Summer heat is fading, the feel of fall is here. This year, we had more than 50 days of 90 degree temperatures or warmer. Hail along the Front Range ruined cars, crops and moods. Fortunate are those who are harvesting home-grown produce. Now it’s time to share what you’ve reaped while preserving the garden harvest for tasty winter reminders of summer.
Preserving the harvest
Preparing a well-stocked freezer and pantry of home-grown fruits and vegetables means you’ll need to make it happen now.
If your crops got hailed out or were less bountiful, purchase locally grown food at the grocery store, farmers market, community-supported agricultural program or farm-share.
There are several “putting up” methods: freezing, canning, drying, fermenting, pickling and dry storage. If you don’t know how to preserve, there are several how-to classes offered this fall (see the resource link below).
First, harvest fruits, herbs and vegetables at their peak and toss or compost any that are damaged, bruised, over- or under-ripe. If the food didn’t taste good from the vine, the flavor won’t improve when preserved.
Freezing vegetables is super quick and easy. The general rule prior to freezing vegetables is to blanch first, which means to immerse washed vegetables in water that’s at a rolling boil, briefly. Blanching helps prevent loss of color, texture and flavor. Times vary per vegetable. Once done, plunge into cold water then drain. Add one additional blanching minute for altitudes above 5,000 feet. Blanching/freezing guidelines can be found here.
Vegetables that can be blanched and then frozen include beans (green, snap, wax, lima, butter, pinto), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, kohlrabi, rhubarb, summer squash, sweet corn, tomatoes and peppers. Fully cook beets, pumpkins, winter squash and sweet potatoes before freezing.
Vegetables that don’t freeze well include cabbage, cucumbers, watermelon, celery, cress, endive, lettuce, parsley and radish (see the pickling section below).
To freeze fresh fruits, wash, stem, dry and freeze on cookie sheets first, then store into freezer bags. This works for blueberries, blackberries, huckleberries, elderberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants and rhubarb (which is technically a vegetable, butu sed as fruit).
Drying or dehydrating removes the moisture from food so bacteria, yeast and mold won’t grow. Food-dehydration equipment and ovens are most often used. The short list of foods that dry well include apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes, grapes, plums and herbs. Check out complete drying methods and more information for produce here.
Fruits or vegetables are preserved in vinegar or brine in pickling. Add more flavor by including spices, herbs or sugar. Commonly pickled foods include cucumbers, peppers, green beans, onions, okra, and radish. Watermelon, peaches and nectarines can also be pickled. For how-to and recipes, click here.
Fermentation happens when fruits or vegetable are cured in a salt or water brine for a week or longer. No vinegar is added, which helps the food produce lactic acid; this preserves the food and acts as a probiotic. For more information, click here.
Water bath canning is the age-old method of preserving what was just grown. The goal is to force air out of the jar (can) and create an environment to keep out bacteria. Additional boiling time needs to be added for our altitude. Canning is great for high-acid foods like tomatoes, pickles, sauerkraut, peaches, pears, apricots, plums, lemons, gooseberries and blackberries.
Steam pressure canning uses steam pressure in a heavy kettle with lid, safety valve, vent and pressure gauge to process low-acid foods to a temperature of 240 degrees. Low-acid foods include okra, carrots, beets, turnips, green beans, asparagus, lima beans, peas and corn.
Dry storage requires using a root cellar or an area in the house that remains cool but doesn’t freeze. This works well for storing produce for several weeks. Root crops including potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, pumpkins and winter squash. They store well in dry, cool conditions. For more on dry storage, click here.
Here are more food resources:
In the landscape
Maintain regular lawn watering while temperatures remain warm. Avoid heading into fall and winter with a stressed lawn.
Now is the time to remove weeds, schedule aeration or overseed thinned out or tired lawns.
Problem perennial weeds like dandelion, plantain and bindweed put down deep roots in the fall to get them through the winter. Dig weeds now before they return next year larger and more numerous.
Hand-digging weeds is immediate and gratifying. Spot treat carefully with herbicides while protecting nearby pollinators, flowers, shrubs and trees. Read product labels for application timing and cautions.
If treating lawns for Japanese beetle larvae (white grubs), next year’s generation of adult beetles, don’t delay. View this chart on insecticide and biological control options by CSU entomologist Whitney Cranshaw here.
We’ve seen little consistent rain the past few weeks and we’re behind in moisture year-to-date, so check your soil and plantings. If dry, water the landscape to avoid injury or plant stress going into late fall and winter. Water-stressed trees and shrubs often experience leaf scorch, early leaf drop, or early change in color.
As long as vegetable and ornamental outdoor containers are producing or blooming, they need regular watering and fertilizing.
Think about the spring and continue ordering spring and summer ornamental bulbs and garlic planting stock. Also, shop local: Check out bulbs at garden centers and purchase early for the best selection. Both ornamental and garlic can be planted anytime between September and late October, before the ground freezes. If they can’t be planted right away, store bulbs in a cool, dry place until ready to plant.
Betty Cahill speaks and writes about gardening in Colorado. Visit her site at http://gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com/ for more Colorado gardening tips.