Garden Talk: August 9, 2012

From NGA Editors

Safe Food Preservation

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Are you still putting up pickles the way your Aunt Agatha always did? Do you can your beans and tomatoes the way your mother showed you years ago? Although these passed-down recipes and techniques may be family treasures, they may also be dangerously out of date. According to Suzanne Driessen, food safety educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, safe canning recommendations have changed significantly over the years. "If you are using canning recipes that date before 1994, then it's critical to set those aside and find an up-to-date recipe that has been tested for safety. Older recipes could put you and your family at risk for botulism or other illnesses," she states in a recent University of Minnesota (UMN) news release.

She also cautions against creating your own canning recipes or tweaking ones that do meet research-based standards. What may seem like a minor variation, such as adding extra garlic or onion to a recipe, may change the acidity of the canned food enough to make it unsafe. Driessen also suggests making sure that all canning recipes, especially ones found on the Internet, meet current safety standards and notes that most canning supply company and university Extension websites provide reliable information.

One such current and accurate source is the UMN Extension Food Safety: Preserving and Preparing website. This offers the latest information on canning, freezing, drying, pickling, jam and jelly making, and storage. It also provides information by food type -- fruits, vegetables and herbs, tomatoes and salsa, meat and fish, and eggs and dairy. You can watch a 12 minute video that covers the latest research in home food preservation and view 20 5-minute food preservation modules that cover a wide range of topics from preserving herbs to pressure canning. You can even subscribe to a home food preservation newsletter that covers a variety of timely topics.

To check out this great resource and learn more about safely preserving your garden's harvest, go to: UMN Extension Food Safety.

Cast Your Vote

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Would you like to help pick this year's American Garden Award (AGA) winner and learn about some exciting new plants at the same time? The AGA, administered by the All-America Selections®Display Garden program, offers the gardening public the opportunity to vote for their favorite from among six new flower varieties chosen by flower breeders as the best for this competition. This year's selections include Angelonia angustifolia 'Serena® Blue', Begonia boliviensis 'Santa Cruz™ Sunset', Gazania 'Big Kiss™ White Flame' F1, Petchoa x hybrida 'SuperCal® Pink Ice', Petunia 'Surfinia® Deep Red', and Sunflower 'Goldie' F1 (pictured).

Voting is open until August 31, and the winner will be announced in September. Votes can be cast online, by texting a code on your phone, or by mailing a postage-paid card available at the 28 participating public gardens where the "contestants" are planted on display. So far, over 5300 votes have been cast. A list of AGA Display Gardens is available on the AGA website.

To learn more about the American Garden Award, see information and pictures of this year's entries, as well as past winners from 2009-2011, go to: AGA. Follow the contest on Facebook or Twitter (@AmerGardenAward).

Garden to Plate Safety

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Handling fruits and vegetables safely doesn't just apply to preservation methods. It starts right when we harvest our fresh produce. Keeping food safe from garden to plate is especially important if you use manure as a source of organic matter in your garden. This is because manure can be a source of the bacterium E. coli O157:H7, a relatively new and especially virulent strain of this pathogen.

J.G. Davis, Extension Soil Specialist, and P. Kendall, Extension Food Safety Specialist, both at Colorado State University (CSU), offer helpful advice on avoiding .E. coli contamination on garden produce in the CSU Extension fact sheet Preventing E.coli from Garden to Plate.

Some of their suggestions include locating your garden where there is the lowest possibility of contamination from fresh manure and manure-containing runoff, including runoff from uphill neighbors; keeping pets, livestock, and wildlife out of the garden with fencing; avoiding the use of fresh manure in the garden and never using aged manure on growing crops; composting manure correctly to minimize risks; making sure the water used to irrigate the garden is free from contamination; washing hands, clothing, shoes, and any garden tools that have been in contact with manure; and washing all produce well before preparing or eating it.

They note that recent studies have shown that soaking in vinegar is an effective way to reduce E. coli O157:H7 on fresh produce such as lettuce and apples. Just soak the produce in distilled white vinegar for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then rinse well with clear tap water.

To find out more about keeping your garden harvest safe from E.coli, go to: CSU Extension.

Love Em and Leave Em

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It won't be too much longer before leaves begin to change color and fall in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, all that organic matter falling to earth is too often raked up and discarded, taking up valuable landfill space and wasting all the soil-building potential that decomposed leaves can provide.

That's where the Love 'Em and Leave 'Em campaign initiated by the Green Policy Task Force of Irvington, NY can help. They have put together a website that provides information on the technique of mulching in place as a way to help the environment while improving the soil and saving both time and money. Mulching in place simply means shredding leaves where they fall finely enough that the pieces sift down through the blades of grass on a lawn, breaking down over the winter and adding organic matter to the soil. There's even a short video entitled Leave Leaves Alone! that demonstrates how to mulch leaves in place with a mulching mower.

If you are interested in promoting mulching in place in your own community, the website provides an extensive toolkit of resource files that you can use, from sample promotional materials and Power Point presentations to municipal resolutions and bumper stickers. There are also sections with resource lists for backyard composting and vermicomposting with worms.

Now is a great time to plant ahead for fall by learning about this technique and to consider working to make it a community-wide effort in your municipality.

To find out more about the Love 'Em and Leave 'Em initiative, go to: LELE.

 
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