Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Caring for Winter Vegetables

Hello again,

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the
Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Paul recently sent out a great post about Caring for Winter Vegetables:

"Your winter vegetables are beginning to mature for harvest and storage this month. Because of the warmer than normal summer and the extra early spring this year, all vegetables, fruit, and berries are ahead of schedule. Here are a few ideas to improve this year's crop and next years as well. September can be very productive for both what you have in your garden today and what your garden can do next year.

If your onion foliage is beginning to fall over, it is time to pull them all up and give them time to dry in your garage while the weather is in your favor. Choose a day when the garden soil has dried out or stop watering for a couple of days. This will help the soil to come off the onions more easily and help them store better. Use a garden spade and loosen the soil around the onion plants before pulling them up from the foliage. The reason is that you want as much foliage as possible attached to the onion for when you dry out the plant for storage. As the foliage begins to dry out it will send energy from the foliage to the onion bulb for storage and this energy keeps the onion dormant longer, so never pull up the plant and remove the foliage until it has all turned brown. Also do not wash the onions; just rub off the loose soil, as watering the bulb can encourage disease during storage.

If you cut the foliage when it is still green it will create a soft spot where the foliage is attached to the bulb, and the spot never seals itself properly to keep out fungus and insects. Place the onions on the floor of your garage or even on a covered porch, as it will take several days to dry completely and onions should be in a single layer--not put into a pile on the floor. Also allow the roots to dry on the plant; don't pull them off, as they will dry up quickly and create a protective area on the onion to keep longer. When the foliage has all turned brown cut it from the bulb but leave an inch or two of brown dry foliage still attached to the bulb--they seem to keep better that way. Store them in your basement or garage where temperatures stay between 40 and 50 degrees all winter long. I put my onions in a wooden basket, check them weekly for possible rot development and remove anything that does not look good. Red onions do not keep as long as the white or yellow onions do, so eat or cook them first.

Potatoes are all finished growing if the foliage has lost its green color and has changed to yellow or brown. With a garden fork dig them up--but be careful not to get too close to the main stems of the plant. Use your hands when the soil has been loosened and dig them out yourself. It's like digging for buried treasure, so be sure to get every potato--even the small ones. Collect the potatoes and set them on the floor of your garage for a few days so they can dry properly, and any roots still on the potato will have time to dry up. Any potatoes that are damaged in this process should be eaten as soon as possible as they will not keep; they will quickly rot while in storage.

As with the onions do not wash potatoes; let them dry out of the sun and the skin will become thicker, helping to keep them better while in storage. Digging is best when the soil is dry, so do not water for 3 to 4 days before harvesting and the soil will come off the skin easier. Potatoes store best in a cool, dry basement or garage where temperatures stay from 40 to 50 degrees and never freeze. Those small potatoes you find in the garden are too small for baking or peeling but they are wonderful when washed and used for potato salads or a nice beef stew--with the skin attached, as small potatoes have a very thin and tender skin on them.

Winter squash is growing quickly now and September is the month they seem to put on most of their weight and size. This week, cut off the very end of every vine that has squash on it. This will stop foliage growth and new squash development that will not have enough time to mature. But fruit on the vines that have been pinched will continue to grow larger in size and flavor as cooler temperatures create less stress on the plant and more moisture and nutrition will move into the squash. Your squash is ready for harvest when the stem from the vine of the plant to the squash begins to turn brown and dry up; if the stem is still green it is still growing so leave it alone. Feeding your squash plant and foliage with a liquid feed can be very beneficial to the plant at this time of the year. Liquid feeds like Miracle-Gro or even Neptunes Harvest Fish and Seaweed blend are fast acting and will promote additional size to your squash and help thicken their skin for better keeping during the winter months. Watering weekly also helps promote larger sized squashes.

Pumpkins that have turned orange are finished growing and should be removed from the garden and kept in a cool place until the weather cools off this fall. Cut the stem of the pumpkin with a sharp knife or garden shears and be sure to leave a stem. Pumpkins without stems have a very short life span and rot very easily. Also, never carry the pumpkin by its stem, as most are not strong enough to hold the weight of the pumpkin--especially if it's a large one. Pumpkins and squash keep best in a cool and dry basement, crawl space, or garage where temperatures do not drop below freezing. Do not stack them on top of each other during storage, as they will become bruised and will not keep as long. Also do not wash them when you put them in storage as you will remove the protective covering on them--like your other winter vegetables--and increase chances of fungus problems on the skin.

Beets I leave in the garden until all the foliage has died and then pull them out of the ground. I let them dry on the garage floor for a few days and remove any foliage that remains before storing them in baskets that I keep in my basement on the floor. Beets keep until February in storage areas that stay 40 to 50 degrees and dry.

Carrots I dig up in November just before the ground freezes. I then cut off all the foliage about an inch above the orange carrot tuber and place the carrots in a wooden box standing up carrot to carrot. Buy a bag of sand box sand and pour it over the carrots filling in the spaces in-between them and cover them with an inch of sand. Keep in a cool basement 40 to 50 degrees with other vegetables and they will last most of the winter. When I lived in southern Massachusetts I would cover the row of carrots with bales of straw and that would keep the frost out of the ground so I could pull them up when I wanted during the winter. Cape Cod with its sandy soil is perfect for storage in the planting bed as long as you have a mild winter and the bed is open to the sunshine.

If you have a surplus of tomatoes and a freezer do this; you will have fresh tomatoes for sauce or soup all winter long. As the tomatoes ripen wash them well, fill a freezer bag with them and place them in your freezer. On a cold winter morning, pull out a couple bags of frozen tomatoes and place them in a pot of slow boiling water to crack the skin from the tomato. It will peel off very easily and you can then place the skinless tomatoes in a pot with low heat. In a couple hours they will be all soft and ready for soup. I mash them with hands or potato masher, then clean out the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator and use up whatever I have there. Add onions, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. and let it simmer all day long. With a few herbs and spices added to the pot, the entire house will soon smell great for supper. The last half hour I add a bit of rice or pasta to the mixture and supper is ready with nice crusty bread and a glass of wine. Let the snow fall!"
Thanks Paul Parent!
Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
September 18, 2012

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