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Preserving the Harvest Without Canning – Techniques and Recipes

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Winter

Food preservation is a way to extend the life of fruits, vegetables, and herbs at their peak of freshness and vibrancy with the goal to use them during the colder months of the year when fresh produce can be more expensive and not as nutritious.

We covered canning techniques on this article, however, there are many other food preservations techniques, like fermentation, drying / dehydrating, and vinegar pickling that can help you diversify your preservation practice.

Basic guidelines for preserving food

  • Use fresh, seasonal produce. The idea behind preserving food is taking advantage of the abundance during the harvest season and the high concentration of nutrients and flavor of seasonal foods. 
  • Make sure the product is fresh: avoid moldy or heavily damaged produce, as it won’t preserve as well. 
  • Maintain a clean working environment.
  • Wash hands with soap and water, and clean/sanitize your area to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • When canning or fermenting you’ll use glass jars [or crocks, if you’d like for fermentation], all which need to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized/sterilized before using them.
  • Do not skip this step, especially when canning.
  • Follow recipes closely to ensure consistency, especially when canning as it is meant to be a shelf-stable product left at room temperature. 
  • Label all your preserves with name and date.
  • Store preserves and dried products in a cool, dry environment. 
  • Freeze or refrigerate items that are not shelf stable.

Fermentation
There are many fermentation techniques that involve different types of beneficial bacteria and molds. We’ll focus on lacto-fermentation – a technique that relies on lactobacillus bacteria to create lactic acid to help preserve the food. To ensure success we will always use salt as a medium to allow lactobacillus to colonize the foods while keeping other microorganisms out. 

Fermented foods provide a higher nutritional value than canned foods due to the live cultures (think yogurt) which are high in probiotics beneficial to our health. Incorporating fermented foods into our diet is considered a good way to improve our gut health, which improves over health.

There are two ways to use salt to preserve food:

  • Dry Salting: As the name suggests, for this method add the salt directly to the vegetables [or fruits] and allow it to draw liquid from them to create their own brine and kick start fermentation. This is how we make sauerkraut, for example. 
  • Brine: A brine is a salt-water solution that is added to vegetables or fruits to kick start fermentation. This is how we make sour pickles, for example. 
Lacto-fermentation is done at room temperature – preferably between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the product and temperature the fermentation can take anywhere between 3-10 days. In cooler temperatures the fermentation takes longer and in hotter temperatures the fermentation is much faster. 
Once your ferments (sauerkraut, pickles, hot pepper sauce, etc.) have achieved the desired sourness you can place them in the refrigerator where they can stay for many months. Overtime things like sour pickles can get soft, otherwise the lactic acid and salt will preserve them well while refrigerated. Below are two sample recipes.

Sauerkraut 

  • Cabbage (of any kind)
  • About 2 tsp of salt per pound of shredded cabbage
  • Spices about 1 tsp per pound
  • Glass jars – preferably wide-mouth
  • Time and patience!

Steps: (here is a quick video of the process)

  • Wash the cabbage and peel off the outer leaves
  • Save one leaf to use as a topper
  • Shred the cabbage
  • Toss the salt with the cabbage and let it stand for 10 minutes
  • Massage the cabbage crushing it with your fingers to release liquid
  • Pack the soft cabbage into the jar and make sure to cover it with the liquid
  • Leave to ferment at room temperature for 5-7 days (depending on temperature, fermentation happens quicker with the summer heat)
  • Release the gasses a few times a day by gently unscrewing the lid
  • Refrigerate once the kraut is sour enough to your taste

Sour Pickles

  • 1.5 lb pickling cucumbers 
  • 2 cups water (non-chlorinated) 
  • 1.5 tbsp salt 
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp dill seed
  • 1 small handful dill 
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1 qt glass jar

Steps

  • Cut the ends of the cucumbers and then slice them in half lengthwise 
  • Add the spices, herbs, and garlic to the jar 
  • Arrange the cucumber in the jar to just below the lid line
  • Dissolve the salt in the water and pour it in the jar and close it
  • Leave to ferment at room temperature for 5-7 days (depending on temperature, fermentation happens quicker with the summer heat)
  • Release the gasses a few times a day by gently unscrewing the lid
  • Refrigerate once the pickles are sour enough to your taste

Vinegar Pickling
Vinegar pickling, also known as quick pickles or refrigerator pickles, is a simple way to preserve vegetables for a few weeks in the refrigerator. 

The basic recipe for vinegar pickles includes water and vinegar (apple cider or white preferably) plus sugar, salt and spices in various amounts to form a vinegar brine. You can also preserve foods like peppers in vinegar, or infuse light vinegars with herbs and flowers. Below is one sample recipe.

Vinegar Pickled Beets

  • 6 medium beets (about 2lbs) cooked, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small red onion, sliced 
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar + 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp salt + any spices you’d like (ex. black peppercorns, fennel seeds, etc)

Place the cooked beet slices and onions in a pint jar. Bring the other ingredients to a quick boil in a non-aluminum pot and pour them into the jar. Close the lid and allow it to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for up to three months.

Drying / Dehydrating

Drying or dehydrating is an excellent way to preserve herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The best herbs to easily dry are those with woody stems like rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, marjoram, mint and lavender. You can place them on a cooling rack or drying rack, or hang them in small bundles, and allow them to air dry for a few weeks.

Herbs like cilantro, parsley or basil take a little more care as their flavor can dissipate as they dry, thus a dehydrator can be a faster, more reliable way to dehydrate them. These are great for freezing in ice cubes alone or as part of sauces like pesto, chimichurri, or salsa verde. 

Fruits and vegetables
A dehydrator is the fastest and easiest way to dry fruits or vegetables. Thinly slice the fruit or vegetable and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Keep all dried fruits and vegetables in a cool, dry place, labeled with name and date. You can use your dried fruits and vegetables as part of dishes, simply rehydrate them before using.

Freezing
Freezing fruits and vegetables at their peak also preserves their nutritional value, plus saves you money. Think of summer corn, which sometimes can be as affordable as 10 ears of corn for $1, in comparison to the price out of season.

To freeze fruits:

  • Clean and dry them well
  • For berries freeze whole. Cut all other fruits into slices or chunks and lay them flat on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place them in bags and return to the freezer. 

To freeze vegetables:

  • Blanch vegetables before freezing them. Blanching reduces their water content and sets their vibrant color by releasing gas trapped within the cell walls. 
    • Cut them in the desired size, then add to boiling water and boil for 1-2 min
    • Strain and plunge in ice water to stop the cooking process
    • Dry well and lay them down on a sheet pan and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place them in bags and freeze. 
    • For greens like spinach or kale, after blanching, squeeze them using a clean towel to remove as much water as possible.

Freezing herb and other sauces:

  • Soft stem herbs like cilantro, parsley or basil are great for sauces like pesto, chimichurri or salsa verde. Pesto, due to the cheese and nuts, is not recommended for canning but is great for freezing. 
  • Make the sauce recipe of your choice and freeze it in small containers to use throughout the cold months to brighten up dishes. 
  • Alternatively, you can puree the herbs with a bit of water and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once frozen, place them in bags.

Preserving the Harvest: Three Recipes to Preserve Tomatoes

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Summer

With the bounty of produce coming out of our gardens or at the farmers markets, this is the best time to take advantage of the peak harvest season to preserve summer flavors to brighten up meals during the colder months.  

There are many food preservation techniques like drying, vinegar pickling, fermentation and canning. In this article, we’ll tackle canning techniques focusing on water-bath canning and briefly mentioning pressure canning as a comparison.

Canning is a fairly recent preservation technique in comparison with fermentation, salting or drying/dehydrating. It came as a product of pasteurization ideas to eradicate all possible microorganisms from food and allowing the cans/jars to be shelf stable at room temperature for long periods of time. Unfortunately, the process created some unexpected issues with Botulism caused by the clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that thrives in anaerobic environments (no oxygen) low in acidity. Learn more about it here.

We’ll focus on water bath canning using foods high in acid like fruit jams, salsas, sauces, and pickles. We won’t touch on pressure canning, which is used for foods low in acidity, like vegetables, soups or beans, among others, and which require more careful treatment and much higher temperatures to kill all possible pathogens. 

Guidelines for Water Bath Canning

  • Acidity: Food acidity levels at or below 4.6% are ideal for water bath canning. Therefore, when preparing recipes it is vital to stick to the guidelines until you feel comfortable enough to make changes that won’t compromise the ratios of acidity and, in the case of jams and jellies, sweetness.
  • Recipes: Use recipes from reputable sources only and make sure to follow them to prevent food safety issues. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers detailed guidelines for different types of foods and different preservation techniques, plus a good base of recipes to get you started. 
  • High altitude adjustments: The processing time of the jars in water bath canning increases with altitude. Most recipes require 10 extra minutes of processing time in a water bath at our Denver altitude. 
  • Equipment: A large pot with an internal rack to keep the jars from up from the base of the pot. Canning tongs, canning funnel, ladle, glass jars and lids.
  • Sterilizing the jars: When canning it is important to sterilize the jars properly by following the recipe’s guidelines. Add jars to boiling water and boil them for 10 minutes. No need to boil the lids and bands, simply add them to hot water just before you need them. Follow  the recommended time for each recipe you find online or in books. Do not skip this step.

Tomatoes
Canning tomatoes is one of the best ways to preserve the summer bounty. The basic guidelines include adding acid directly to the jars before processing, which accounts for low acidity in newer tomato varieties. Do not skip the vinegar as it protects the tomatoes from possible botulism contamination.

Canned Tomatoes
-Tomatoes
-Salt
-Vinegar at 5% acidity or lemon juice
-Pint size glass Jars 

  • Peel and cut the tomatoes into quarters and put them in a large pot. Bring them to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Boil for five minutes. 
  • Fill clean canning jars with the hot tomatoes and add 2 tbsp vinegar or 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp salt per jar. 
  • Process in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes. Take the jars out and let cool at room temperature before storing.

Basic Salsa

You can spice up this basic salsa recipe with your preferred hot peppers, cilantro and any spices you might like.

  • 3 quarts tomatoes, skinned, cored and chopped
  • 2 quarts chili peppers, chopped 
  • 2 ½ cups onions, chopped
  • 1 cup (5%) vinegar
  • 3 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot, heat to boiling, and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch. 

Fill pint jars with the hot salsa, leaving ⅛-inch headspace. Process pints in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. (time has been adjusted for altitude to up to 6,000 ft).

Green Tomato Chutney
6 cups finely chopped green tomatoes
1 large, tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 organic lemon, sliced into thin slivers (include peels, discard seeds)
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger root
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1-2 chile peppers, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
Pinch of ground cloves

– Put all of the ingredients in a large, non-reactive, pot over medium-high heat
– Boil, stirring often, until the green tomatoes and the apples are very soft, the chutney is thick enough when a wooden spoon dragged across the pot bottom leaves a trail that doesn’t fill within a few seconds
– Process in half-pint jars in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes

Starting Seeds Indoors

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Winter

Starting your own seeds might seem complicated at first, but the benefits are well worth it for many gardeners. Not only will seed starting allow you to grow a wide variety of plants that you might not find in stores, it will save you money, too. Growing your own plants from seeds also ensures that you have the right amount of plants for your garden —or provides a great opportunity to grow more to share with your friends and neighbors.

What You’ll Need

Light

Some seeds require light to germinate, while others prefer total darkness. Your seed packet should tell you what your seeds’ requirements are. However, once germinated, all seedlings need light to develop into strong, healthy plants. New seedlings thrive in about 16 hours of light. Ideally, you will have space to hang fluorescent or LED light fixtures from above with ample space to place your seedlings in trays or flats. If you do not have grow lights, do not let this stop you from growing inside. Select a spot where there is bright light—a south-facing window is best.

Containers

You can start seeds in just about any kind of container, as long as it is shallow. Trays, flats, pots, old egg cartons, cut-off milk cartons, or even toilet paper rolls are suitable. Try all kinds of containers to see what works best for you. Make sure they are clean and have good drainage at the bottom. Poke holes into the bottom as needed. If your trays or pots are old, it is a good idea to soak and clean them in a solution of 90% water and 10% bleach to sanitize before using. If you are using a fiber or peat pot, soak well with water before adding soil —dry fiber pots draw moisture away from the soil.

Seeds

This is where the fun begins—you can source seeds for so many exciting varieties both online and in local gardening stores. You will get the best results if you obtain fresh seeds that were packaged for the upcoming growing season. If you have saved seeds that you purchased last year, be sure to test the germination rate before planting. You’ll want to see at least a 70% germination rate to ensure the seeds are viable for the growing season.

Growing Medium

Choosing the right growing medium is essential to success, and it’s important to use a ‘soilless mixture’ designed for starting seeds. Look for mixes designated as ‘germinating’ or ‘seed starting’ mixes that contain ingredients like peat moss, coco coir, perlite, and/or vermiculite. Avoid products labeled as ‘potting soil’ or ‘garden soil’ for germinating your seeds. We recommend Espoma Organic Seed Starting mix.

What Seeds to Sow

Seeds that benefit from being started indoors include the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale), onions, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, and peppers.

You can start others, but it is not necessary. Cool-season crops (peas, lettuce, spinach, root crops and more) can be sown directly into the garden as early as April. Cucumbers, squash and beans can be planted directly into the garden in mid to late May. Reading the seed packets will help you determine what to plant and when.

Getting Started: Sowing Your Seeds

Fill your containers to ¼” from the top with your potting mixture and level the surface. Be sure to water the soil and allow it to drain thoroughly before sowing the seeds. Make a hole for each seed with your finger or a pencil. Keep in mind that most seeds need to be planted two to three times as deep as the seed is wide. If your seeds are very fine, cover them with a fine layer of soil. Afterward, place your containers with drainage holes on a shallow tray that will allow you to water them from the bottom so as not to disturb your new germinating seeds.

Germination Time: Watch For Moisture and Humidity Levels

While your seeds are germinating, they should be kept evenly moist but not soaking wet. Too much moisture in your soil mix will cause the seeds to rot. Use a fine sprayer to water newly planted seeds and tiny seedlings or, if possible, water from the bottom. We recommend you place your pots and flats into plastic bags or use a humidity dome to keep the humidity and moisture even while also reducing the frequency of watering. Remove the clear humidity dome daily and lightly blow on the soil, replacing the dome after you do this. Carbon dioxide decreases seed germination time. Check daily for seed germination. As soon as the first seeds in the flat have emerged, remove the clear humidity dome and leave it off.

Grow, Baby, Grow: Seedling Care

The care you give your seedlings in the weeks following germination is critical. Continue to keep the soil moist but not soaked. Use warm water to water the seeds for the first two or three days. Once the seedlings have germinated, use water that is just a little warmer than room temperature. Continue to water from below.

Small pots and flats dry out quickly, so check their moisture levels often. To check, stick a sharpened pencil into the soil about a quarter inch; if moist soil sticks to your pencil tip, you do not need to water. If your seedlings are growing in a windowsill, turn often to encourage straight stems. If you are using grow lights, keep lights directly above the plants once they are germinated. The lights should be almost touching about 2-3” above the top of the plant. Raise the lights as the plants grow to maintain proper distance.

After seedlings have been growing for several weeks (assuming both seeds in each cell have germinated successfully), use a small scissor to cut the weaker seedling off as close to the soil as possible. Choose the shorter, stockier seedling to leave in each cell. While this might feel painful to do, your seedlings must have enough space to grow into healthy plants.

Preparing For The Garden: Hardening Off

After about 6-8 weeks, your seedlings will be at the right stage to transplant. Ideal seedlings will look short and stocky with sturdy stems and strong roots. About one week before you want to transplant your seedlings outdoors, start to ‘harden them off.’ This process acclimates the soft and tender plants, which have been protected from wind, cool temperatures, and strong sun, to their new environment.

Move the plants to a shady outdoor area at first and bring them indoors for the night if night temperatures below 55 degrees. Each day, move them out into the sun for a few hours, increasing the time spent in the sun each day. Make sure they are protected from wind, too. Keep them well watered during this period and do not place them directly on the ground if slugs are a problem. Monitor them closely for insect damage, since tender young seedlings are a delicacy for insects.

Time To Transplant

Do not be in a rush to put your plants in the garden. If they will not withstand frost, be sure all danger of frost has passed before setting them out.

Water the ground outside and the seedlings thoroughly before transplanting. This helps prevent transplant shock. It is preferable to transplant on a cloudy day so strong sun will not wilt your seedlings. Very gently remove your seedling from its container, being careful to not pull out your plant by the stem.

Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and set the transplant into the hole so the root ball will be covered by ¼” of soil. Press the soil firmly around the roots. A small depression around the plant stem will help trap moisture. Water immediately after transplanting and every day for the first week. Be sure to water deeply so your plants will not develop shallow roots.

Putting the Garden to Bed

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Grow a Garden, Winter

Fall is a season of dramatic contrasts; transitioning from the exuberance of giant zucchinis that seem to escape our notice despite careful searching, tomatoes that always ripen all at once and overwhelm our processing abilities, and days that can show 30 degrees or more of temperature swings between morning and evening.  With decreasing hours of daylight, plants take longer to mature, typical diseases such as ‘powdery mildew’ overtake squash, pumpkins and cucumbers and we begin to embrace the garden rhythms that promote a time of rest. Fall is a time for gardeners to contemplate, plan, preserve the harvest, prepare soil and celebrate small steps along the life path of learning.

To put your garden to bed for the year, follow the steps below, beginning when your crops are still in the ground.

Make a map

  • Note where everything was planted, including quantities of plants used, noting varieties that did well, which insects and/or diseases were challenging.
  • ·Also take note of succession plantings: which early season crops were replaced with heat – loving crops, dates of harvest, mulches used.

Plan for crop rotation

  • In this basic tenet of organic gardening, vegetables in the same ‘family’ are grown in a different location in the garden each year to prevent the build-up of soil diseases and insect problems. It is especially important to practice a two to three year crop rotation for members of the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants).

Clean up all garden beds

  • Dig up all annual crops and dispose of disease and/or insect infested varieties (do not utilize them in the compost pile). Crops that are left standing in the garden become overwintering sites for pest insects.
  • Make sure the perimeters and aisles surrounding garden areas are weed–free.

Dig the soil in all garden beds

  • Turn the soil, dig in chopped up leaves (try mowing them so they won’t mat down), and add a half inch of compost as you turn the soil.

Plant cover crops

  • By the end of September, or first week in October, plant winter rye and hairy vetch, raking the seeds lightly into the soil, tamping down with a hoe, covering with a layer of weed–free straw or chopped leaves and watering well.

Start or update your compost pile

  • All end–of–season garden material that is free of insects and/or disease can be chopped into one to two inch pieces and incorporated into the compost pile
  • More information about composting can be found here.

Clean and store all garden tools

  • Scrub all tools to remove soil and dry well
  • Use a wire brush or sandpaper to remove rust
  • Use a light layer of vegetable oil to prevent new rust

Remove all garden structures and amendment materials

  • All tomato fences, cages and secondary support structures must be removed from community garden plots
  • Leaves may be mown or chopped, dug into the soil or spread on top as a light mulch. Bags of leaves are not permitted to be stored within community garden plots.

Order garden catalogs

  • Begin the process of dreaming and planning for spring by ordering garden catalogs
  • If you participate in DUG’s Free Seeds and Transplants program, be sure to apply by February 1st

Celebrate each new thing you’ve learned

  • Share your wisdom with friends, giving back more than  you reap. The best gardeners are like a rich compost, embracing communities, growing slowly with the season.

Fall Gardening

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Grow a Garden, Winter

Fall gardening is a great way to extend the growing season as the warm weather crops of summer are ending their life cycle.

What to Grow
All cool weather crops can be successfully grown in the fall. Optimal temperatures for these crops range from 55-75° F. Crops grown for a fall and/or early spring harvest include garlic, radishes, beets, broccoli, cabbage (including Chinese cabbage), cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, carrots, peas, leaf lettuces, mustard greens, parsley and spinach.

When to Plant
Tentative first frost date in Denver is the first week in October. Check the maturity date (days to harvest) on the back of the seed packets. Add the time needed for germination (usually 7-10 days) plus another 10 days to your time to account for slower growth with decreasing daylight hours.
Example: If peas mature in 62 days, add 10 days for germination and another 10 days for slower growth in late summer. For this vegetable, we would need to plant the seeds 82 days prior to the end of the first week in October, which would be around the last week in July to gain a fall harvest.

Soil Preparation
Before planting new transplants or seeds, cultivate seedbeds deeply and incorporate at least one inch of aged compost, dug into the top two inches of soil. Moisten soil lightly and if possible wait at least two days for buried weed seeds to emerge before planting fall crops. Use a hoe to cultivate out weeds, which can be left on the soil surface to decompose and provide extra nutrients.

Selecting Varieties
Always select the shortest maturing variety of a vegetable (e.g. a 62 day vs. a 70 day pea) for fall planting. Some examples are below.

 

Peas

Shelling peas: Strike, Premium and Little Marvel

Snap peas: Sugar Ann, Sugar Sprint

Snow or sugar peas: Snow Sweet, Oregon Giant and Dwarf Grey Sugar Pea

Radishes

Any variety of radish planted in spring that matures in less than 35 days, such as Cherry Belle or Easter Eggs can be selected for late summer or fall planting. Avoid daikon types that require a long growing season.

Carrots

Nantes or Chantennay/Kuroda types (shorter, blunter carrots that do better in Colorado heavy clay soil) include Nantes Half Long or Vitana, Bolero or Hercules

Beets

Standard spring varieties of beets include Detroit Dark Red, Red Ace and Chioggia.

Spinach 

Varieties that are good for fall harvest and also can overwinter if protected with straw or leaves include Avon, Indian Summer, Melody and Tyee. Leaves can be either smooth or crinkled.

Lettuce 

Greenleaf: Black Seeded Simpson and Waldmann’s Dark 

Redleaf: New Red Fire and Vulcan 

Green Oakleaf: Sergeant 

Romaine or Cos: Winter Density, Green Forest Green Butterhead: Adriana and Nancy

Bibb: Buttercrunch

Planting Techniques
Plant slightly deeper than spring plantings to account for hot, dry soil. When making a furrow, moisten it well before scattering seeds. Mulch seeds beds immediately with straw to preserve moisture and keep the soil as cool as possible. Peas benefit from soaking them for a few hours in a solution of 3 tsp. liquid kelp to one quart of water. Beets, carrots, parsley, spinach and parsnips should be soaked overnight in the same concentrate. All cool season crops, when planted in summer heat, enjoy foliar sprays of 1 tsp. liquid kelp to 1 quart of water. Mix the solution in a spray bottle and mist on all foliage. This also provides a few degrees of frost protection at the end of the season. Shade cloth fabric stapled on a wooden frame is helpful for peas, lettuce and spinach.

Crop Specifics
Broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts do better starting inside, under lights and set out when they are six weeks old. Plan on having them garden ready by the end of July, hardening them off for one week in the shade before planting them in full sun conditions. All of these plants require abundant nitrogen, mulched soils for cool roots and even moisture for best results. As tiny heads appear on cauliflower, tie the large leaves together with string to prevent browning of the curds from the strong sunshine.

Plant spinach during the last week in August and again in the first week in September. By mid-October, as nights cool substantially, mulch the whole plant with three inches of straw or chopped leaves to provide an over-wintering blanket of protection.

Lettuces are best planted as succession crops, in compost-enriched, moist 1/2” deep furrows. Plant small quantities from the end of August through mid-September, at two-week intervals. Again, mulch seedbeds as soon as seeds are planted. Young plants can be treated in a similar manner to spinach, using mowed leaves or straw for over-wintering.

Cilantro will yield a superior crop when planted early to mid-September as daylight hours shorten and temperatures cool. Spring planted cilantro often sends up a flowering stalk prematurely as temperatures warm rapidly. Allowing a single plant to set and drop seed is an easy way to plant a fall crop. Mulch the young plants as October approaches and plants will grow rapidly the following spring.

Frost Protection
Row covers of spun polyester (a Reemay-type of fabric) can be directly placed over crops when night temperatures lower into the 30s and will provide several degrees of frost protection.

Rocks can be used to prevent the fabric from blowing away, laying them directly on the soil/fabric interface. Additionally a foliar spray on all crops of liquid kelp (1 tsp. kelp/qt. of water) will provide additional frost protection and also increase the storage life of vegetables. 

Hoop houses are a great way to extend the season by creating a mini-greenhouse in your garden. Here is a video on how to build one.

Harvest Essentials
Harvest individual, outer leaves of spinach and lettuces to promote extended growth periods before heavy frost. Carrots must be thinned to 2-3” apart as they grow, to allow the roots sufficient room to expand. They may be harvested as baby carrots, as soon as the deep orange color is seen.

As they grow, mound soil over the tops (crowns) of the carrots to prevent the sun from greening the shoulders of the vegetable and producing a bitter taste in the roots. Radishes are best utilized when they are about the size of a penny and will reach edible size within a month of germinating. Vegetables are most nutritious when grown in compost-enriched soil that is cultivated on a regular basis. 

Fall Basil Pesto Recipe

By Education, Fall, Grow a Garden

The first frost is headed our way soon.
Now is the time to harvest your remaining basil and make pesto!

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fresh basil leaves (no stems)
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves cut in 1/2 lengthwise
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (more to taste)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan (to taste)

Instructions:

1. Place basil leaves in bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade & pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. Add the garlic, salt, one-half of the olive oil, then briefly pulse. Add pine nuts & briefly pulse again.

3. Scrape down sides of bowl & slowly drizzle in remaining olive oil. Continue to process until the mixture is smooth & sticks together. Add the cheeses & pepper to taste & pulse until everything is well blended. Taste & adjust salt.

4. If not using right away, scrape the pesto into a glass jar, cover w/about 1/4″ of olive oil & refrigerate.

Why You Should Plant Cover Crops

By Education, Fall, Fall Gardening, Grow a Garden

Cover crops consist of many different types of plants, usually annual, biennial or perennial grasses or legumes, which are grown to cover the surface of the soil. After they are tilled or dug into the soil, they are known as green manures.

Benefits of cover crops

  • Cover crops act like a blanket and prevent soil loss from wind and water erosion.
  • Their roots hold the soil in place, and help to improve soil structure. During the process of decomposition, microorganisms and the decomposing cover crops produce sticky substances that glue soil particles together. This opens up air channels and also increases the water holding capacity of the soil.
  • Cover crops keep weed species in check by covering the soil surface and decreasing sunlight available for weed seed germination. Additionally, some grasses, such as winter rye exhibit a property know as ‘allelopathy’. Their roots, when tilled into the soil, prevent seeds from germinating until the plant has decomposed.
  • Crops in the legume family, such as hairy vetch, planted with specific types of bacterial inoculants, have the ability to develop special structures on their roots that store nitrogen and make it available as the crop is dug or tilled under.
  • Many cover crops reduce pest insect populations by serving as habitats and food sources for beneficial insects.

Early Spring Care

  • Cut the rye before it reaches knee-high, then dig or till or crop remains in. Wait two weeks for decomposition to occur prior to planting spring seeds. Enjoy your best garden ever, knowing that you have worked to prepare fertile, moisture-retentive, biologically alive soil.

Crop and Planting Specifics

    • Best choices for fall planting include Winter rye and Hairy vetch. Often a mix of rye and vetch is planted. Austrian winter pea is slightly less hardy
    • Plant by mid–late September as crops are harvested.
    • Prepare seedbeds by digging thoroughly, adding an inch or so of decomposed compost mixed into the top 4 – 6 “ of soil. Make sure large clumps are broken up.
    • Water the area well prior to planting the cover crop seed.
    • Follow directions on the seed package for seed sowing (Winter rye: 4 – 6 oz per 100 square feet, Hairy vetch: 2 – 3 oz per 100 square feet).
    • Rake seed lightly into the top 1⁄4 – 1⁄2” of soil, lightly pressing it in with a hoe.
    • Cover with light layer of straw or chopped leaves.