In the Summer Kitchen. . .

Heat from the canners keeps the air conditioner running.  Bill was over 200 dollars this month, so I’m turning off the central air, loading up the room with fans, and opening the windows.   In the old days, people did all of their summertime cooking and canning in a little building separate from the house called a “Summer Kitchen.”  That way, the heat from the stove running would be kept out of the house.  How nice it would be to have a summer kitchen at my house!

(Summer Kitchen illustration courtesy of   

Canning Season Starting

Have you started to can and freeze the harvest from your garden?  I have.  So far, I have canned 17 quarts of white potatoes and 5 quarts of spaghetti sauce (which includes summer squash, peppers and onions from my garden) , and I have frozen 5 quarts of sweet corn, 3 quarts of cabbage, 3 quarts of broccoli, 3 quarts of green beans and 2 quarts of okra.  I have about 5 quarts of sauerkraut working right now. All this on top of the delight of eating fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes.   I have also donated cabbage, squash, onions and potatoes to the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program.

Several months ago I shared information about the proper way to can and preserve fruits and vegetables.  Here is yet another resource that you may use:   

National Center for Home Food Preservation


Here you will find the A to Z of how to put food by and enjoy your harvest for months to come, SAFELY.  Don’t let the plethora of myths circulating on the internet frighten you into not canning.  Here’s a great list of the most common myths and their debunks.

Overconfidence may also be a problem.  As I wrote in my canning piece a few months back, SAFETY FIRST!

A national survey conducted by the Center for Home Food Preservation in 2000 revealed a high percentage of the people who can their food at home are using practices that put them at high risk for foodborne illness and economic losses due to food spoilage.  I found a self reliance website where people were actually asking for canning recipes for meats and vegetables using Boiling Water Bath canners.  This is both foolhardy and dangerous.  It set my teeth on edge. The only things that may be safely canned in a Boiling Water Bath canner are vinegar-based pickles and sauerkrout, high acid tomatoes, and fruits (jams and jellies).  That’s it.  Vegetables cannot be canned using a Boiling Water Bath canner unless they are pickled in vinegar.  Meat cannot be canned at all in a Boiling Water Bath canner.  It just goes to show that many are using hand-me-down recipes that are very old, based upon old wives’ tales or family traditions.  This can be dangerous! Just imagine the horror of poisoning your family at the Thanksgiving Table!

Remember,  NEVER rely on any canning recipe that was published prior to 1988—this includes hand-me-down family recipes that have not be tested for safety.  To be perfectly safe, only Boiling Water Bath can fruits, pickles and foods that have been tested to be high in acid.  Remember that the new sweeter tomato varieties MUST be pressure canned unless you add a tablespoon of lemon juice to each quart jar.  If you don’t want to do that, use a pressure canner.   And take care to maintain your canning equipment, especially your pressure canner.  If your pressure canner has a DIAL GAUGE , it should be checked every year for proper operation.  If your pressure canner has a WEIGHTED GAUGE, it doesn’t have to be checked by an expert every year, but you should replace the rubber gasket seal and overpressure plug at least once every two years.  Immediately replace any worn or cracked canner parts. And if the canner has been accidentally DROPPED, it should be replaced.

Late Blight

“Late Blight,” a fungal disease of plants, is a serious menace that has made history.  You see, Late Blight caused the Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Famine, 1845 to 1852.  More than a million people died of starvation because the population was highly dependent on potatoes for sustenance and this blight killed off all the potatoes.  Late Blight is a very quick killer, often destroying plants within a couple of days.

This summer, scientists have confirmed the existence of Late Blight in Central Pennsylvania.  Maybe we won’t die if we get no potatoes, and for most of us the potato season is over anyway, but there is still the problem of Late Blight, which can still affect tomatoes and eggplant.   Unfortunately, if you notice any signs of Late Blight in your garden, you MUST DESTROY THE BLIGHTED PLANT by uprooting it and removing it completely, or else  blight will spread automatically to the healthy plants.

Some really good pictures of what it looks like on a tomato plant:

Fortunately, modern science gives the solution of spraying anti-fungals which prevents the Late Blight.

If you don’t have blight and you don’t ever want it in your garden, start spraying with fungicides.  I use the Bonide Product pictured above.  You may also use Daconil.  Tomatoes, eggplants and squash are sprayed at least once every two weeks. Both of these fungicides are available at Stouffer’s of Kissel Hill on Linglestown Road.  But any fungicide that is marked for use in vegetable gardens will do.  It is essential that you keep Late Blight out of your garden because it will keep coming back year after year and it will kill plants other than just potatoes and tomatoes.

Speaking of potatoes. . .

Digging Potatoes—New or Storage?

Some gardeners have asked me why we haven’t dug all of our potatoes up yet.  Simple answer is that we want potatoes that are ready for storage, and so we let them sit in the garden awhile.  For winter storage you need to wait until the tops of the vines have absolutely and totally died before you begin harvesting. This causes potatoes to develop the tougher skin that they need for storage.

Since Potatoes can tolerate light frost, you could leave them in the ground until the end of the garden season, but there is the problem of predation by insects and animals, so it is probably best to dig potatoes when the vines have died out and the ground is moist, but not wet.

Of course, if you are digging potatoes for dinner or immediate use, then do so at any time when the vines are dying.  These are known as “new” potatoes, and they are much more tender.  The skins of mature potatoes are thick and firmly attached to the tuber. If the skins are thin and rub off easily, your potatoes are still “new” and should be left in the ground for a few more days.

For more information on storing potatoes after they are harvested, see the article here:

And, of course, potatoes can be canned. . .

What’s buggin YOU?!?

Bugs have been a dreadful problem so far this season.  Corn has been infested with Sap Beetles and Earworms.  Tomatoes and eggplants have been plagued by armyworms, Colorado Beetles and hornworms. Sometimes I feel like we are at war. However, I think the worst problem has been this little guy. . .


This is a Cucumber Beetle.  The name stems from the tendency for adults of these beetles to be found on the leaves and flowers of melons,  cucumbers and squash. But these little nightmares will also eat corn, beans, onions, eggplant and tomatoes.  If you’ve seen tiny round holes in the stems of any of your plants, or you’ve harvested an onion with part of its bottom missing roots and mushy, then this is probably the culprit.

The two most common pests in this family are the striped cucumber beetle and spotted cucumber beetle, which looks very much like a green ladybug. However, unlike the ladybug, cucumber beetles are not considered beneficial insects. They are sucking invaders which harm crops.   Cucumber beetles are hard to kill and are a menace at all of their life stages.

Adults will attack the tender young growth of stems and leaves, and the buds and petals on your plants.  They also carry and spread the bacterial wilt, and mosaic virus.  When their eggs hatch they produce a little worm that tunnels into plants at ground level, destroying the roots.  The plant quickly wilts and dies.

Cucumber beetles can live through the winter in compost and weed piles so it is essential that you till all compost piles under at the end of the season and remove weeds completely from your garden.  Keeping your garden free of  weeds and debris is essential.   A weedy garden is nothing but a breeding ground for these pests.

Also, it does help to completely remove any plant that has been killed by Cucumber Beetles.  For those among us who are organic gardeners, dusting with Diatomaceous Earth, or spraying with Spinosad-based insecticides or Neem Oil Soap will control them.   Pyrethrin-based sprays also work well as controls.  What I generally use is “Concern,” a Diatomaceous Earth product, and “Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew,” which is Spinosad.  I have heard that Neem Oil produces an immediate knock down and kill of the Cucumber Beetle which is as effective as spraying with Pyrethrins.

And speaking of weeds. . .

Some gardeners have actually asked me and my husband how we manage to keep our garden so free of weeds.  There has been some speculation that we use herbicides.  NOPE.   A few months ago, I spoke in detail about controlling weeds in the garden.  One of the things I mentioned was the importance of having a good HOE.   A HOE is the most important garden tool you can have, even more important than the tiller.  Our garden was tilled only twice this year at the beginning of the season.  beds and rows were formed for the vegetables, and we never step in them so the soil is never compacted.  The ground is kept clear by regular application of very sharp HOES!  That’s all.  Regular hoeing with a hoe that is comfortable to use and SHARP does the trick.  We have four hoes.  A small-headed one for getting in between plants, a regular one and an articulating one for clearing out the paths, and a corn hoe that is used to hill up corn, potatoes, and greens.  Remember–you can’t just start using a hoe that you just bought from the hardware store or home center WITHOUT SHARPENING IT.  Hoes are not sold sharpened for safety reasons.  It is up to you to sharpen your hoe after you buy it. If a hoe cannot be sharpened, it’s no good, and there is no backbreaking labor like trying to keep your garden weeded with a dull hoe!

Here’s a good step-by-step lesson on how to sharpen your hoe:

Another appears on You Tube:  here a hoe is stone-sharpened–

Our hoes just cut through weeds like butter.  Weeding is effortless.  I can usually weed my large garden patch in about 45 minutes to an hour (three plots) and our single plot in about 15 minutes.   No herbicides needed.  A good sharp hoe is a gardener’s best friend.

Well, I promised to talk about drying veggies for storage, but due to time considerations, that will have to wait for the next post.  Also, in the next post I will be discussing how you can prepare your garden for the next season.  We are getting what’s left of our potatoes out and we will be prepping that plot for the end of the season shortly.  I should have some pictures as well.

As usual, comments are appreciated!


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