Gardens are reaching harvest time, which means gardeners are thinking of storing their produce for enjoyment — during the winter as well as for next year’s gardening season.
The first thing people think about preserving is food — fruits and vegetables. But you also may want to preserve some flowers and the annual flowering plants you have grown this year.
What brought this to mind was our gladioli. Last year our glads had a major infestation of thrips, which resulted in damage to the leaves, which turned brown, and the blossoms, which failed to open properly.
After some research, I soaked the corms in a Lysol solution for a couple of days and dried them in our shed for a week before storing them in our cellar.
That method worked, but not completely. The glads grew a lot better than they did last year, with green and healthy leaves, but a lot of the blossoms have been wizened again this year, although some have been OK.
After doing more research, we have a new method for saving the corms. We will dig and dry them as we have done before. But we read that mothball flakes sprinkled among the corms will control the thrips and are planning to put some of them in with the stored bulbs.
In the spring, just before we plant them, we will soak them in a Lysol solution. One advantage of the spring soak is that you can plant the corms without drying them after the Lysol bath.
I’ll give you a report next year on whether this works.
Dahlias are another plant that we carefully save from year to year. The trick with dahlias is to wait until the plants have been hit by a hard frost before digging them. They have to be dried in the shed or garage before we put them in the cellar for storage. And it also helps to divide them. You need only one root shoot to produce a healthy plant.
We usually dry some hydrangea blossoms to help us get through the winter. The method we have always used is to cut the blossoms with fairly long stems, removing any side shoots and all leaves, and then put the stems in a bit of water.
You can use a simple bucket or a vase, depending on what you have and whether you want to display them before they dry.
Then you leave them alone until all of the water evaporates, and you have great dried hydrangea blossoms that can last for a couple of years.
A reader told me she has had success by hanging hydrangeas upside down in her garage.
I don’t know if that method works on hydrangeas, but Nancy did it years ago with “straw flowers” and other flowers she grew specifically to use as dried flowers.
She also insists on “keeping over” some potted plants such as gerberas and fuschias.
We have a wild collection of sedums that aren’t hardy in our gardening zone. Nancy puts them into individual pots on the window sills of three bedrooms. They go through the winter without a problem since a friend of ours told her to stop watering so often. She now waters once a month and the sedums do really well.
The gerberas and fuschias take more watering and aren’t as interesting as the sedums, I think.
KEEPING VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
Most people think about preserving food for the winter.
What we store most often is potatoes, and we are going to have a lot of them this winter.
I accidentally marked both an organic and a nonorganic selection of seed potatoes when we made our order from Fedco last winter. I had thought I would choose one or the other later, after talking with Nancy. But when she sent in the order, she put in for both of them — so we have twice as many as we need.
Some of the potato vines have died back already, and I have dug those — and given quite a few away. The rest we will store.
Potatoes want a cold — almost but not quite down to freezing — and moist storage area. We have insulated our bulkhead, and we store the potatoes there.
We leave a 5-gallon pail of water on the steps with the potato containers so that on super-cold nights — it has to be at least below zero — the water will freeze before the potatoes, and as a result keep the potatoes from freezing.
This is also the place where we store carrots and leeks, although we seldom have enough carrots to store and we leave the leeks in the ground until a major snowstorm is forecast.
The onions we put in a cool, dry space in the cellar, and have had good luck storing keeper onions until March.
Freezing berries is about the easiest method of storage.
With blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, you can wash them (although we don’t wash the raspberries), let them dry and put them in an airtight container. We had just a few raspberries left when this year’s crop came in.
Jams are an easy way to make berries last longer. The University of Maine Extension recommends a new low-sugar recipe, and you can find it at http://umaine.edu/publications/4039e/.
We also freeze a lot of peppers. You just have to wash them, chop them into the usual size for cooking and put them in an airtight container. And those have lasted until this year’s crop came in, as well.
The first frost could come as early as two weeks from now — Sept. 20 is the earliest I remember in Cape Elizabeth — or sometime in mid-October.
So keep an eye on the weather and get both flowers and food inside in time to preserve them for the winter.
Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: