Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: If life gives you bushels of apples ...

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It is true that one bad apple will spoil the bunch, and if you don't have ideal storage conditions spoilage is a certainty. By ideal, I mean temperatures near freezing, high relative humidity, and carefully controlled levels of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Hmmm. OK, those are the conditions under which commercial growers store apples, potentially up to a year. The rest of us will have to make do with storing apples in the fruit bin of our refrigerators and hope they'll keep for a month. Of course, if you have picked and have been given eight bushels of apples, that bin is woefully inadequate. While it may be also be true that an apple a day will keep the doctor away, having to eat many more than that before the bulk of your apples spoil may result in a visit to the ER.

Besides making and canning a year's supply of applesauce, our solution to the apple storage problem is dehydration ... uh, the apples, not us. In our home, dehydrating apples is a team project. My wife, Pat, does the work and I watch. She begins the process by peeling, coring and slicing batches of apples. The sliced apples are then dipped in a solution of 1/2 cup of lemon juice in 2 cups of water; this prevents the slices from turning brown. Following a brief draining, the dipped slices are then placed on the racks of our electric dehydrator for drying. After dehydration is completed, allow the dried apples to cool before storing in plastic bags or glass canning jars. Though we place bags of apples in the refrigerator, they may also be kept in any cool environment. Expect dried apples to keep for six months to a year, depending on the storage method. For more information on drying fruits and vegetables, go to the website of National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu).

With the holiday season in the not-too-distant future, start dropping hints about food dehydrators and vacuum sealers, two indispensable pieces of equipment for those who value growing and preserving their own food.

IN THE GARDEN

Here are a few hints for anyone who gardens:

- Harvest root crops as needed, but leave the rest in the garden. Sort through root crops and store only those that are blemish-free. Store these in the coolest spot in the house. Don't wash root crop, i.e. carrots, beets or turnips, before storing for winter. Moisture on the roots will facilitate development of decay-causing fungi. If roots have a lot of soil attached, simply leave the roots in the sun for a few hours to dry, and then lightly brush off the soil.

- Buy some straw or set aside shredded leaves to use as mulch over carrots, turnips, radishes, parsnips, beets and any other root crop still in the garden. Just before the soil freezes, pile a deep layer of the mulch over these crops. This will allow you to continue to harvest well into winter.

- Pull up all vegetable plants and annual flowers that succumbed to the frosts this past week and place them on the compost pile. Work existing compost into the vacated areas of the garden.

- Sow seeds of spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula and other leafy greens inside a cold frame set up in the garden. Most leafy greens can tolerate freezing temperatures, but the cold frame offers additional protection and allows for late-season harvests. If greens are covered with frost, wait until the frost melts from the leaves before harvesting.

- Pot up some paperwhite narcissus bulbs for forcing indoors. One of the simplest ways to pot the bulbs is by placing a 2-inch deep layer of pebbles (e.g. pea stone) in a shallow bowl and then placing the bulbs on top of the pebbles. Additional pebbles will be needed to secure the bulbs in place. Maintain just enough water in the dish to reach the bottom of the bulbs. To prevent the leafy shoots of the paperwhites from becoming leggy and flopping, keep the bowl(s) in a cool location with bright light. Pot up several bowls at two-week intervals for continuous blooms through the winter. It takes between 6 and 10 weeks for the plants to flower.

- Collect and save seeds from some of your favorite annuals for use as seed stock for starting annual seedlings next spring. Non-hybrid varieties will flower true to form but seeds from hybrids typically revert to their original parents but will still produce attractive flowers.

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