Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Home Food Preservation

by cathym on July 26, 2019

by Judy Price and Diane Whitten

Jars of tomato products. Photo by Colleen Cavagna

There’s nothing more rewarding than producing your own food for self-sufficiency and health. But a large garden can produce so much that, when the summer’s bounty is ready to be harvested, there can be more than one family can consume before it spoils. Food preservation is an essential skill that will help you enjoy your harvest throughout the year.

People choose to preserve their garden produce for various reasons. Some do not like to waste food. Others are concerned about the additives in commercially preserved foods, such as artificial colors or preservatives, and choose to preserve at home for health reasons. Still other home preservers find that they can save money by growing and storing food, even considering the cost of soil amendments and watering when necessary. Perhaps you wish to preserve for one or more of these reasons, or perhaps for the personal satisfaction of seeing a shelf filled with food jars lovingly prepared by you and your family. In any method of preserving, there are ways family members of all ages can contribute. Research shows that a child is more apt to eat food that he or she has helped to prepare. Even the youngest can snap beans or crush berries!

Pressure canner (front) and boiling water canner (back).

Canning, freezing and drying are the three main methods of preserving food. There are two safe ways of canning, depending on the type of food being canned. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes and fruit, can be preserved using the boiling water or the atmospheric steam canning method. Either of these types of canners are not very expensive and are a good way to get started preserving. Boiling water and steam canners may also be used to preserve pickled and jellied products.

Vegetables have a low acid level and must be canned using the pressure canning method. This canning method creates temperatures exceeding 2400 F., necessary to destroy the Clostridium botulinum spores that only grow in low acid foods. This is the bacteria that causes the food borne illness Botulism. There are two kinds of pressure canners, those with dials that are read as the canner’s internal temperature rises, and those that are regulated by a weight over the steam vent. Which type you choose to use depends partly on the elevation of your home and somewhat on your personality. 

Freezing is the only method of food preservation that requires a continuous use of power. While the freezer section of a refrigerator/freezer appliance will allow you to store food for a fairly short period of time, if you want to store large amounts of frozen food, you may want to purchase an upright or a chest freezer. These dedicated appliances will allow you to keep food in excellent condition at 00 or even -100 F. Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve fruits and vegetables. Knowing a few tips will assure that your frozen foods will be safe and of high quality. Something as simple as blanching vegetables an appropriate amount of time, or packaging food only in freezer quality materials, go a long way to having delicious, high quality food you have frozen yourself.

Drying, one of the oldest forms of food preservation, is a good option for long-term storage, also. Microorganisms require water to live and removing the natural water from foods is a simple way to preserve them. Unfortunately, the high humidity level in New York State requires that dehydration takes place in a dehydrator. Those living in the southwest can air dry or sun dry fruits and vegetables. If New Yorkers try this for any food other than herbs, the food will become moldy before it is dry! 

Fermentation, an ancient form of food preservation, can extend the shelf life of produce four to six months, long enough to get you through the long winter months. In fermentation, lactic acid is formed, making the food more acidic so that spoilage microorganisms cannot grow. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles, and kombucha are known for their pro-biotic health benefits. If these foods are then canned, the probiotic advantages no longer exist, but they are still healthy

Cooperative Extension:
Best Bet for Home Food Preservation Instructions

Food preservation instructions change over the years as safer and more effective ways to preserve food are developed. Food preservation instructions are researched and updated by the USDA which then passes the latest information on to Cooperative Extension. Recent research has devised a safe way to can fish in quart canning jars. This research was done for USDA at the University of Alaska, where a need was seen for the indigenous people whose main sustenance is fish. The University of Wisconsin recently developed safe canning directions for using an atmospheric steam canner. This is a great advantage in areas of the country suffering from drought, as much less water is required than using a boiling water canner. 

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is the direct link to the USDA through its National Center for Home Food Preservation, accessible online to everyone at uga.edu/nchfp.

There is a wealth of information at this site from basic food preservation how-tos, such as “How to Use a Canner,” to more than 185 specific recipes that are guaranteed to be safe. There are tutorials, PowerPoint presentations, and much more for the home canner. Since botulism food poisoning can occur in low acid canned foods, it’s vital that you use a safe, tested recipe to keep your family healthy. Recipes on this website and other sites ending in .edu can be trusted resources for research-based canning directions. Beware of canning directions found on social media, which may disseminate unsafe methods.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Resources
Of course, there is nothing like a hands-on or demonstration class to learn home food preservation techniques and build confidence in your skills. Some county extension offices may be offering evening or weekend food preservation classes. The Master Food Preserver Program is a three-day intensive classroom and hands-on learning experience, offered in various locations around New York State. So far this summer, five well-attended workshops have been held. These workshops include the science of preservation (why we must do what has been researched and recommended), and special units on high-acid canning, low-acid canning, jam and jelly making and preserving, quick pickles and fermented products, freezing, and dehydration. If you would like to join the more than 760 individuals who have taken this workshop since its inception in 2006, contact the Cornell Cooperative hosts listed below. These workshops are taught by the authors. 

August 13–15 CCE Niagara County, Lockport, NY
host Amanda Henning, app27@cornell.edu

September 10-12 CCE Chautauqua County, Falconer, NY
host Emily Reynolds, eck47@cornell.edu

September 17-19 CCE Essex County, Willsboro, NY
host Linda Gillilland, llg46@cornell.edu

Judy Price and Diane Whitten are Cornell Cooperative Extension home food preservation experts. 

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by Michelle Sutton 

Homesteaders Sean Dembrosky in Trumansburg (Tompkins County) and Akiva Silver in Spencer (Tioga County) are making a full-time living growing nursery crops within a permaculture system. At its most essential, permaculture aims to mimic the structure of natural ecosystems to maximize productivity and sustainability. Food forests are a form of permaculture in which a woodland ecosystem is created with edible plants at every layer—trees, shrubs, climbing plants, perennials, and annuals. 

In these conversations with Dembrosky and Silver, the concepts of permaculture and food forests begin to come to life. There’s so much more to explore. Fortunately, both men are passionate about sharing their extensive knowledge. 

Sean Dembrosky (left) used his YouTube platform, Edible Acres, to introduce viewers to Akiva Silver’s channel, Twisted Tree Farm.

On Dembrosky’s YouTube channel, EdibleAcres, he and his wife Sasha have posted nearly 400 how-to videos for more than 40,000 subscribers; see also their website, edibleacres.org. Silver recently released his first book, Trees of Power: Ten Essential Arboreal Allies and posts technical and philosophical writing on his website, twisted-tree.net. He also hosts a YouTube channel, Twisted Tree Farm, and an online course—both focused on woody plant propagation.  

The forest-nursery at Edible Acres. Photo courtesy Edible Acres

SEAN DEMBROSKY / EDIBLE ACRES 

I grew up in northern New Jersey where my Mom converted most of our tiny yard into food production, so I was always immersed in growing plants. I went to college for fine arts with a focus on computer graphics, but I was always gardening on the side wherever I was renting or in containers if no land was available. 

The direction of my life was greatly influenced by an amazing professional photographer named Jon Naar who had traveled all over the world. A World War II vet who had met Gandhi, John was in his mid-80s when I met him. At his house in the middle of Trenton, he had a concrete backyard upon which he grew abundant veggies and fruits in massive soil-filled containers. When I came to a crossroads of either going all in on computer graphics or pursuing my interest in farming, John pushed me towards the latter. He saw where the world was heading in terms of fossil fuels and food security and thought that farming and sustainability would be a better use of my life.  

Edible Acres happened over time; it wasn’t a buy-the-land-and-start-the-nursery sort of thing. I bought degraded, very low-cost land on top of a hill in Enfield, New York and started planting trees everywhere, training myself in permaculture, and making an unlimited number of mistakes! One key connection was with Stephen Breyer of Tripple Brook Nursery in Southampton, MA, who showed me his nursery system. It was very feral and loose, a wild food-forest style that he would dig up plants to sell from. It helped me see what was possible; before that, I always thought nurseries had to be high plastic tunnels, drip irrigation … lots of inputs and extra work.  

At Edible Acres we are particularly interested in providing rapidly replicating plants for food forests. I see food forests as human-stewarded spaces that closely mimic forests or hedgerows, with an eye towards making food and medicine. Food forests are about the perpetual management of young forests; you’re hitting the reset button lightly, fairly often, to create the highest density, diversity, and number of interrelationships among all the species in the system—the plants, mammals, bugs—the whole shebang. This dynamic approach creates a really resilient and alive system.  

Our little permaculture nursery in Trumansburg fully funds our whole life and that’s pretty exciting. We like the place we’re at and don’t want to grow the business just for the sake of getting bigger. This spring we’re shipping almost 300 separate orders from our tiny garage to places around the country. 

This past year I’ve been particularly psyched with elderberry (Sambucus spp.) and black currants (Ribes nigrum), in part because with the massive deer and rabbit pressure that many people like us experience, these are shrubs that readily regrow after browsing. They are also easy to plant by cuttings by direct sticking in the earth; we can plant 15 to 20 per minute. The demand for nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa)—from people and rabbits—is astronomical as well. 

Humans love Nanking cherry fruits, and rabbits love to gnaw on the bark in winter. Photo Courtesy Edible Acres
Edible Acres grows sea kale (Crambe maritima), a perennial green hardy to Zone 5. Photo Courtesy Edible Acres

Plants have to be tough to grow here, and they grow stronger for it. Our main nursery has only one 10-x-30-foot area that has rabbit protection; other than that, 100 percent of the nursery is exposed to deer, rabbits, voles, and mice. We plant enough cuttings and seed to weather that pressure and still meet our financial needs. We have no irrigation, really poor soils as a starting point, very little sunlight, and the land floods in the winter and gets bone dry in the summer. In this way, it’s an intense testing ground! Once these tough plants get to gardens with cushier conditions, they really flourish. 

There’s this limiting idea that in order to practice permaculture you have to design everything out in advance, an idea that can keep people from starting. Speaking from my experience after 15 years of not designing, it’s fine to just start planting and learn as you go. Permaculture overarchingly is a wonderful framework, but more than anything it’s the principles (permacultureprinciples.com) and ethics that I feel have the most value.  

AKIVA SILVER / TWISTED TREE FARM 

Akiva Silver on his land in Spencer. Photo by Michelle Sutton

I became really interested in wilderness survival about 18 years ago and started spending all of my time in the woods to try to learn how to live off the land. However, the more time I spent in wilderness areas, the more I started to see that humans can have a positive impact on the world, like through planting trees. About 12 years ago, I started teaching myself plant propagation, focusing on trees and shrubs with food value for people and wildlife and medicinal and lumber value for people. It went from a hobby, to side income, to now selling more than 20,000 bare root seedlings of more than 100 varieties each year. 

However much I produce, I can sell, but I don’t care to grow the business any larger; I want to keep life simple, and I choose to be satisfied where I’m at. I have help in the busy spring grafting and fall harvesting and shipping times, but most of the year it’s just me. Being able to work from home is what I always wanted, and really it was building a website and doing mail order that made this all possible. My wife Megan homeschools our three kids: Forrest, eight, Cyrus, six, and Oren, three.  

Those who buy trees from us are gardeners, homesteaders, permaculture folks, wildlife conservationists, other nurseries, and even doomsday preppers. The wildlife conservation folks plant more trees than anyone, I find. They plant hundreds of thousands of chestnuts and chinquapins (Castanea spp.), hazelnuts (Corylus spp.), persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), apples (Malus spp.), pears (Pyrus spp.), and the like. 

Hazelnut is a permaculture staple because of its nuts, pollen, rapidly regenerating shoots, wildlife cover, hedgerow suitability, and more. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Fir0002, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Spring is grafting season, planting the whole nursery, getting it all mulched, and then by May I weed and water and check on things. In the fall we dig up everything. We have a big festival in the fall called Nut Bonanza, a celebration of nut tree crops. There are stations for people to experience different tree crops, so we do hazelnut oil pressing, make hickory milk, crack black walnuts, roast chestnuts, and make acorn flour.  

For someone who’s new to permaculture, I would suggest focusing on really easy-to-establish things that are high reward, like black currants and raspberries. These will build confidence to try more things. Start with building the soil and then putting in the smaller berry bushes. Eventually you can work your way up to fruit trees. Either way, you’ll want to spend significant time building your soil, much like you would prep soil for growing tomatoes—you’re striving for the crumbly, rich, well-drained soil that organic matter makes possible.  

Fruit trees don’t have to be difficult; it depends on the type and the site. Persimmons and mulberries (Morus spp.) are very easy to grow, as are some apple tree varieties. If someone is wanting to put in a chestnut orchard and they’re on a clay hillside where wholesale amending of soil is not realistic, I would encourage them to create big berms or mounds by scraping any available topsoil downhill, then plant on those berms. If you’re growing in sandy soil, the task is to get as much organic matter into the system as possible. It could be raking up all the grass clippings in the area. Use what’s around you and nearby—I live near a saw mill so I use sawdust, which works great, and I use manure from a local dairy farmer. There’s not one right amendment or planting method; it depends on what you’re trying to do and what’s available.  

In permaculture, I think the most important thing is to keep the soil covered. If you look at nature as an example, the earth naturally wants to be covered, either with plants or with leaves. If it’s not covered, all the organic matter is burning off really fast and nutrients are leaching out. Keep piling on the mulch, using materials around you, to protect the soil. The bacteria and worms and fungus are going to start working on that mulch, and that will make your soils alive. You can’t put those organisms there but you can create really good habitat and then the organisms will flourish—and they do the work of feeding the plants. 

You know how you get inspired about different things in your life, but the feeling can pass fairly quickly? If you can act on it, it can grow into something amazing—and those amazing things are what’s going to heal the earth. You can’t know what chain reaction your actions will set into motion. For example, scientists introduced wolves back into Yellowstone Park with the initial intent of controlling elk and deer populations. Cognizant of the wolves, the elk and deer stopped feeding in open areas, including along riverways. The vegetation along rivers then exploded with growth, erosion was controlled, beavers came back, and the actual course of rivers was changed—all because wolves were reintroduced. In growing plants or in life in general, it’s important when you have those inspiration bombs to light them—don’t just put them away. 

Trees of Power:
Ten Essential Arboreal Alliesby Akiva Silver

(2019, Chelsea Green Publishing)



Silver’s first book, Trees of Power, is broken down into two parts. Part One teaches about propagation and planting skills. Part Two explores ten trees (Arboreal Allies) in depth: 

Chestnut: The Bread Tree 
Apples: The Magnetic Center 
Poplar: The Homemaker 
Ash: Maker of Wood 
Mulberry: The Giving Tree 
Elderberry: The Caretaker 
Hickory: Pillars of Life 
Hazelnut: The Provider 
Black Locust: The Restoration Tree 
Beech: The Root Runner

In the section on black locust, for instance, Silver explores how many different kinds of insects feed on the leaves and how important those insects are for bird populations, and how the flowers are edible and produce a huge nectar flow (Silver says they taste like sweet peas). “Black locust transforms landscapes, like places where they blow the top off a mountain and leave a wasteland, black locust is able to come in and transform no soil into soil,” Silver says. “It can fix carbon and nitrogen out of the air at extremely high rates. It’s pulling stuff out of the sky and putting it into the ground to set the stage for other things to grow again in abandoned pastures, roadsides—anywhere that’s been degraded.” 

Another thing that makes black locust so valuable, Silver explains, is its rot resistance, which makes it ideal for boardwalks, docks, picnic tables, playgrounds, etc. New rules around docks, for instance, prohibit the use of treated lumber, so the options are tropical hardwood or black locust. “The demand for black locust is super high right now,” Silver says. “Fortunately, they grow so fast that by age seven to 10 you could be cutting the trees down and harvesting fence posts and they will regrow, giving you an endless supply. The regrowth on black locust with an established root system can be 10 feet in a year.” 

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor living in New Paltz.

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Almanac: July – August 2019

by cathym on July 25, 2019

Divide and replant bearded irises.

JULY
Ornamentals
Pinch back chrysanthemums and asters to keep them shorter and bushier. Stake perennials that tend to flop.

Deadhead some perennials and annuals to keep them blooming, others to avoid self-sowing and the plant’s wasting energy on seed production. 

Cut back mounding perennials such as geraniums, pinks, alyssum, creeping phlox, and aubretia when they are finished blooming.

Cut reblooming roses back slightly.

Keep container plants watered and fertilized.

Water newly planted woody plants. Ten to 15 gallons of water is needed weekly when rainfall is less than one inch.

Plan how to protect woodies from deer.

Keep water gardens full.

Deadhead Japanese tree lilacs as much possible to encourage more bloom next year and prevent unwanted seedlings.

Mowing the lawn as high as possible results in a healthier lawn with deeper roots more tolerant of drought and denser turf—this will prevent germination of some weed seeds.

Start some perennials from seed, but plan on overwintering them in a cold frame. 

It’s finally okay to remove narcissus foliage. This is also a good time to move the bulbs, or you can dig them up and let them dry for planting in September.

Move colchicum in early July. If you forced bulbs last winter, remove them from the pots and store them dry and cool for the summer (except for delicate bulbs like snowdrops). Watch out for narcissus bulb fly!

Divide and replant bearded irises. Destroy old or rotten rhizomes or those with iris borers. Do this before Labor Day to allow sufficient time for rerooting.  

Tour private gardens and arboreta. Take your camera and notebook to record ideas.

Mark colors of phlox and daylilies in case you want to propagate and share them. Photograph your garden and make notes of needed changes.

Check viburnums for viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) adults, especially if the shrubs were defoliated by the larvae. Consider a pesticide treatment to save the shrubs. Do NOT cut back branches just because the leaves have been eaten or damaged. Scratch the bark with your fingernail. If it’s green underneath, the branch is alive. Dormant buds under the bark will eventually develop into sprouts and leaves. Snip off and destroy the twigs that contain the VLB eggs. Although the egg-laying sites are most obvious in the fall, one actually has until April to trim the affected twigs.  

This is the last month to fertilize woodies without encouraging tender late growth that may not harden off in time for winter. It’s also the last month to prune woodies—except for dead or diseased wood.

Edibles
Early in July, emove peas and other early veggies and replace with either quick-growing veggies such as snap beans, cucumbers, summer squash, green onions, beets, kohlrabi, and radishes, or else cool-tolerant, slower-growing veggies such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, kale, peas, head and romaine lettuce, and parsley.

After August 1, only plantings of leaf lettuce, spinach, turnips, and radishes can be expected to produce a crop in a normal year in upstate New York—gardens in zone 6 near the lake have another week or two of growing season. Cover newly planted seeds with rowcover to keep them cooler and moist.

Renew the mulch in your veggie garden.  

Keep up with weeding! If you can’t remove all the weeds right away, at least don’t let them go to seed.

Cover blueberry plants with bird netting before birds discover the fruit. If it’s dry, water the plants well.  Use large buckets, with holes drilled in the bottom for slow deep watering and to measure how much you are applying. Before renewing the mulch, do a pH test. If the pH is higher than 5.5, consider broadcasting sulfur on the ground and watering it in before mulching. Your Extension office can advise you how much sulfur to apply based on pH.

Keep tomato branches inside their cages. Remove spotted or yellow leaves (put them in the trash). This will slow down early blight and septoria leaf blight. A layer of fresh mulch may help to interrupt fungus infection.

If you suspect late blight, take leaf samples or pictures to your local Extension office.

Continue to cut off curly garlic scapes as they appear to encourage larger bulbs. 

Pick raspberries every day, especially if the weather is wet or humid. If raspberries or other soft fruits look moist or misshapen, check for the maggots of the two-spotted drosophila fruit fly. Destroy all the bad fruit. If a lot of fruit has been set, you can then use rowcover to keep the fruit flies out, but this will also prevent further pollination. Also look out for the marmorated stink bug.

Keep your food plants weeded, watered, and mulched. Uneven watering may cause blossom end rot of tomatoes. Blueberry bushes are particularly sensitive to drought

Carefully guide melon and squash vines where you want them to go.

Renew or move the strawberry bed. Moving the plants now allows thorough weed removal and enough time to plant a succession crop (see above).

Keep the asparagus bed weeded. You shouldn’t be harvesting any longer. Watch for asparagus beetles.

Maximize basil harvest and prevent blooming by cutting plants back by one-third rather than just plucking leaves. 

Handpick Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles, etc. Look for the eggs on undersides of leaves. Use Bt insecticide on cabbage family plants, but remember Bt will also kill the caterpillars of desirable butterflies. Grow extra parsley, dill, or fennel to have more black swallowtails, and leave common milkweed in rough areas for monarch caterpillars.

If you have a lot of apples or crabapples, thinning the fruit may reduce the tendency to biennial bearing that might result.

AUGUST
Ornamentals

Continue to water newly planted woodies (see July). Plant evergreens by mid-September in order to establish before winter.

In late August, plant corms of either colchicums or the true autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus, etc.) as soon as they are available.

Nursery stock goes on sale and may be a good moneysaver if it has been well cared for. Score the rootball of pot bound plants with vertical cuts to ensure root growth into the surrounding soil. If rain is insufficient, water weekly. Continue watering until the ground freezes.

In late August, preferably before the end of September, move and/or divide some of the hardier perennials, especially the spring-blooming ones.

Order bulbs for fall planting to get the best selection of varieties. Many spring-blooming bulbs are deer-resistant, such as allium, winter aconite, snowdrop, leucojum (snowflake), Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow, puschkinia, fritillaria, and Anemone blanda. Grape hyacinths send up fall foliage, but even when it’s browsed that doesn’t seem to affect their vigor.

Keep the lawn mowed high, but if a drought drags on, allow it to go dormant (brown). It will revive when rains resume.

Late August and early September is the best time to renovate a lawn or to seed a new one. 

Start protecting tree trunks from “buck rub” damage.

Late in August, bring in poinsettia and Christmas cactus to get them adapted to indoor conditions. Start exposing them to long nights (short days) for flowerbuds to set. After checking for insects, bring in houseplants before nights cool off too much outside and heating systems start operating. 

Edibles
In zone 5, August is the last month to plant early broccoli or cauliflower transplants, leaf lettuce, spinach, and turnip.  Protect them from the scorching sun with rowcover or milk crates.

Harvest garlic when the leaves are yellowing. Next you can weed the area and plant a late crop. Rotate garlic, so pick a new spot with lots of sun and good drainage. Sheet compost the new spot now, until planting time in mid-October.

Continue weeding, watering, and mulching as needed. Try not to get leaves wet to prevent spreading disease. Watch closely for tomato/potato late blight.

Keep harvesting beans, basil, okra, cukes, summer squash, eggplant, etc., for plants to keep producing. It’s okay to leave some peppers on the plant to ripen and turn color.

—Pat Curran and the Tompkins County Master Gardeners

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