Apples

Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples.

Harvest

Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.

To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. For red-fruited cultivars, observe the portion of the apple that faces the interior of the tree. When the ground color turns from leaf green to yellowish green or creamy yellow, the apples are ready to harvest. In yellow cultivars the ground color will become a golden color when they are ready to harvest. You can also taste one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.

Storage

For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. They can be stored in boxes or crates lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. They should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.

Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits, including apples that are stored together. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Damaged and large apples should be eaten or processed first and not stored like the other apples.

Tree Selection

Fall is also a great time to plant a tree. If you are reading this article thinking you should plant an apple tree so you can start to have your own apples to harvest, there are some great choices. One thing to remember when choosing an apple tree for your landscape is to get a variety that is resistant to cedar-apple rust and apple scab. These 2 diseases are very problematic for apple trees in Nebraska and require spraying multiple times throughout the growing season to combat. There are also some varieties that are resistant to fire blight which can also be very damaging to your apple crop and would be a good trait to look for in your future apple trees.

Some good apple tree choices include Liberty, Enterprise, and Freedom which all have good disease resistance for the most common diseases. Enterprise is self-unfruitful and therefore does require a pollinator tree be planted nearby when planting Enterprise. Honeycrisp is a delicious apple that many people want to plant. However, it is susceptible to cedar-apple rust and powdery mildew so you would need to spray for those diseases. It is moderately resistant to apple scab and resistant to fire blight. Honeycrisp is also only moderately strong for tree growth, so it could break more in storms.

*The information on Harvest and Storage came from Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator in Lancaster County.

Asparagus!

green-asparagus-pixabay

Spring officially began last week. That doesn’t mean we should get overly excited and go clean up our beds just yet, this winter has been long and cold so don’t get too ready for spring. However, Asparagus will soon be emerging from past years plantings and new plantings can soon be started.

Planting

Asparagus is a perennial vegetable that will come back every year providing you with more spears without having to plant it every year. Asparagus is planted as crowns in the spring as soon as the soil is dry and can be worked. This year we may have to wait a little longer before planting to give the soil time to dry out after all this snow and rain. Once planted, it is best to wait to harvest from the plant until the third year of growth. Light harvest can be done in the second year, but not all of the spears and not for a long period of time. Asparagus can be planted from seeds, but it will add one more year to the establishment period before harvest is initiated. It is best to give the roots time to become fully established before you begin harvesting. This allows the plant to grow better for a longer life.

Weed Control

Weeds are one of the most common problems for gardeners who grow asparagus. For years, many gardeners used the salt water from making ice cream around the asparagus. Asparagus is a salt tolerant plant and will survive if salt is placed around it and the weeds would die. However, asparagus will not thrive in a high salt condition and the salt can build up and cause asparagus to die over time. Also the salt content in the soil can create a crust which blocks water absorption into the plants which causes drought stress. It is not a recommended practice for weed control.

The better option for weed control in asparagus would be to use mulch around the plants. Any type of organic mulch will work for weed control around the asparagus including grass clippings, wood chips, straw, or hay. This organic mulch will keep the weeds down as well as hold onto moisture and add nutrients back into the soil as the mulch breaks down. Frequent, light shallow cultivation can be done early in the spring will help with weeds as well. Also, use preen that is labeled for use around the asparagus with the mulch to help with annual weeds.

Another tactic is to use a glyphosate product over the bed after the last harvest of the year. As long as the spears have all been cut off at the end of the growing portion of the season and there is no foliage or any green growth above the ground, the glyphosate will not harm the asparagus. Spray the glyphosate over the bed in the late spring when harvest is complete for the year. This will control the perennial weeds as well as the annuals. The spears will then grow back and not be harmed by the glyphosate. Follow up with preen and mulch to keep the weeds out.

Harvesting

Harvesting can be completed by cutting or snapping spears off of the plant as they emerge and grow to 5-8 inches in length. Either method of harvest is fine, I prefer to snap the spears to avoid spreading any disease problems with a knife that just harvested a diseased plant. Snapping is typically preferred by home gardeners. Harvest for 6-8 weeks or until the majority of the spears are less than 3/8 inches in diameter. When all the spears get spindly, the plant is running out of energy for production and harvest should be concluded to allow the plant to rebuild its resources for next year.

Fall is a time for Apples and Garlic

Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples. It is apple month, for tips and recipes on apples, visit the Nebraska Extension October food calendar.

Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.

apples-A. Henneman flickr
Flickr image courtesy of Alice Henneman per CC license

To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. You can also try one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.

For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. These boxes or crates should be lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Apples should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.

Fall is also a great time to plant garlic. I love Italian food, so therefore I am a huge fan of fresh garlic. Garlic is best planted from mid-September through mid-October, one month before the soil freezes. The bulbs planted in the fall will root and begin to sprout before going dormant for the winter. Next spring, these bulbs will continue to grow until harvest in the summer months.

garlic-olga-filonenko-flickr
Flickr image courtesy of Olga Filonenko per CC license.

To grow garlic, plant small cloves for each plant you want. The clove is obtained from the division of the large bulb. Planting larger cloves will lead to larger bulbs for harvest next year. Wait until just before you begin planting to divide the bulb into the individual cloves. Plant the cloves 3-5 inches apart, 1-2 inches deep with the point upward in the soil. If you are planting multiple rows, the rows need to be 18-30 inches apart. Before completing your gardening tasks this fall, remember to mulch the planted garlic with 8-12 inches of straw after the soil freezes.

The apple information from this article came from an article written by Mary Jane Frogge, Extension Associate from Lancaster County Extension. The garlic information from this article came from the e-Hort Update at hortupdate.unl.edu which is a newsletter you can sign up for to get more horticulture information throughout the year.

Harvesting from your Garden

Harvesting from garden

I love this time of the year, not because of the extreme heat, but because my garden is beginning to produce large quantities of vegetables for my family to enjoy in our meals and to preserve for the winter months. Sometimes it is hard to determine the best harvest time and use for the vegetables from a garden but here are a few tips to remember.

Tomatoes are a great choice for a vegetable garden. They can be preserved in so many ways to be enjoyed throughout the entire winter. The anticipation for our tomatoes to begin to ripen is difficult, but once they begin, they grow strong. This year we have had to wait a little longer than normal for our tomatoes to begin to produce. Due to the high heat in June, poor pollination occurred.

For harvesting tomatoes, it is best to wait until the tomato is firm and colored correctly for the particular variety you are growing. Make sure you know what you planted to know what color they should be. If the temperatures get too hot, they may soften if left on the vine until they are the correct color, when that occurs, it would be best to pick tomatoes early and allow them to ripen indoors.

Tomatoes stored in the refrigerator can only be stored fresh for 4-10 days. According to Alice Henneman, a Registered Dietician with Nebraska Extension, tomatoes can be frozen raw with or without the skins to be used in cooked recipes for months later. Tomatoes can also be processed into salsas, paste, sauce, and juice for storage and use later in the year in other forms.

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Salsa made from my garden

Zucchini is another great plant for your garden. Zucchini plants are easy to grow and will produce plenty of harvest for a family from only one or two plants. If you planted too many zucchini plants they are easy to store as well. Zucchini should be harvested when the fruit is young and tender and when your fingernail easily penetrates the rind. Most zucchini should be harvested when they are 1 ½ inches in diameter and 4 to 8 inches in length. Zucchini is easily missed and they are fast growing vegetables. If you have some zucchini harvest that is too large for grilling or slicing for other recipes or for freezing, you can use the large produce for baking. Remove the seeds and shred what is left for use in many baking activities like zucchini bread or muffins. Fresh zucchini can be stored in the fridge for 5-14 days.

Peppers should be harvested when they are firm and full sized. If it is a red, yellow, or orange variety, they need to be left on the plant for an additional 2-3 weeks for coloration to occur. Peppers can be frozen for consumption later in uncooked foods or in cooked foods. Fresh peppers can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 weeks if handled properly.

Cucumbers should be harvested when they have grown to the size that is best for the use and the size determined by the variety. If you are using the cucumber for a sweet pickle or for baby dill pickles you would want the cucumbers to be 1 ½ to 2 inches long. If you are using them for regular dill pickles it is best to pick them at 3-4 inches in length. For fresh slicing cucumbers harvest when they are 7 to 9 inches long. It is best to harvest daily and harvest cucumbers before they get too large with large seeds inside. Cucumbers can be used fresh for 10-14 days.

The harvest information for this article came from the NebGuide: When to Harvest Fruits and Vegetables by Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator. The freezing guidelines came from food.unl.edu

 

Pumpkins

Gourds

The trees are beginning to turn beautiful fall colors, the leaves are beginning to fall, and scary movies are starting to come back into the theatres. This must mean Halloween is on its way.

The best part of Halloween, to me, is the pumpkins. I love the smell of a freshly carved pumpkin and the look of the carved pumpkins on my front steps lit up for Halloween night. Pumpkins can be used for a variety of things throughout October and November and they can be grown in your garden right in your own backyard.

Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbit family of garden plants, which includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, watermelons, cantaloupes, and zucchini. We can use them for eating, roasting the seeds, and carving for a Halloween decoration. We can also store them and use them for Thanksgiving decorations.

Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license
Flickr image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan per CC license

If you grow pumpkins in your garden, it is now time to begin harvesting them, if you haven’t already started. Pumpkins can be harvested when they are mature in color and when they have a firm rind, when your fingernail does not puncture the rind when lightly pushed into it. It is best to remove all pumpkins prior to or within 1-2 days after a killing frost. Cut pumpkins off of the rind leaving 3-4 inches of stem on the pumpkin to help them resist organisms that lead to decay.

After the pumpkins are harvested, they should be cured to last longer in storage. Leave pumpkins in an area where they receive 80-85 degree temperatures with 80-90 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Pumpkins will store if not cured, but they will store longer, up to 3 months, if they are cured first. After cured, they are best stored in areas of 50-55 degree temperatures.

It is best to use the correct pumpkin for the task, such as using a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for carving and a processing pumpkin for making pies. Both types of pumpkins can be used for either activity, but they work better if you get the right type for the task at hand. However, you do not want to carve a pumpkin and use it for Halloween and then use it for making a pumpkin pie. A carved pumpkin is a perishable item, therefore cannot be used for baking or cooking if it has been left out, after being carved into, for more than 2 hours.

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Many people are concerned about the length of time a carved pumpkin will last on their front porch. The problem is that there isn’t a good treatment to get them to hold that carving for very long. The best idea is to wait until no more than one week before Halloween until you carve your pumpkin. It is best for the carving if you can do it as close to Halloween as possible. Another thing that will help with longevity of a pumpkin for Halloween is to ensure that you purchase or pick a pumpkin in good condition. Avoid pumpkins with soft spots, signs of decay, short stems, and other signs to show that decay has already begun in the pumpkin. If decay is already present in the pumpkin before you carve into it, it will ruin your carving that much sooner. If the weather is warm outside, store the pumpkins in a cool area until Halloween to keep the carving intact. Hopefully all of these tips can help you grow a great pumpkin and have a great pumpkin for Halloween. Happy Halloween!