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by Nancy Denison, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
Our September meeting was hosted by Dr. George Bird; MSU professor, research scientist, prolific writer and speaker. I’m sure he barely scratched the surface with his discussion of smart soils that night, but he certainly added to our knowledge of this fairly new domain of healthy land/garden use of soil.
Soil is organic matter consisting of dead/decomposing plant and animal matter and living organisms such as bacteria, nematodes, fungi, and arthropods creating a living system that takes in, regenerates and transforms to respond to the environment
Healthy soil provides a place for a plant’s roots, provides needed nutrients and water, allows oxygen movement, resistance to disease or poor growth, and allows organic matter to break down and release needed nutrients. Good management of healthy soil includes maintaining an appropriate level of organic matter, a stable water aggregate level, and minimizing biological or chemical disturbances.
Dr. Bird brought us to his “classroom” for an hour to continue our education in the creation of great growing environments. Thanks so much!
by Cheryl A. Gross, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
Canning most often takes place when fruits and vegetables are at their peak, preserving the best nutrition of the season. In case you haven’t noticed, that peak is the HOTTEST time of the of the year as well. Call me a wimp. I have processed canned peaches and tomatoes and made countless jars of jam, including raspberry, blueberry and peach, whilst sweating and dripping in my kitchen. Summer canned peaches are the best taste of sunshine in winter. Canned tomatoes, so high in acid, not so much. I now keep cool and use alternative practices.
My tomatoes are roasted, not canned. Sure, the oven’s heat is a nuisance in summer, but reducing tomatoes to their flavorful essence instead of canning is an excellent alternative. To 9 x 13 glass pans I add a glug of olive oil, a thick layer of chopped tomatoes, cored but with skin on. (If you prefer to remove the skin, feel free to blanch.) Salt and pepper or not. Onions or garlic or not. Herbs or not. Roast in a 375 degree oven until most of the moisture is evaporated. Then, I scoop a cup of these roasted, intensely flavorful tomatoes into freezer bags or containers. The volume reduction is a real saver of freezer space. Add a cup of these rich tomatoes to pasta sauces, chilis and stews throughout the winter season for a wonderful rich and deeply tomato-y flavor.
I prefer to jam in the off-season.
In July when raspberries are at their peak and you-pick farms welcome us in the morning, my husband and I pick quarts and quarts and quarts of fresh, ripe, juicy raspberries. Upon returning home with our fragrantly sweet haul, I pick-over, rinse, and mash bowlfuls of berries. Carefully, I measure 5 cups of mashed berries into freezer containers to be frozen within hours of picking.
In October or November once the furnace is on and it is nearing time to get out the humidifier, my husband and I set out to make three or four batches of raspberry jam using the pre-measured, mashed berries. On the stove sit the bubbling pots of water for jar sterilization, lid and band sterilization, canning, and the jam pot. The heat and moisture from the pots is welcome on a chilly day!
While I have not figured out how to procrastinate canning with peaches and beets, I keep cool by roasting our tomatoes and canning our jam in the off-season. Next up? Apple sauce.