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Archive for August, 2011

Durango, Colorado 

Irvine, California

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It’s undeniable even here in Southern California, fall is in the air. Though the temperature is nowhere near nippy, there’s a hint of a cool breeze, a different cast to the light, and a particular smell that all come with the changing of the season.

That means that we need to start cleaning up the garden. Some of my trials have punked out — believe it or not the nasturtiums I started from seed never really took off. I blame the crappy soil. I’ll remove the crispy remains and start planning to add lots more organic amendments to my beds in a few weeks.

Once I get things cleaned out, I’ll start thinking about starting seeds for a few cool weather crops. I won’t do many, again because of my heavy clay soil, but I’ll certainly plant lettuce and spinach in some containers. I might even do a small raised bed.

Hints of fall also make me want to preserve a bit of summer to brighten up gloomy winter days. So I’m going to put up some peaches. The easiest way to preserve peaches is to freeze them. Blanch (see recipe below) then peel and slice the peaches, placing slices on a cookie sheet. Put them into the freezer until completely frozen, then transfer into a storage container. (Smaller fruits like blueberries or strawberries can be washed and frozen whole.) Sometime in the depths of winter you are going to be so happy that you can whip up a pie or cobbler with that just-picked summer taste.

Canning is a little more time-consuming but not at all difficult. Most canned fruit recipes are too sweet for my taste, but I just found what seems to be a great recipe in the AARP Magazine that uses fruit juice in place of sugar syrup.

No-sugar Canned Peaches

  • 6 one-quart canning jars with rings and self-sealing lids
  • 11 pounds of ripe peaches
  • 1 package ascorbic or citric acid
  • 2 quarts unsweetened apple or white grape juice
1. Sterilize canning jars and rings by simmering them in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Leave them in the hot water until ready to use. Lids should be in hot, but not boiling water, until ready to use.
2. Mix ascorbic or citric acid with water according to package directions.
3. Boil water in another saucepan to blanch the fruit. Dip fruit, a few at a time, into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds until skins loosen. Dip quickly into cold water and slip off skins.
4. Cut fruit in half, remove pits and slice. Coat peaches with acid water to prevent darkening. (Acidifying the peaches also helps preserve them. Do not skip this or any other steps.)
5. Pack peach slices in jars, almost to the top. Be sure to leave the top 1/2″ free.
6. Bring the juice to a boil and ladle it over the peaches, leaving 1/2″ of headspace.
7. Make sure there are no big bubbles in the jars. If there are, slip in a knife to release them. Wipe jar rims clean of any bits of fruit or juice. Put lids on and hand-tighten.
8. Process jars in a boiling-water canner with jars covered by 2″ of boiling water for 20 to 25 minutes.
9. Remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 12 hours. You should hear each jar “ping” as it cools and the seal forms.
10. Unscrew rings to make sure jars are sealed. The lids should be firmly attached and slightly indented in the center. (If a jar isn’t sealed properly, you can refrigerate it and eat the peaches within a few days.)
Store in a dark, cool place for up to one year. (Recipe from AARP Magazine with some edits.)
Happy canning!
Just a heads-up — posts might be a little erratic for the next 2 or 3 weeks. My daughter is getting married soon and Mary Beth just started a great job. It’s all good and very exciting, but we’re both a little over the top with things to do.

 

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Or we might have titled this post “Why Bees Are So Important.”

In January the press reported that scientists had noticed a significant decline in bumblebee populations in the U.S. — first it was the honeybees that were disappearing and now it’s bumblebees too. Scientists are not sure why just yet, but one thing they can agree on is that this is not good news because bumblebees pollinate about 15% of all crops in the field — blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, squash and watermelon; and in the hothouse — tomatoes, strawberries and peppers.

And it’s not just the many different variety of bees (honeybees, bumbles, carpenter bees, mason bees, metallic sweat bees, leaf-cutter bees, ground-nesting bees, and various localized native bees) that pollinate flowers. There are many other creatures that do this work like ants, beetles, moths, flies, birds, butterflies, wasps, bats, and even a few mammals that transport pollen as they make their rounds.

Which is kind of the long way round to the question of problems with fruit set in squash, melons and cucumbers. Several people have asked why the flowers on squash and cucumber plants have been falling off. There are several reasons.

The first thing you should know is you might not have a problem. Squash, melons and cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family and they all have a unique flowering habit. Each plant bears male and female blossoms. The female blossom has a miniature fruit (ovary) at the base of the flower. Male blossoms don’t have this swelling. The male flower’s only job is to provide pollen to fertilize the ovary in the female flower and they depend on bees to do this. If the pollen isn’t transported from male to female flower fruit set will never happen.

Early flowers tend to be mostly male and these will fall off with no sign of fruit set. Not to worry, this is normal. On certain hybrid varieties of summer squash the early flowers are mostly females that don’t get fertilized and they will drop as well.

When the plants start producing both male and female flowers at the same time things should start clicking — unless there are no bees around. Cucurbits have sticky pollen and need bees to transport it from male to female flower. If your garden doesn’t have enough bees to pollinate the female flowers you will not get fruit.

In the absence of bees the only option is to hand pollinate. Get a small artist brush and pick up the yellow pollen that you will find inside the male flowers. Take the pollen-coated brush and paint it onto the stigma in the female flower. It is important to do this to only flowers that have just opened as they are only receptive for a single day.

It would be so much easier to have bees do the work! Without them crops will fail, plants won’t thrive, and we will be hard pressed to find solutions to this growing problem.

How can you help? Rule number one is to NEVER use pesticides in your garden. No matter how careful you are you will almost always kill at least a few bees. Rule number two is to create a garden that will sustain bees and all the creatures that help us grow food and the other plants we love. You can find tips on creating bee-friendly gardens in this post and by clicking some of the links on our resources page.

One last note, though we always recommend lots of mulch for your garden beds be sure to leave a few small areas bare for ground-nesting bees. Mulching is thought to be one of main reasons that this type of bee population is diminishing.

Save the bees!

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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Taking the Day Off

It’s my birthday! I’m going to the beach.

Be back with a new Tuesday’s Tips next week.

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Durango, Colorado

Irvine, California

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