Friday, September 5, 2014

Fall tips for veggies, herbs and a winter of content

LATHAM -- 'Tis the time of apple picking, tomato throwing and other annual efforts to handle the bounty of summer gardens. But, that doesn't mean growing season is over, even here in the often-chilly Great Northeast.

The folks at George's Market & Nursery have some tips for fall veggie success, as well as for maintaining your summer herb garden through cooler periods.
"Many people in colder climates think they can only grow a crop of summer vegetables due to a shorter growing season than in southern parts of the United States. But, with a little planning, you can not only enjoy fresh vegetables before Thanksgiving, but the cooler growing season allows you to grow varieties that you wouldn’t normally grow in the summer.
"The key to a great fall harvest is to plan early, select cool season vegetables that take only 60 to 90 days to reach maturity and sow seeds from August to early September. The fall growing season will allow you to select from great tasting varieties such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, greens, kale, lettuce, and winter squash.
"These types of vegetable plants will thrive until soil temperatures fall consistently below 55˚F,  at which point the plants will stop growing and any ripe fruit should be picked off before colder temps damage them.
"If you want to extend your season even further consider covering your vegetable garden with a homemade hoop house covered with thick transparent plastic. This will allow the sunlight to heat up the garden during the day and slowly cool down at night, helping to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations which could take place in late fall.
"Remember, for the best tasting vegetables feed once a month with an organic vegetable food and only water when the top of the soil dries out. Then sit back, relax and wait until those great tasting home-grown vegetables can be enjoyed at the dinner table."
 As to the care of herbs, Tamara Galbraith writes for George's:
"Fall is the time to trim back perennials, and that includes herbs. Mid-October is a good time for gardeners in milder climates to collect and use or preserve valuable herb flowers and leaves. Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the leaves are dry, separate them from their stems and store in glass spice jars with tight-fitting lids, then keep the jars in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. To preserve full flavor, avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them. Many herbs will retain their flavor for over a year...when it'll be time to harvest next year's herbs.
 "Annual herbs can be harvested until frost; perennial herbs can be clipped until about one month before your first frost date, if you have one. Here are some methods to consider:

"Freezing: One of the easiest methods to preserve herbs. If you generally use herbs for soups and sauces, the ice cube method is great. Rinse your herbs in cold water, shake off the excess, chop, and place a teaspoon of herbs in each water-filled cube space and freeze. Pop the cubes out and put them in plastic bags; you can then take a cube from the freezer as you need it, and toss the whole thing into your soup or sauce. Another method for freezing herbs for later culinary use is to spread the herbs loosely onto a cookie sheet, freeze, then transfer the herbs into a large plastic bag and seal. Do not re-freeze herbs after thawing.

"Drying: The traditional method of herb preservation. If the herbs are clean, do not wet them. Otherwise, rinse dust and dirt from the foliage, shake off the excess water, and spread the herbs out on paper towels until dry. Remove any dead or damaged foliage, then tie the stems into small bundles with twine, string or even decorative ribbon and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of the sun. Be sure to make small, loose bundles and allow for good air circulation around each bunch.

"Microwaving: Lay a single layer of clean, dry leaves between dry paper towels and place them in the microwave for one to two minutes on high power, paying attention to your own microwave's wattage and tendencies. Let the leaves cool. If they are not brittle, reheat for 30 seconds and retest. Repeat as needed. 
George's Market & Nursery is located at 240 Wade Road Extended, opposite Target. Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 785-4210.

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