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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.

 

 

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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

Straw Bale Gardening – take 2

Guest speaker Jim Beard shares information about Straw Bale Gardening

I’ve done posts before on Straw Bale Gardening (see June 9, 2016 here), but I thought a repeat was in order as we’re all thinking about getting our gardens going for 2017. For those who not yet tried it, this might be the perfect alternative to creating a big vegetable garden. At our Garden Conference on April 1, guest speaker Jim Beard (subject of October 15, 2015 post here) had a wonderful presentation about the benefits of trying straw bale gardening.

According to Jim, you plant from the top the first year, plant from the bottom (potatoes) the second year, add it as a wonderful addition to your compost pile in year 3. There’s a little work involved, of course, but all good gardening requires some work!

I’d be interested in your efforts — let me know if it’s successful for you!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Expert’s Tip: Plants and Poultry

Scott Reuss, Marinette County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

Poultry are generally not an integral part of a garden design process.  However, for many rural (and a seemingly increasing number of city) gardeners, poultry do take part in a symbiosis of systems that allow for distinctly improved home food production capacity.  Since National Poultry Day is celebrated on March 19, let’s review some of the roles that poultry can safely play in a plant management system.

First, let’s think recycling.  The classic reduce, reuse, recycle theme is lived out almost daily when you successfully integrate poultry and plants and the neat part is that it goes both directions.  Nearly all poultry species are very proficient at utilizing fruit and vegetable waste products that come either from your garden or your kitchen, or the ones that didn’t quite stay in great shape in storage.  These types of feeds not only provide basic nutrient and energy needs, but also provide the types of compounds often missing in formulated feeds.  Recycled plant material, along with insects and other living plant tissue the birds may be able to harvest, help allow the meat and eggs coming from those birds to have the flavor, color, and textural profiles which many people crave.

Plants get into the recycling act, too.  Poultry manure and litter make great fertilizer, providing all the nutrients that plants need – albeit not always in perfect proportions.  However, there is the chance for disease or parasite transfer when utilizing manure in the garden.  We need to remember some general precautions to minimize such risks and keep ourselves safe.  The key words are time and proximity.

Proximity is pretty easy to consider.  If you are applying manure to a garden area in which you are growing fruits or vegetables, you are increasing the risk of health issues.  That is pretty simple.  However, it does not mean that you cannot or should not do so.  This is where time comes into play.  Try to follow the 120 day rule, if possible.  After placing a manure product into or onto your garden soil, do not harvest fruits or vegetables from that area for 120 days.

Yes, the 120 day rule creates timing issues for us Wisconsinites, as well as the Yoopers I often assist.  Generally, we need to apply manure in the fall to truly minimize risk in next year’s crop. However, we may be able to sneak in early-spring applications in areas which grow full-season crops, especially if they are above-ground or off-the ground crops (sweet corn, trellised vegetables, etc…).  Another way to minimize risk is to compost these products first, which adds in extra time and also decreases nitrogen management issues due either to burn potential of the manure or of too much carbon loading occurring if you use a wood product based litter.

Most poultry can serve in-season or end-of-season roles in the garden, as well.  Ducks can help you manage certain types of plant pests (insects and slugs mostly) in non-edible garden areas. Geese can serve as weed managers, as they are very good grazers.  Guinea fowl are very good insect eaters and are even known to eat ticks, but expect that these noisy critters will create issues if you have any neighbors within earshot.

Chickens are certainly the most common and have both risks and rewards in-season.  Their scratching tendencies can help you at the end of the season, as you can turn your flock into your completed gardens and let them find insects, edible plant material, and do some shallow tillage for you that minimizes some weed issues.  However, you may often find yourself muttering, if not outright hollering and chasing them, about their exceptional ability to move mulch from around landscaped areas if they get out or figure out how to get past your fencing.  They can also cause issues for young plants, potted or containerized plants, and some other areas if they achieve accessing them.

We cannot delve into all aspects of managing poultry and plants together or separately.  A few other points, though.  For the plants, make sure you are thinking through nutrient needs, nutrient loading, and your rotations.  You can maximize the benefit of the manure by placing it into areas which are going to need the most nitrogen the next year (sweet corn, potatoes, crucifer crops) and you can also minimize risks by not placing it into areas which will be hosting shorter-season contamination vulnerable crops such as greens, root vegetables, or ground-touching vine crops.

If you are considering adding poultry, do some research first and don’t succumb to buying those really cute chicks you see at a local store some shopping Saturday.  First, make sure you can legally have poultry in your municipality – contact either general municipal office or zoning department, if you have one.  Most rural areas are fine, but many cities and villages either restrict species, numbers, or sex of poultry allowed; or do not allow them, at all.

Second, you have to have a livestock premise identification number to house poultry.  It is free and easy to obtain, by going to http://wiid.org and having your location information and species of animals being housed.  Other points to consider are to be honest with yourself about why you want poultry, as the answer to that question will affect what you get, and how you house them.  Get good management information and housing suggestions by visiting your UW-Extension office, or go online to either the appropriate UW-Extension links below, or another University’s site. Below are two to take a look at:

http://fyi.uwex.edu/poultry/ UW Poultry Specialist Ron Kean’s main page

http://richland.uwex.edu/agriculture/poultry-and-rabbits/   Richland County UW-Ext. web page

If I were to start into actual poultry management, this article would become WAY too long.  So, please do refer to the web pages above, or contact Ron Kean or Adam Hady through their web pages above, or agents like myself and we will help you get the information you need to start your poultry adventure.

Keep your Kale thru Winter

Once the days are short and cold, you can’t expect kale to keep growing. But you can help it survive almost indefinitely. The trick, which also works for Swiss chard and other hardy greens, is to keep the soil around the roots from freezing.

Start by applying a thick blanket of organic mulch — straw or shredded leaves. That will be enough if you are in zone 7 or the warmer parts of zone 6. If it’s colder, use bales of straw and old windows (or clear plastic) to build a lean-to cold frame.

Place a row of bales close to the long side of the kale row. They should be to the north if the row runs east-west, to the east if it runs north-south. Put another row on top so you have a wall about 3 feet high. On each short side, make a sloping wall by butting single bales firmly against the back wall, then topping them with partial bales.

Now use the windows (or clear plastic sheeting) to cover the front, making sure the cover does not touch the plants. At the top, windows can just lean against the straw. Plastic should be draped and held in place on top of the bales by rocks or a heavy board. At the bottom, where the cover touches the ground, mound on a few inches of soil to hold it and seal out drafts.

At this point, you should have a structure whose sloping, clear roof faces south or west. Use loose straw to fill in any gaps in the walls. That’s it. Throw a heavy blanket over the cover when night temperatures are predicted to fall below 20ºF; and open the frame at the top on warm, sunny days or you’ll cook your kale before you bring it indoors. Don’t try this with root crops; mice and voles will colonize the bales of straw if you feed them beets and carrots!