than frozen squash which is not vacuum packaged.

PICKLING
Follow a tested recipe for pickling summer squash. Summer squash, zucchini, or chayote work well for pickling.  Two approved and very good tasting recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation: Summer Squash Relish  and Pickled Bread-and-Butter Zucchini .

Notes:  Squash may be diced or shredded by hand instead of shredding with a food processor.  Any variety of onion is acceptable.  Celery salt may be used in place of celery seed for a taste preference.  Relish can be enjoyed freshly made without processing.  Fresh or opened jars of relish should be refrigerated. [Preserving Food at Home Resource Guide, PennState Extension, p.104] For best quality and safety, consume refrigerated pickled squash within 7 days.

DRYING
Varieties that work well for drying include zucchini and yellow summer squash.  Wash and trim ends from the squash and cut squash into ¼-inch slices.  Steam blanching slices for 2 ½ -3 minutes or water blanch for 1 ½ minutes is recommended for best quality.  Utah State University Extension suggests adding 1 teaspoon/gallon citric acid to the blanching water to reduce darkening during the drying process.  Drain the slices and arrange them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray. Dry in a food dehydrator at 135-140⁰F for 10-12 hours or until slices are leathery crisp and brittle.  Store the dried pieces in airtight containers (glass jars or in moisture and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags) in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 12 months. Vacuum packaging dried squash is also an option as it will resist moisture better and extend the shelf life.

Ten pounds of fresh squash will dry to approximately ¾ pound. Dried squash can be used in soups or stews or processed in a food chopper and used in breads or baked goods.

Regardless of how summer squash is preserved or used fresh, it is nutritious. One cup sliced (100 g), fresh summer squash has approximately 18 calories, 1 g fiber, and 1 g protein. Squash is an excellent source of vitamin C. Cooked squash will have essentially the same calories, fiber and protein, but will lose approximately 75% of the Vitamin C during the cooking process.

To learn more about the many uses for summer squash, check out: Summer Squash Is a Versatile Vegetable in Iowa Gardens.

References

Updated January 2024. mg.

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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Meet Rachel Sweeney

Rachel Sweeney is the newest member of the AnswerLine team!

Child giving a 4-H presentation
Rachel giving a 4-H baking presentation – Photo: rsweeney

AnswerLine is a new role for Rachel Sweeney, but Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is not. Rachel grew up on a diversified farm outside of Iowa City and was actively involved with Johnson County 4-H as a member of the Graham Champions 4-H Club. At an early age, she realized she could turn her interest in food and nutrition projects into a career, she decided to attend Iowa State University and major in that area graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics and exercise science. After graduation, she spent a year in Nashville completing a dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Rachel’s began her professional career as an ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialist in Nutrition and Wellness, serving southeast Iowa for nearly seven years. In this role she led food preservation workshops, food safety trainings, and nutrition trainings for child care providers. After a brief stint as a retail dietitian, she returned to ISU Extension and Outreach as a program coordinator for Iowa 4-H Youth Development’s SWITCH (School Wellness Ingetration Targeting Child Health) program, an innovative school wellness initiative designed to support and enhance school wellness programming. After two years in this role, she got a new job title, MOM, in November of 2021, and a need to balance work and family life. AnswerLine provided the perfect opportunity for her to continue to work and enjoy her young family. One month into the job, Rachel says, “I have really enjoyed my first month on the job answering client’s questions and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in this role to best serve the citizens of Iowa and Minnesota.”

When Rachel is not answering client questions via phone or email, she is likely with her family, 5-month old son, Thomas, and husband, Jim. She enjoys gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, and being outside. As if she isn’t busy enough with work, family, and her many interests, she is also training for the swim portion of a half-Ironman relay-team competition in June! GO Rachel!!!!!

Rachel is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and stays involved with the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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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Taking the ‘Myths’ Out of Cooking Dried Beans

Jars of dried beans and lentils
Jars of dried beans and lentils.

Beans are a rich source of fiber, protein, minerals, B vitamins and plant-based compounds associated with increased healthy gut bacteria, reduced cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, and decreased blood sugar levels. Consider cooking dried beans from scratch to control the flavor, texture, and sodium content of your favorite bean dishes.

There are as many ways to cook beans as there are people who cook them and many of the methods stem from ‘myths’—soak or no soak, fresh water or not, salt or no salt, lid or no lid, oven or stove top. What is the best way to cook dry beans?

The Epicurious kitchen staff took the question to the kitchen and experimented with pinto beans to determine the best method for cooking dried beans, debunking many of the myths surrounding bean cooking.  The methods used and results of the Epicurious experiment can be found in the Epicurious article, The Epicurious Myth-Busting Guide to Cooking Beans. The results of the experiment, showed that great texture and flavor can be achieved with the following procedure:
-it is not necessary to soak beans overnight.
-if beans are soaked, soak them briefly and cook them in their own water.
-add salt at the beginning of cooking.
-cook without a lid on the stove top.  

Once the beans are cooked, they are ready to be used in many different ways.  Beans can be cooked in quantity and frozen in portion containers.  Frozen cooked beans can be used like a can of beans, drained.  Thawing is not necessary when they are used in soup or baked beans. If used in a salad, side dish, or baking, they need to be defrosted prior.  Beans keep well in the freezer for about 6 months.  Dried beans will generally stay at best quality for about 2 to 3 years at normal room temperature; they will remain safe to use after that but may take longer to cook and have less flavor. 

Dried beans can also be canned. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has recipes and directions as follows:
Canning Beans, Peas – All Varieties
Canning Baked Beans
Canning Dry Beans with Tomatoes and Molasses

Regardless of how they are cooked and prepare, they are a nutritious and economical food. The health benefits of eating beans are numerous.

Updated March 2024, mg.

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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Moving Plants Indoors in the Fall

Person transplating flowers in a pot
Person transplanting flowers into a pot.

With nighttime and daytime temperatures dropping and hard frosts in the near future, it is time to turn our attention to bringing in and acclimating houseplants that have been outdoors during the summer. Most experts recommend transitioning plants from their present light conditions to lower light conditions over a period of several days when temperatures drop below 50-60 degrees which is typically in latter September in the midwest.  When time does not permit this transitioning time, plants will likely show signs stress with yellowing and leaf dropping as they adapt to indoor light conditions.

Plants should be inspected and treated for pests before bringing inside.  Aphids, mealybugs, white flies and other pests usually aren’t a problem when potted indoor plants are outside, but can quickly turn into a major infestation during the winter if they highjack their way inside. Some experts recommend bathing or soaking plants before bringing them inside in a tub of water with a mild dishwashing soap.  If plants are too big for a tub, spray them with water and wash the top and undersides of the leaves as much as possible with water and dishwashing detergent rinsing with water; in addition to removing potential insects, it also removes outdoor dust from the leaves.  It is important that the soapy water also get into the soil as it will help to kill any pests residing there, too. Wash the outside of the pots to remove dirt and any unwanted pests. It may also be a good practice to report the plants with fresh potting soil providing them with new nutrients and minimize the risk of insects residing in the soil. Once inside, plants should be checked with each watering for any sign of infestation and if spotted, treat religiously with an insecticidal soap until the problem is resolved. 

Houseplants may put on a lot of new growth over the summer and may get very large. After cleaning, the second step is to determine if they need pruning, separating, or repotting.  Some plants may have outgrown their pot and need something larger.  Others may be too large for the indoor space and need to be pruned, separated, or propagated to start a new plant. 

While geraniums are typically an annual plant, they can be successfully wintered indoors in different ways–left in their pot, pruned and repotted, propogated from cuttings, or stored as dry-root plants in a cool, dry location. University of Minnesota provides information on these methods.

Plants should be placed in the brightest locations possible in the home with a southern exposure if possible. Once the plants are inside a new kind of care begins–watching for pests, watering appropriately, cleaning up dropped leaves and petals, and fertilizing as needed. To prevent overwatering, that means letting the soil dry to the touch before watering. When houseplants need to be watered depends on many environmental conditions including light, humidity, and temperature. Depending upon the conditions of the home, some plants may need nearly as much water in the winter as they do in the summer.  Iowa State University Extension horticulturalists recommend reducing or stopping fertilizing plants in the fall and winter months, as abundant fertilizer will only promote growth that cannot be supported by the slower-growing houseplant leading to pale or spindly growth. 

Bringing houseplants, tropicals, and geraniums indoors for fall and winter is a great way to preserve special plants and save money by not repeatedly buying new plants each spring.  It does take considerable time in the fall, but in doing so, one may be able to enjoy the same plants and collections for many years and use the money saved to purchase new or interesting plants.

Updated 10-12-2023 mg.

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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Freezing Rhubarb

stalks of rhubarb chopped into small pieces
Stalks of rhubarb partially chopped. Photo- Canva.com

If your rhubarb plants are producing more than can be used fresh, consider freezing rhubarb to enjoy later in the summer or next winter.  Rhubarb freezes well and is just as nutritious and flavorful as fresh rhubarb. It is easily used in recipes without sacrificing quality. Read on for the easiest way to freeze fresh rhubarb successfully.

A few notes before getting into freezing. Rhubarb is a short-season vegetable; harvest may take place from early spring until mid-to-late June in the Midwest. Harvesting after that time, or over-harvesting, will weaken the plant and may reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. While the rhubarb stalks do become more woody later in the summer, they do not become poisonous. Harvest stalks that are at least 12 inches long and about thumb thick. When buying rhubarb at the grocery store or farmer’s markets, look for bright, firm stalks with no blemishes or brown spots.

Step-By-Step Freezing Guide

Prepare – Choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks with good flavor and few fibers. Remove the leaves and trim the ends. Wash, dry, and cut into preferred size pieces. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for 1 minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor but is not necessary.

Pack – Choose a pack method that fits intended future use. The National Center for Home Food Preservations offers these methods:

  • Tray Pack. Tray packing is the best way to keep the rhubarb pieces from freezing in a clump allowing one to take out and use as much as needed for cooking or baking. Pieces are cut, placed on a baking tray, flash frozen, bagged, labeled and refrozen.
  • Dry Pack. Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers or freezer bags without sugar. This method works well where the rhubarb will be later cooked into jams or sauces.
  • Syrup Pack. Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers, cover with cold 40 percent syrup. This method gives good results for rhubarb that may be stewed or juiced.

Freeze – Use containers or bags specifically made for freezing. Leave headspace. Seal, label, and freeze. Properly frozen, packaged and stored rhubarb will last indefinitely in the freezer but is best used within 12 months.  Frozen rhubarb can be substituted for fresh rhubarb in many recipes. Frozen rhubarb will release juices as it thaws; do not discard the juice as it is part of the rhubarb.

A YouTube, How to Freeze Rhubarb by The University of Maine Cooperative Extension shows just how quick and easy it is to freeze rhubarb!

Updated 4/2024 mg.

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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The Many Colors of Cauliflower – Purple, Green, Orange, and White

Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower heads
Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower

Have you been seeing something in the supermarket or famer’s markets that looks like cauliflower but instead of the traditional white, the heads are purple, orange, and green?  Colored cauliflower started popping up in the markets about 10 years ago and have increasingly become more popular and readily available.    What are these colored cauliflowers?  How do they taste?  How to prepare them so they retain their color?

Cauliflower is an ancient vegetable that was naturally pigmented; over time, with selective breeding, white cauliflower evolved and became the market standard. The colored cauliflowers, like the white variety, are members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  They have a similar texture and taste—mild, sweet, and nutty.  The major difference is their color and with color, a slight difference in nutritional value.  In general, cauliflower is widely known as one of the world’s healthiest foods and has been cited in its ability to reduce the risk of cancer. Cauliflower is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K which promotes a healthy immune system along with hearth and bone health.

White cauliflower matures creamy white if the head is void of direct sunlight.  Older cultivars need to be blanched (inner leaves are tied loosely over the small heads to reduce the amount of light penetration) to prevent the sun from turning white cauliflower to yellow.  Newer cultivars are self-blanching as the plants produce inner leaves that hug the heads tightly preventing light penetration.  No blanching is required for the colorful varieties.

Purple cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that is also found in other red, blue, or purple fruits and vegetables, as well as red wine.  Carotenoids are responsible for the color in orange cauliflower; carotenoids are also found in carrots, squash, and other yellow vegetables and fruits. Orange cauliflower actually came about as a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more beta carotene than its white counterpart.  Green cauliflower, also known as broccoflower, is a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower.  Green cauliflower contains more beta carotene than white cauliflower, but less than broccoli.

Colored cauliflower can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed or steamed.  Cooks Illustrated experimented to find out the best method of preparation for holding color.   They found that the orange cauliflower proved to be the most stable; the orange pigments are not water soluble or sensitive to heat.  The chlorophyll in the green cauliflower is heat sensitive just like broccoli; overcooking will cause the cauliflower to become brown.  The anthocyanins in purple cauliflower leach out in water which dulls it’s color; color is better retained with dry heat such as roasting, grilling, or sautéing.   Prince de Bretagne, growers of colored cauliflower, also has tips for preparing and using.

There are lots of recipes available online for preparing the colored cauliflowers.  Enjoy the color!

Reviewed and updated 4-24, mg.

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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Deicers–helpful or harmful?

Bag of deicing product

Most deicing products readily available contain salt compounds known as magnesium chloride (used as a liquid on roads), sodium chloride (table salt), calcium chloride, and potassium chloride (fertilizer). Each winter these materials are applied to sidewalks, driveways, and steps to prevent slipping and falling.  However, they are often applied without regard to the substance, application, or the damage that they may cause to the home, property, environment, pets, and nearby plants.

As for mentioned, deicing products are primarily comprised of salt.  And just like household salt, all salts are not the same.  Salts can cause injury to trees, lawns, and shrubs, corrode metal and concrete, and even do bodily harm to pets and humans.  The most problematic element in any of the deicing products is the chloride; it causes corrosion and is toxic to plants.

Most of the popular de-icing products sold are chloride-based, each containing a different combination of salt. They include:

  • calcium chloride,
  • sodium chloride,
  • potassium chloride,
  • magnesium chloride.

Of these, the most commonly used is sodium chloride; it is widely available and least costly. It works at lower temperatures than other products and does not harm plants if excessive amounts are not applied.

This table from Purdue Extension gives valuable information about deicers:

While Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is listed on the above table, it contains no chloride and is less damaging to cars, metals, and concrete and less toxic to plants. It is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid, the main compound found in vinegar. CMA works differently than other deicers; it does not form brine like salts, but rather helps prevent snow particles from sticking to each other. It has little effect on plant growth or concrete. It is also said to be biodegradable and pet and wildlife friendly. The big downside is the cost.

If you want to avoid deicing products, consider using sand, kitty litter, or chicken grit. While these products won’t melt snow, they will provide traction in slippery spots. Sand and kitty litter are safe for pets and plants and can be swept up when the snow melts. (Chicken grit may be too sharp for the paws of some pets but will not harm plants.)  Boots or shoes traversing any of these products should be removed upon entering a home as they could scratch floors.

Should the landscape fall victim to deicing, flushing the area around the plant roots in the spring with water will help to leech out the salts. Flushing may not be helpful if excessive salt has been used and plants and grass are found dead in the spring along deiced areas. Consider planting salt-tolerant plants in the landscape where deicer products may be used. For a list of landscape plants describing their tolerance to salt, visit Salt Damage in Landscape Plants by Purdue Extension.

The best advice is to know something about the substance (salts used in the product), consider the application, and then READ AND FOLLOW the manufacturer’s directions for applying the product to minimize damage to property and landscape.  And if possible, apply even less than is recommended.  Deicing products are not meant to replace shoveling or to melt all snow and ice, but to aid in removal efforts to prevent slipping and falling.

Sources:
Picking the Right Product is Key to Melting Ice From Sidewalks, Driveways, K-State Research and Extension News
Salt Damage in Landscape Plants, Purdue Extension
Ice Melts Can Help But Can Be Harmful, K-State Research and Extension
Using Deicing Salts in the Home Landscape, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Reviewed and updated 6/2024, mg.

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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