» Archive for September, 2012

Harvesting Pears

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose chrysanthemums in a variety of colors now. They are hardy perennials which will brighten your garden each fall.
    • Cover newly planted vegetable starts to protect them from birds. Spray cabbage and broccoli plants with BT to control cabbage worms which make holes in the leaves.
    • Plant snapdragons, pansies and violas for color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • Michaelmas daisies have bright flowers in purples and dark reds. These perennials come back every year to brighten the fall garden.
    • Lettuce can be planted from starts for a quick fall crop.

The Secret to Harvesting Pears

One advantage to growing your own fruit trees is that you can get tree-ripened fruit, a real rarity in the grocery store. But, unlike other fruits, pears will reach their best quality when ripened off the tree.

When left to ripen on the tree, most European cultivars of pears leave something to be desired in terms of texture and flavor. Tree-ripened pears often turn soft and brown at the core and have an excessively grainy texture.

Pears should be harvested when they are mature, but still hard, and ripened off the tree for the best eating and canning quality. The early varieties will take a few days to a week to ripen after harvest; later ripening varieties often require several weeks or more to reach best quality.

There are several indicators to know when to begin harvesting pears. The most obvious sign is a color change. Pick pears when their color changes from dark to light or yellowish-green but before they are fully yellow. The fruit should be relatively firm. The small dots on the skin should turn from whitish to corky brown. Fruit on heavily loaded trees usually matures a little slower.

Mature fruit of Bartlett and D’Anjou pears will separate easily from their spurs by lifting and twisting. Bosc pears are always difficult to separate from the tree and stems may have to be clipped with pruners.

Pears then have to be ripened indoors. Some pears such as D’Anjou require cold storage before ripening. Bartlett does not require chilling to ripen but D’Anjou and Bosc should be chilled for 2 weeks in the refrigerator away from other fruits and vegetables. Bring them out to room temperature for a week or so to fully ripen before eating them.

Bartlett pears generally ripen in 5 days, Bosc in 7 days and D’Anjou in 7 to 10 days. The longer pears are chilled, the shorter the ripening time when removed from cold storage. Pears are ready to eat when the flesh just below the stem yields evenly to gentle pressure.

If longer-term storage is desired, pick them when they are full size but still quite hard and chill the pears to 32° to 35° F as soon as possible after harvesting. Perforated plastic bags can be used to keep the relative humidity high. Be careful not to bruise or puncture the fruit as injuries provide an entry for decay organisms.

Although different cultivars of pears vary in their maximum storage time, most can be held from two to four months under ideal conditions.

Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree. They need no after-ripening storage period. They are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the spur or branch when they are lifted and twisted slightly. Sample the fruit regularly and harvest them when they taste good. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.

Learn how to harvest home-grown pears and enjoy the sweet, juicy fruit this fall.

Mums the Word

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Sow these vegetable seeds directly in the soil: carrots, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radish, spinach and root vegetables. Keep the surface of the soil moist until the seedlings are established.
    • Pansies and snapdragons can be planted now to replace summer annuals. They will give you color this fall, winter and next spring.
    • If your bearded iris blooms were sparse this year or the plants are more than four years old, now is the time to divide and replant them. Mix some bone meal into the soil, and plant the rhizomes just beneath the soil surface.
    • Lilac bushes will bloom better next spring if you cut back on the watering now.
    • Keep apples picked up from under the trees to help control the spread of coddling moths which make wormy apples.

Chrysanthemums are Fall Beauties

The Greeks named it chrysos anthos—gold flower. The Chinese have revered it for thousands of years and the Japanese made it their national flower in 910 A.D. Yes, chrysanthemums or “mums” as they are commonly called have been around for a long time.

Chrysanthemums make some of the best cut flowers around. They last up to two weeks in the vase, and give fresh color to the garden when nearly all other perennials have finished their show for the year. In your garden, they will grow 2 to 4 feet tall, and have long stems for cutting.

Fall-blooming mums come in a dazzling array of colors. The “fall colors” of yellow, gold, rust and magenta are very appealing. But they also come in pink, white, purple and lavender.

There are “cushion” or “button” types which form low, bushy plants covered with blossoms as well as tall varieties with larger flowers. Most mums have fully double with flowers 2 to 4 inches across.

When you buy mums, they are tight, compact plants in 4-inch pots, blooming at about 8 inches tall. They will never do this again! The growers treat them with growth regulators that keep them very compact so they will bloom nicely in a small pot. In your garden, they will grow 2 to 4 feet tall, and have long stems for cutting.

These taller varieties need frequent pinching until midsummer to encourage full, stocky plants and large blooms, and they should be staked to keep their tall stems from breaking.

Mums will bloom with little care, but they need pinching to grow bushy plants and have an abundance of flowers. Without pinching, they will grow skinny stalks and have few flowers. Pinching forces branching, and therefore, more flowers. No pinching should be done after mid-July to allow plants time to set flower buds for fall.

To encourage prize-winning blooms, pinch all but one bud per stem. Remember to remove dead flower heads to force more flower production. Don’t overhead water because this encourage blossom rot.

When mums have finished flowering, cut the stalks down to a few inches above the ground. They will come back year after year with more beautiful flowers.

Plant mums in the flower beds along the house or by a fence in a sunny place. The soil should drain well and be enriched with compost. Set plants 18 inches to 2 feet apart and feed them monthly through the spring and summer until buds form. Stop feeding when the buds show color.

Fill a container by the entry with bright colored chrysanthemums or fill a flower bed with a riot of vibrantly colored mums.

Enjoy this final burst of color in your flower garden, and cut some long-stemmed beauties to admire indoors.