Prepare Your Lawn Now for Next Spring

You may be tired of mowing and welcoming the dormant winter lawn, but if you want a healthy, green, lush lawn next year, there are some things you need to do now.

Mowing

At this time of year, late summer and fall, grasses are storing up energy, moisture, and nutrients to keep them going through the dormant winter. You will want to keep on mowing until it quits growing (you won’t have grass clippings after mowing). The last mowing should leave the grass two inches high. This helps keep grass from matting down under leaves and snow.

Watering

Continue watering once or twice a week in the morning if it doesn’t rain. One inch of water is a good amount for the fall lawn. Place an empty tuna can on the lawn and water until the can is full. This will give you about an inch of water.

Aerating

If your lawn seems to be too thick or compacted, it will benefit from aerating. You can use spiked “shoes” laced onto your feet to punch holes through to the ground below the roots, or rent a gas-powered, walk-behind lawn aerator which removes plugs of grass and dirt to allow more air to the roots. Follow with a thin layer of compost or sand.

Overseeding

If your lawn is thin or has dead spots, fall is the ideal time to overseed. Select grass seed appropriate for your area and spread thinly over the entire lawn. Water with a light mist until seeds sprout, then continue as needed. If you have dead spots, remove some of the dirt and another three-quarters of the surrounding grass. Fill in with good soil, spread seeds, lightly cover according to package directions, and protect with straw or chopped leaves. Mist frequently until seeds sprout.

Fertilizing

Fall is the ideal time to fertilize your lawn. Grasses that do well in the north, such as bluegrass, fescue and ryegrass benefit from feeding in early September and again in October or November. They will green up earlier in the spring.

Leaves

You want to avoid heavy layers of leaves sitting on your lawn over the winter because they can smother the grass. If you have only a few leaves and a mulching mower, then leaves can add nutrients to the grass as they decompose. With masses of leaves though, it is best to remove them, shred them, and add to the compost pile.

Using Raised Beds in the Garden

Now is the time to start thinking about building raised flower and vegetable beds for next year.

Building the beds is fairly simple and can be done in a couple of hours. The best size is either 3’X8’ or 4’X8’ or if you have the space 10-12 feet long side boards. Use 2” thick lumber. Use untreated lumber as treated can leak chemicals into the beds. Avoid walking on the beds as it compacts the soil.

How to Build the Boxes

Cut your long pieces to length. Cut the end pieces the width desired allowing extra for the two sides which will be outside the sides. Pre-drill holes and use 2-3 inch coated deck screws and put the pieces together. This is the basic box.

Building Up

If you need a taller garden bed, you can build a basic box, add legs, add 2X4s inside at the base of the box to support the bottom boards that will sit on the 2X4s. Leave a small space between boards for drainage. Put supports on the corners and in the middle.

You could also build 2 or 3 boxes the same size and stack them, anchoring them with outside boards on the corners and the middle.

Adding Soil

Filling your box is a matter of adding layers of organic material. Start with a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard on the grass or ground. Next add a layer of straw, a layer of compost, a layer of shredded paper, a layer of top soil, a layer of grass clippings, a layer of well-rotted manure and a layer of shredded leaves. Keep repeating the layers until the soil reaches the top.

Plant a Cover Crop

To keep the weeds from taking over, plant a crop of Annual Rye Grass and let it grow. In the spring, just cut back the grass and leave it on the bed for mulch. Plant your seeds or seedlings right through the grass.

Over the winter, all those layers will compost and you will have the richest soil you have ever grown in. The cover crop will deposit nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil as it decomposes.

Planting Perennial Seeds in Milk Jugs

Start saving your gallon milk jugs so you can plant perennial seeds for next spring. Here’s how it works. The clean milk jug acts like a mini-greenhouse for plants that drop their seeds in fall. These seeds, which in nature lay under the leaves and snow, need the cold period to germinate (cold stratification).

You can control where these plants grow by planting the seeds in milk jugs, then transplanting them into your flower beds where you want them. Reseeding plants in nature tend to get spread all over the yard and you still have to replant them where they will look the best.

You can prepare your milk jugs now for planting outside after first hard frost and the weather has turned permanently cold. For each milk jug, remove the cap and cut all around the bottom half of the jug – at least 4-6 inches up from the bottom – leaving the piece under the handle uncut to act as a hinge. Punch about 10 holes in the bottom for drainage.

When you’re ready to put them outside, fill the bottom half of the jug with potting soil that you have moistened. It should be damp, but not wet. Plant the seeds about 1-2 inches apart and 1 inch away from the wall of the jug. You don’t need to water at this point as the rain and snow will do that job for you until warmer weather in spring.

Flip the top back on the jug and tape the two halves together using clear duct tape or packing tape which will withstand the weather. Be sure to label your jugs outside, and it’s a good idea to put a plastic label stick inside also. Your mini-greenhouse jugs are ready to put outside in the snow.

By packing several jugs close together, they will be more stable in wind and snow drifts. Don’t place on the north side of any structure as they won’t get enough sun. In spring when weather starts warming up, open up the jugs during the day (55 degrees or better) and close them back up at night. Transplant after last frost.

Some perennials that do well with this process: Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly weed, Columbine, Cornflower, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Poppy Papaver , Shasta daisy and Coreopsis.

 

Using a Food Dehydrator to Preserve Food

A food dehydrator uses low heat and air flow to reduce the water content of food. This method helps retain nutrients, allows for longer storage, and inhibits many kinds of bacteria.

Use the Right Temperature

The drying time required for different foods varies depending on the water content of the food.The dehydrator will tell you the time and temperature for each kind of food either on the box it comes in or in the instruction manual.

Foods Should be 95% Dehydrated to be Stored

Dehydrated food pieces are done when they are hard and crunchy or breakable. If they are soft, spongy, or sticky, dry them longer. Set up your dehydrator away from open windows, air conditioners, fans and air vents as these may change the required drying time. It takes whatever time it takes to be completely dehydrated, so don’t rush the process.  Store dehydrated foods in an airtight container such as Ball or Kerr canning jars and in a dark, cool, dry cupboard.

Preparing Food for Drying

It is recommended that you wash all food thoroughly and spritz with an organic anti-bacterial vegetable cleaner.Wear gloves when preparing foods. You don’t want to get skin oils on your food.Steam all low-acid vegetables for 10 minutes, pat dry and place in dehydrator.

Dehydrating Appliances

Dehydrator trays have perforated bottoms on the shelves for air flow and even drying.Because you will need to place the food in a single layer, the size of your dehydrator may be something you want to consider when purchasing.You may prefer a dehydrator with shelves that or one that stacks.A good fan is an essential part of the dehydrator, so check the fan speeds when purchasing.

Foods that Dehydrate Well

Most vegetables and fruit will dehydrate successfully. Any fruit or vegetable that tends to turn brown when exposed to air should be soaked in a citric acid solution or a mix of half-lemon juice and half water.

For more information regarding the dehydration process and recipes, go to:

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/yummy-foods-dehydrate-1782.html

or http://momwithaprep.com/101-dehydrating-recipes/

Preserving Food by Fermentation

Basically, fermenting is a process where the starches and sugars in food are converted into lactic acid by the bacteria lactobacilli. This process gives the foods their unique sour smell and flavor and makes them nutritive super foods.

Sauerkraut is prepared by a process called fermentation. Years ago, ceramic crocks were used to ferment the cabbage. Today, most people use Ball or Kerr glass jars. Raw cabbage is shredded, pounded to release juices, and placed in a jar with salt and left to allow the acid-producing bacteria to do the fermenting. Yes, I said bacteria, but these bacteria, found on nearly everything are friendly, meaning they aren’t harmful to humans and they play a key role in the fermentation process.

The Process

In the case of sauerkraut, the bacteria is lactobacillus which you may recognize as one of the digestive enzymes. The process of making sauerkraut and other fermented foods is simple and easy and the taste of homemade sauerkraut is quite different from store bought. Salt added to the cabbage draws liquid out of the cabbage. The cabbage is submerged in its own brine and place in a cool, dark place to ferment. If you use air-lock lids, the lids allow carbon dioxide to escape while preventing oxygen from getting back in. Glass fermentation weights keep the cabbage submerged in the brine.

Other Vegetables

Cabbage isn’t the only vegetable than can be fermented and the fermentation process can be started with salt, whey, or a starter culture. The recipe you choose will tell you which to use as it may depend on which vegetable you are preserving. Kimchi is the Korean version of sauerkraut. Carrot sticks, radishes, garlic cloves, broccoli, beets and cauliflower are also good candidates for preserving by the fermentation method.

Storing Vegetables

When the process is completed, vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator. If you want to keep them longer, they can be processed in a water bath canner and stored on a shelf.

For more information and recipes to try go to http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/natural-fermentation/how-to-ferment-vegetables/

Freezing Fresh Produce

Freezing fresh produce from your garden or a farmers market is a quick and convenient way to preserve healthy, delicious fruits and vegetables to feed your family all winter. Freezing soon after harvest maintains the highest quality and maximum nutritional value of your produce. When you consider that produce you buy in the store may have traveled a long way and be days or weeks beyond harvest, it makes sense to consider other ways provide produce for your family.

Preparation

Plan to pick from the garden on the day you plan to process the food. Most vegetables will need to be blanched by dunking them in boiling water for a few minutes before packaging (see how below). Blanching kills microbes that may be on the outside of the produce and stops enzyme action that causes loss of flavor, color, and vitamins.

What to Freeze

You can freeze most vegetables, except those with a high water content like celery and lettuce. Frozen vegetables won’t have the same texture as fresh raw produce, but you will be cooking or heating them and they will maintain their flavor and texture. Fruit can also be frozen but it may be mushy when completely thawed, so you may want to plan to serve it only slightly thawed, or used directly from the freezer in smoothies and shakes. Freezing herbs is a great way to be able to use them in recipes if you don’t have plants growing in your kitchen or greenhouse.

How to Freeze

You need to eliminate as much air as possible from packages of frozen produce. It’s air that allows deterioration of your produce and ice crystals to form. One of the best ways to be sure all air is removed is with a kitchen appliance that removes all the air and seals the bag. This process will allow you to keep produce frozen for longer periods of time. There is also a hand-held tool and special bags with an airway that allows you to remove the air and seal the bags.

When to Freeze

Produce should be frozen as soon after harvest as possible. It’s important that your freezer is at 0 degrees to ensure a quick freeze. Only add a few items at a time as overloading the freezer will raise the temperature and quality will be compromised if they freeze too slowly.

For more detailed information on freezing go to https://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/freezing/the-science-of-freezing-foods/

The First Word in Canning is Safety

What fun to pick fresh vegetables and fruits from your garden and know you can put away enough food to last your family all through the winter. There are four major ways to preserve food:  canning, freezing, drying, and fermenting, but we’re just going to talk about canning today.

Preserving – When preserving food, safety really is the first consideration. Pick your produce early the day you plan to can as this is when nutrients are highest. Take them to your kitchen or canning station and wash your hands and your produce with soap and water. Rinse everything well and dry. Make sure your knives cutting surfaces and countertops are clean also.

Recipes – It’s important to use a recipe, from a canning book like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning if you are new to this process. These resources have tested methods and recipes. This is especially important if you are a first-time canner or haven’t done it in a while. Every ingredient in a recipe is important so don’t substitute, leave anything out, or add something extra. The recipe should tell you every step start to finish.

Equipment – A water bath canner should be used for high acid vegetables such as tomatoes, and fruit, sauerkraut, and fermented pickles. The water temperature should be boiling (at least 212 degrees) and cover the jars by a couple of inches.

A pressure canner should be used for low acid foods such as low-acid vegetables, meats, poultry, and soups. The high pressure prevents botulism and water bath canning doesn’t provide enough pressure for these foods which lack acid. If your pressure canner has a dial pressure gauge, be sure to have it tested for accuracy at least once a year. Your extension office may provide this service.

Canning Jars, Rings, and Seals – Make sure your jars are in perfect condition without any nicks on the rim. Wash and dry (or put through dishwasher) your canning jars and place them on a clean surface ready to be filled. Wash the seals and rings in hot soapy water, rinse and dry. Seals should not be reused as the they may fail. Be safe and buy new seals every year. You no longer need to boil seals according to the USDA. Use only Ball or Kerr brand canning jars. Other leftover glass jars are not made to withstand the heat and pressure of canning.

Different Kinds of Ladders

Every household where some DIY projects take place needs some kind of ladder whether it is a small step stool in the kitchen or utility room or a tall ladder to paint the ceiling or change a lightbulb, or something tall enough to reach the roof.

Ladders were originally made of wood, then evolved into steel, aluminum and fiberglass. Ladders made of steel are most often used in commercial applications like warehouses or big box stores. Aluminum ladders usually have a weight capacity of 300 lbs. and their light weight makes then easy to carry or move around. They do conduct electricity so they are not a good choice for working around power sources. Fiberglass ladders are also lightweight and do not conduct electricity.

Step stools are usually used indoors to reach high cupboards or shelves. They may or may not fold up or the steps may fold into the base. These are handy when you need to reach items above your normal access range.

 Step ladders are probably most popular for chores around the house. Step ladders have steps on one side and the back side is strictly for strength and stability. There is also a step ladder with a platform and safety bar on top. Most step ladders have leveling feet that adjust to steady the ladder on various surfaces. Be sure the ladder is seated very well and doesn’t wobble before you climb on it.

Extension ladders have two sections that slide together for storage or slide apart to extend the ladder for higher reach. The extension ladder doesn’t stand alone, so it needs a surface to lean against in order to be used. When determining what height extension ladder you need, remember that there is a minimum safe overlap where the two pieces cross each other. This overlap will affect how high your ladder can be extended.

Multi-Purpose ladders can perform many functions as a step ladder, extension ladder, or scaffold, and still fold up to a manageable size for storage. They may have what looks like two levels on each side as these reconfigure to perform different functions. Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully when configuring these ladders into their different uses.

Does Your Kitchen Include a Baking Stone?

Also called a pizza stone, a baking stone is a useful piece of kitchen equipment that can be ceramic, unglazed quarry tiles, or stone. Originally created to cook pizza like it had been cooked in a pizza oven, the stone absorbs water and helps crisp up the crust. It provides even heat and doesn’t burn as easily as foods cooked on baking sheets. Here are some other uses for a baking stone.

Crackers – Baking crackers on a baking sheet may not result in the crisp effect you want, but baking them on a baking stone will give the perfect results.

Potato Chips – Baking homemade potato chips is much healthier than store bought, but they may end up tasting too much like oil if done on a baking sheet. The baking stone, however will make them crunchy and delicious. Toss slices with a little olive oil, lay on preheated baking stone, add some salt and bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Bread – Baking bread on a baking stone will give it that golden brown crust and soft delicious inside that we love. Flatbreads like focaccia, naan, and pita work especially well on a baking stone.

Roasted Vegetables – For really crisp, crunchy roasted vegetables a baking stone can’t be beat. Like potato chips, a little olive oil and salt and your veggies are ready to roast until tender.

Cookies – Ever had cookies bake unevenly, with overbrowned or burned bottoms?  The answer to perfect cookies is a baking stone. You may need to increase the baking time by a few minutes and the stone should not be preheated for cookies.

Warming Platter – If you are serving a dish that needs to stay warm, the heat retained in a baking stone and placed on a protective pad on your table will help keep the food warm.

Caring for your Stone – for most foods, the stone should be preheated, and the food should be at room temperature. Putting frozen or cold food on a hot stone can crack it. These stones don’t need to be cleaned every time you use them. Some staining is normal, but brush off any loose pieces of food and remove any large pieces that may be stuck to the stone with a non-metal spatula. Baking stones are porous and absorb liquid, so don’t soak the stone or it could crack from water trapped inside next time you use it. Rinse quickly with water only after removing baked on pieces and place on a dish towel to air dry. Store in a dry place.

The First Word in Canning is Safety

What fun to pick fresh vegetables and fruits from your garden and know you can put away enough food to last your family all through the winter. There are four major ways to preserve food:  canning, freezing, drying, and fermenting, but we’re just going to talk about canning today.

Preserving – When preserving food, safety really is the first consideration. Pick your produce early the day you plan to can as this is when nutrients are highest. Take them to your kitchen or canning station and wash your hands and your produce with soap and water. Rinse everything well and dry. Make sure your knives cutting surfaces and countertops are clean also.

Recipes – It’s important to use a recipe, from a canning book like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning if you are new to this process. These resources have tested methods and recipes. This is especially important if you are a first-time canner or haven’t done it in a while. Every ingredient in a recipe is important so don’t substitute, leave anything out, or add something extra. The recipe should tell you every step start to finish.

Equipment – A water bath canner should be used for high acid vegetables such as tomatoes, and fruit, sauerkraut, and fermented pickles. The water temperature should be boiling (at least 212 degrees) and cover the jars by a couple of inches.

A pressure canner should be used for low acid foods such as low-acid vegetables, meats, poultry, and soups. The high pressure prevents botulism and water bath canning doesn’t provide enough pressure for these foods which lack acid. If your pressure canner has a dial pressure gauge, be sure to have it tested for accuracy at least once a year. Your extension office may provide this service.

Canning Jars, Rings, and Seals – Make sure your jars are in perfect condition without any nicks on the rim. Wash and dry (or put through dishwasher) your canning jars and place them on a clean surface ready to be filled. Wash the seals and rings in hot soapy water, rinse and dry. Seals should not be reused as the they may fail. Be safe and buy new seals every year. You no longer need to boil seals according to the USDA. Use only Ball or Kerr brand canning jars. Other leftover glass jars are not made to withstand the heat and pressure of canning.