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Prepare now for garden-fresh taste this winter

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By Cheryl Steenerson

Well, you don’t need a calendar to know it’s July. The thermometer is telling us it’s hotter than a firecracker.
If you do nothing else this week, please wash your cars and leave the windows down at night. Anyone knowing of a rain dance please feel free. We need rain.
Our gardens need 1 inch of rain a week to grow well. The high temperature increases that need.
Though you may be tempted to water more frequently, the plants in the garden do better when given a good soaking once a week. This encourages deep roots, helping the plant to survive dry periods better.
As the harvesting begins, I thought this would be a good time to go over preserving methods. Those of us who preserve food from the garden are breaking out the canners, dehydrators and freezer bags.
Keeping everything as fresh as possible, until you have time to preserve it, is the tricky part.
Berries, beans, beets, corn, onions, peppers, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes can all be preserved in a variety of ways.
Preparation is important if you want it to taste garden fresh in the middle of January.
If you’re gathering through the week and preserving on the weekend, storage is important. Store the beans in a paper bag in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Put the ears of corn in plastic grocery bags and keep them in the refrigerator. Everything else just needs to be kept cool.
Let’s start with the root crops. Dig onions, potatoes and beets and then let them dry a few days on newspaper in a cool, dark place. This allows them to cure. Do not wash them. Just knock off the big stuff.
You can then leave them in a cool dark place for the winter.
Cover beets and potatoes with burlap or straw. Whatever kind of container you use, be sure you don’t have too many layers. They need a little air.
Leave 1 inch of green tops on the beets, and two inches on the onions. You can also use ladies’ nylons to store your onions.
Put one in and then tie a knot before you drop in the next one. Then hang the whole thing in a cool, dark place for the winter.
If you’re freezing berries, tomatoes, beans, squash or peppers you need to wash and dry them before you freeze. Slice the tomatoes, squash and peppers, lay them out on a cookie sheet, cover with wax paper and freeze them for an hour or so.
Then, put the slices in freezer bags and freeze for the winter.
Beans work pretty much the same way, except you don’t have to slice them. Snap off the ends of snap beans, wash, dry and then do the cookie sheet thing. Berries should be washed thoroughly, patted dry and then get the cookie sheet treatment.
I can my potatoes, corn, beans and tomatoes. If you’ve never canned potatoes, let me tell you, it’s wonderful. Yes, it’s a lot of peeling, but oh so fun when you can just grab a jar off the shelf, heat and eat.
I also dry tomatoes, peppers, and squash in my dehydrator. It takes a long time and uses more energy than I like, but it’s the only thing that works with my schedule.
You can use two window screens and the great outdoors. Place the clean and sliced vegetables between the screens, like a sandwich, and put them on a table or something to ensure air circulation.
Put them under some shade for a day or so, depending on the temperature. Don’t leave them out overnight.
I also freeze corn, whole and in the husk. Just drop three ears in a gallon freezer bag and put it in the freezer. It takes a lot of room, but when winter rolls around you can get the taste of summer in minutes.
Just pop the ear in the microwave for about 30 seconds. This will allow you to shuck it and cook it however you want.
Now, go check your hoses for leaks. We’re in a drought and we certainly can’t afford to waste water. Buy some new ones if you need them. They’re all on sale now.
Unless we get a reprieve from MotherNature, I think we’re going to be spending a lot of time with our hoses this month. Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.