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Vegetables: Sweet Potatoes are Super Foods!

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

landscape-1506015991-baked-sweet-potatoes-1Did you know you could grow sweet potatoes in USDA Zone 5a, 5b, and 6 in Wisconsin? Sweet potatoes, or Ipomoea batatas, are tender, warm-weather plants related to morning glories. They come from Central and South America, and need a long, warm growing season. They grow on trailing vines, with bush-type varieties for smaller spaces.

Usually you buy what’s called sweet-potato slips, which are unrooted cuttings. They arrive by mail, 4-6 inches long, for planting in late May to early June. Soil temperatures should be a minimum of 55º F, 3 inches down for best rooting. Test this with a soil thermometer.

Strip off the bottom leaves, leaving one node (growing point) and a couple of leaves on top. Plant node-end up, 3 inches deep in mounded rows about 18-24 inches apart. Leave 36 inches between the center of each row, or plant in hills with three or four slips per mound.

If the soil is dry, water it before and after planting. Keep slips moist while rooting, but drier once established. Don’t water the last three to four weeks before harvest. Watch out for voles because they love the roots!

sweet-potatoes-freshly-dugHarvest sweet potatoes before danger of frost in late September or early October. Handle roots carefully; they bruise easily. Gently remove dirt clods without rubbing. Don’t wash them before curing.

Curing sets the skin, heals wounds, and converts starches to sugars. Curing allows the roots to store much longer than those uncured. Ideally, cure them in a warm area for 10 days at 80º to 85º F and high humidity (85 to 90 percent), or next to a running furnace for two to three weeks at 65º to 75º F. Once cured, store in a dark location at 55º to 60º F. Don’t refrigerate! Wrap cured sweet potatoes in newspaper and store in a cool closet or basement. Store properly, they can last six to 10 months!

Sweet Potatoes Recommended for the Lower Half of Wisconsin

Cultivar Name                 Days to Harvest                                   Root & Flesh Color

  • Beauregard                     100                                        light purple skin, dark orange flesh
  • Bush Porto Rico               110                                             copper skin, orange flesh
  • Centennial                      100                                                   orange skin, flesh
  • Jewell                             100                                                        orange flesh
  • Vardaman                       110                                              golden skin, orange flesh
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The Learning Garden “Seed Tapes”

by OCMGA Master Gardeners Becky Hengel and Linda Adams

We started out by planning various beets and their companion vegetables and/or herbs. Another goal was to do successive plantings. Next, we made seed tapes from newspaper strips and alternately planted a lettuce/ radish and a type of beet, spacing the beets 6” apart, with some nasturtiums and marigolds for eye candy. The rationale was to pick the lettuce and let the beets get larger. The seed tapes were time consuming but easy to furrow a line and cover the tape. Overall, the seed tapes are not worth the trouble. The arugula got too big, some seeds fell off the tape and some did not germinate leaving gaps. The first beets were good but few. The corn lettuce was mild and interesting. The cylinder beets never got too big and the gourmet beets also were small or did not mature. What went wrong? As you remember the winter was brutally cold and long. Linda, not having lived in Wisconsin for 40 years decided that she would put something already growing immediately in the garden and as soon as possible. She planted four tiny marigolds and four small Brussel sprouts. They looked nice while nothing else was coming up, BUT took over and instead of going straight up, laid down and covered the second plantings. Ugh!! Well, it’s a learning garden. The cherry bell radishes were particularly good. We also had many friendly tomato plants emerge from previous years which also shaded the garden. So many plants, so little space; but it was fun!

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

The Learning Garden “Veggies”

by OCMGA Master Gardeners Peg Ebben and Lynn Coffeen

We worked together in a traditional garden plot approximately 8×10 ft and wanted to focus on growing veggies we had not grown before. We decided on several heirloom varieties. Our trail of Gold Marie pole beans did well as did the Cour Di Bue ox heart cabbage which was very tender. The Sweet Dumpling winter squash was very tasty. We also liked the round (pool ball) zucchini. But the squash would have fit our space better if we had grown them on trellises. Our choice of two heirloom tomatoes produced well, but grew too large and took over a large amount of our space. Our patio tomato did well (but produced less) and was a better size choice for the space we had. One of the best things we tried was the Lincoln leeks. They needed to be started indoors, but were relatively easy to grow and were delicious! Our over-all perspective was don’t be afraid to try new things, as most did very well, were great tasting and we were able to save seeds from some of the heirloom varieties. One important lesson we learned was to be more conscious of the space you have. Pick varieties that fit your space and or utilize more trellising. In all it was a very positive learning experience!

Reprinted from the OCMGA member newsletter from the winter of 2014

Kraut – good to eat and good for you!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

green-cabbage

No fat, low in calories, full of vitamins – what’s not to love?!

Everyone has a favorite vegetable, right? Mine has to be cabbage; I’m crazy about it in any form, but I’m particularly fond of sauerkraut — on everything. I’ve always had dreams of the big crocks sitting in the basement, slowly fermenting this luscious treat — but I don’t have crocks nor do I grow cabbage! Doomed to buy ordinary canned kraut at the supermarket, I was pretty thrilled to find an article by Karen Atkins of propergardens.com in which she relates the story of her friend Susan who makes homemade sauerkraut. Not only that, she shared recipes and tips on how to make your own.

Interesting tidbit: 1 cup of sauerkraut has only 27 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrates, yet provides 4 grams of fiber and 34 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C.

Susan’s recipe calls for 24 heads of cabbage and a crock she describes as hip-high. That seemed like a little more work (and a lot more sauerkraut) than I wanted to attempt. A Google search for home made sauerkraut will give you 479,000 results, from which you can cull one that meets your needs. I found mine in one called “How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar”. This one calls for 1 head of cabbage — something a little more manageable for a novice.

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Makes me drool just to look at the picture!

I’m pretty excited to be trying something new, and it makes me ponder once again how much our grandparents knew that didn’t necessarily pass down through the generations. As we all became more “citified” than our country cousins, getting things from the supermarket almost guaranteed that canning and preserving could have been lost over the generations. Thank you to those who learned it, teach it, and make sure that these valuable skills are not lost.

Through the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Master Preservers have rescued all of this knowledge and share their knowledge online, along with instructions for preserving foods safely. For more information, go to https://foodsafety.wisc.edu/preservation.html.

Additional tips for enjoying homemade sauerkraut:

  • Take a little bit out of the crock (or whatever container you’re using) every day and enjoy the changing taste of your sauerkraut as it develops
  • At room temperature, it adds crunch to your sandwiches
  • Add ribbons of sliced salami and caraway seeds for a pretty winter salad
  • Serve it warm with potatoes and fresh-cooked kielbasa (or bratwurst, for those of us living in Wisconsin)
  • Chop it finely in a 1:1 ratio with Thousand Island dressing as a dip. Serve with arugula and shaved pastrami-wrapped pretzel rods.

 

 

Lucy’s Corner (volume 2)

by OCMGA Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka

In June 2016, we posted a blog from our veggie expert Lucy Valitchka with helpful tips for growing a successful garden. The tips were arranged by month and covered the summer period of June into early August. Now, we’re pleased to be able to present a fall edition to help you put your garden to bed.

darzoves-67558444Autumn in the garden has its own special needs and is as important a time as the busy springtime. For those who planted their garden later, like this writer, there will still be vegetables or fruits to harvest. Here are some guidelines that might be helpful to all. These ideas came from experience, garden columns, Wisconsin Garden Journal Calendar and other sources.

September

  • If not done already, be sure to remove any flowers from melons, squash, pumpkins as they will not reach maturity before frost.
  • Remove flowers from tomatoes after September 1st.
  • Week 4 of September pinch out the growing points at the top of Brussels sprouts stems so bottom sprouts will reach maturity.
  • When onion tops fall over and brown, they are ready to harvest. Dig them and let dry in the sun for a day. Then store on newspaper for a couple weeks in a dry place. After that, remove dried tops and store in mesh bags in a cool, dark, dry place. I hang our onion bags on hooks in our fruit cellar.
  • Herbs should be ready to harvest. I spray the herbs with water to remove any dust, then let dry on layers of newspaper on our basement table. I put a marker by each pile of herbs, so I know the variety. When herbs are completely dry I remove stems and place herbs in small labeled jars.
  • Gather any vegetables or fruits early or late in the day, provided plants aren’t wet.
  • Refrigerate or process as soon as possible. Quality of vegetable or fruits is highest at picking time.
  • Harvest pears when still light green. Separate fruit from branch with slight twisting motion.

October

  • Gather squash, pumpkins and gourds when ripe and before damaged by frost. Leave a 2-inch stem on vegetable for better storage.
  • Harvest late vegetables or fruits. This is a time for apple harvest for us and cider processing at a mill near Elkhart Lake.
  • Rake up apple leaves and fallen fruit to control disease and insect problems next year.
  • Remove all weeds from garden before they go to seed.
  • Grapes should be ready for jelly or maybe a delicious grape pie!
  • Late tomatoes make great salsa.
  • Frosts can come at the end of September or early October. Watch the weather and be sure to harvest all tender crops like beans, tomatoes, peppers etc. before you lose them to frost.
  • Crops such as kale, spinach and Brussels sprouts will actually taste better because of a light frost.
  • Plant garlic in rich, well-drained soil 5 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep. Select larger cloves for large bulbs. Break bulbs apart into individual cloves. The end of the clove that was broken from the bulb should be planted down. Cover with 4 to 6 inches of straw mulch.
  • Remove all used plants from garden.
  • Compost plants free of disease potential. Do not compost vine crops and old raspberry canes. That would allow disease and insect pest “carryover” next spring.
  • Burn or dispose of diseased plants.
  • Cut asparagus plants to ground after hard frost and dispose of plants.
  • Sanitize tomato cages. I spray them with hose and then Clorox Clean-Up.
  • We gather fall leaves on lawn with a mulcher mower and deposit on our garden after all plants are out of the garden. Then the leaves are plowed under in the fall to help improve the soil texture. Some people prefer the no till method so mulched leaves could just be left on top of the soil to decompose during the winter.
  • If you have raised beds, apply above techniques accordingly

November

  • Mulch asparagus bed with chopped leaves or straw to protect crowns from frost.
  • Mulch parsnips with a foot of straw or marsh hay for winter protection. Mark rows with stakes.
  • Make sure tools are cleaned and oiled for winter storage.
  • Protect the trunks of young fruit trees against animal damage with wire or plastic rodent guards.
  • Plastic guards may also protect young plants from sun scald.
  • Sit back and take a well deserved rest from garden chores!

 

“If it is true that one of the greatest pleasures of gardening lies in looking forward, then the planning of next year’s beds and borders must be one of the most agreeable occupations in the gardener’s calendar. This should make October and November particularly pleasant months, for then we may begin to clear our borders, to cut down those sodden and untidy stalks, to dig up and increase our plants, and to move them to other positions where they will show up to greater effect. People who are not gardeners always say that the bare beds of winter are uninteresting; gardeners know better, and take even a certain pleasure in the neatness of the newly dug, bare, brown earth.”

—Vita Sackville-West

Shredded Wheat Straw for Vegetable Garden Mulch

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

Shredded Wheat Straw

One of the things I love about master gardeners is that we are always willing to share our experience and knowledge with other gardeners.  While at the last master gardener meeting someone mentioned to me that they bought bags of shredded wheat straw from Ace Hardware on Northland Avenue to use as mulch around their vegetable garden.   So being the curious gardener that I am I had to check it out.   I wish I could give credit to who told me this, but alas old age has affected my memory, or maybe it was too much partying in my wayward youth. 

Bag of shredded wheat straw

She was so right.  This shredded wheat straw is awesome.   Way easier to spread around the tomato plants than any other kind of ground cover.  It easily allows the water to get through and keeps down the weeds.  And at the end of the gardening season no need to rake it up, just let it decompose as an organic soil amendment.      

Like many vegetable growers I have tomato fungal disease carry over from year to year despite my best efforts to rotate the location.  It is either early blight or Septoria leaf spot or both.  The tomato plant leaves turn wilt, turn brown and die from the bottom up.  But we still get enough tomatoes and the fruit is just fine.  Hopefully the shredded wheat straw mulch will prevent soil splash and reduce the blight this year.   I have also been cutting off and disposing  the effected lower leaves at the first sign of wilt in hopes of slowing it down.

I am grateful for the information we gardeners share with one another and hope you find this gardening tip helpful.      

Rich Fischer

Rich’s tomatoes before and after applying the mulch:

Authors in our Midst and at our Garden Conference – #2

Author Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio was my inspiration to become a Master Gardener. At the time, she was the editor of Birds & Blooms and a Master Gardener herself. Since then, she has branched out to pursue her goal of being a published author — and has been wildly successful. With 15 published books currently available on amazon, Stacy was the keynote speaker at our Garden Conference several years ago and a vendor this year.

Stacy’s most recent book, Plants You Can’t Killwas written with an eye toward inexperienced gardeners but there’s a wealth of information in the book for those of us who can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong! Loaded with beautiful photographs, it’s a book that should be in every gardener’s library.

From the amazon page:

“I kill everything I plant.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Give yourself a pat on the back because admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And lucky for you, you can easily turn your brown thumb into a green one with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

Seriously—it doesn’t matter how many plants you’ve killed in gardens past. It’s time to put those experiences behind you and finally grow something in your empty and bare spots. This is the only gardening book you’ll ever need with more than 100 plant picks for every situation. You want veggies? We have ’em. You need to fill a big space? We have shrub ideas for you. You just want something pretty? We have plenty of that, as well.

The plants in Plants You Can’t Kill have been vetted by an amazing and famous panel of horticulture experts (this is just a fancy way of saying they went to college for gardening), so feel confident you’re not wasting money on yet another gardening book. These plants will actually survive your well-meaning, yet sometimes neglectful ways.

Ready for the most resilient, hardcore, badass list of plants known to gardeners? Find them and grow them with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman