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Thanksgiving in the Canadian garden

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Mark Cullen

I love Thanksgiving.
Perhaps it helps that I married a good cook. The food at Sunday dinner is certainly a highlight of the year, never mind the weekend. But more than that, I have been thinking about this dramatic trend across the country to “grow your own” and how it impacts on the way that we garden.
The incoming generation, the 20-and-30 somethings, are fostering a complete change of concept where food gardening is concerned. Notice how we now plant food plants with perennials in the flower bed.
So here you are, having jumped on the band wagon of the new foodies, with an abundance of tomatoes, squash, carrots and the like. What now? Time was you would dig it all up and stuff it in a root cellar. It was a hole that was dug deep into the ground and lined with field stone. Dark and damp, it was. A great place to retrieve the sustenance needed to get one through a long cold Canadian winter: you ate it before it went rotten, hopefully.
Today, of course, we have freezers, refrigerators and some pretty sophisticated methods for preserving fruits and veggies that our parents could not have dreamt of.
What to do with:
Tomatoes. If you still have lots of red tomatoes the answer is simple. Eat what you can and preserve the rest as tomato paste, spaghetti sauce or just skin them, bag them and freeze them for future use.
If you have green tomatoes you have a great opportunity to create something very special in the kitchen that is a real crowd pleaser.
If you wish to ripen the green tomatoes indoors and retrieve them from the plants before the frost gets to them, try this: use old oven racks or some other raised platform, place the green tomatoes on newspaper which is spread over the rack. Good air circulation is important. Place in a cool place. They will ripen in a dark room more slowly than in a bright one, but either work. Place them on the rack(s) with a centimeter or two between each. Turn them every couple of days and inspect for rot or mildew. Toss the infected ones onto the compost. I know people that have eaten tomatoes stored this way right into the first week of January.
Peppers: Harvest ripe peppers before they are hit by first frost. Wash in cool water and place in boiling water for five minutes. Remove the peppers from the boiling water and allow them to cool for one minute. Next wrap the peppers in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. Peppers will last up to 30 days with this storage method.
Winter Squash: Store only fully matured squash. Harvest before the first frost. Leave 3” of the stem attached. Keep the squash in a warm, dry and ventilated area for two weeks. Once the squash has cured you can move it into cool storage. The ideal storage is a cold room around 50-55 degrees. Store squash on racks so they don’t touch. Well-cured, fully-ripe squash will keep until late February.
Potatoes: Store potatoes in an unheated basement or garage insulated to protect against freezing. The best location for home storage is cool, dark and ventilated. Perforated plastic bags can be used to maintain humidity levels while allowing air flow.
Carrots: My Aunt Charlotte used to leave her carrots in the ground and cover them with an unopened bale of straw for the winter. As she needed them for cooking, she would send Uncle Tom out to the garden to pull the straw back and dig the fresh carrots out of the ground right up until the very hard frost of late December or January. Alternatively, you can dig up all of your carrots and “replant” them into bushel baskets filled with sharp sand. Keep the carrot tops intact as the root loses much of its nutrients shortly after the top is cut off. Place the baskets in your garage, preferably against the wall that is attached to your house where the temperature is about 5 degrees warmer. You will be “pulling” fresh carrots all winter long.
Apples: Harvest apples carefully to avoid bruises which will prevent them from keeping well. Late season apples are the best for storing. Harvest before the first heavy frost. Store apples in the dark, in shallow trays of shredded newsprint. The temperature should be cool but not frosty. An unheated basement or garage can be an ideal storage location as long as they are free from rodents.
Pears: Harvest pears before they are ripe and they will continue to ripen in storage. Separate bruised fruit and store those that are in good condition. Store pears in a dark location. Use shallow cardboards boxes lined with shredded newsprint. The storage temperature should be 30 to 32 degrees F.
Keep in mind that some veggies actually improve in flavour with frost. Leeks, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage fall into this category.
If your garden does not inspire you to give thanks for the bounty of this time of year, perhaps a trip to the local farmers market or to a pick-your-own market will do it for you.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, “The New Canadian Garden,” published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.

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