Community Garden Countdown begins!


When it looks like this outside, it’s hard to believe that spring is just around the corner.  And there is no more certain sign of spring than the annual letter saying that it is time to claim your plot at the Dauphin County Community Gardens!

I got my letter.   That always makes me do the happy dance! It looks like the Gardens will probably be open by mid-March this year.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning.  Without a proper plan, you will have trouble making sure that your plants aren’t either overcrowded or taking up more space than they should.  Without a plan, you cannot rotate crops.  Finally, many who fail to plan end up annoying their neighbors by putting plants in places where they do not belong, such as walkways and even other peoples gardens.

Here is a proposed garden plan specifically designed for a plot at the Dauphin County Community Gardens.

The really cool thing about this Garden Planner is that it includes information about the types and NUMBERS of plants as well as their proper planting times.   This type of information is essential to know, especially if you PLAN secondary plantings for fall harvest.



I have been trying to get myself into a class for Master Food Preserver.  Typically, these classes are offered by Penn State at University Park.  I contacted the University about the class about two months ago, but so far I have heard nothing at all.  Nevertheless, I am soldiering on with this, and studying the latest science on proper and safe food preservation techniques.  Without the certification from the University, I cannot claim to be a Master Preserver; however, I have read enough about food preservation to be able to pass the best possible information on to you.



There are a couple of very important things about canning that I absolutely MUST emphasize to you for your own safety.

First of all, I cannot overemphasize the DANGER of using old fashioned canning methods. The internet has myriad websites where people have actually posted wrong information about canning.  I have read some hair-raising stuff that just scares me to death. These are the most popular myths to be wary of:

1.  If I am using heirloom vegetables, it is perfectly safe to process everything I harvest in a boiling water bath canner.

2. My (Old Aunt, Grandmother, Great Grandmother, Mother or other relative) used the boiling water bath method FOR EVERYTHING and served the food to us for years.  Nothing ever happened in our family and so I am going to use the same method.

Both of these ideas are WRONG and dangerous!  Heirloom vegetables, even those grown from saved seed are still dangerous if the method of preservation is not correct.  Heirloom sweet corn processed in a boiling water bath canner can poison you with botulism just the same as modern hybrid corn processed in a boiling water bath canner will. The point is that CORN CANNOT BE PRESERVED WITHOUT A PRESSURE CANNER.   And just because your older relatives canned in the old fashioned manner and family members somehow escaped death means nothing.  I am almost willing to bet money that stomach upset and the so-called stomach flu was common in those cases.  My daughter’s pediatrician once told me that there is no such thing as “stomach flu.”  He said that every single case of “stomach flu” he’d ever seen was actually food poisoning.  Family members probably survived the meal because vegetables were typically severely over-cooked in the old days, being very frequently boiled into near mush before being served.  This severe cooking process probably destroyed enough of the toxin so that a mere stomach upset resulted rather than death.

The other problem with the old fashioned methods is that there are NO SCIENTIFICALLY ACCURATE PROCESSING TIMES for low-acid vegetables in a boiling water bath canner.  I own a cookbook that is nearly 100 years old.  Some of the processing times indicated under the old methods are as long as 24 hours. How do you keep water boiling for 24 hours?  Someone  must stay up and be adding boiling water to the canning vessel constantly.  You cannot allow the canner to boil dry.  And even then, the results of the process are UNSAFE TO EAT because boiling water can never get hot enough to kill off all of the bacteria.

Preserving food is not the time to implement sentimental family recipes or processes.  I must emphasize that ANY CANNING RECIPES OLDER THAN 1988 ARE WORTHLESS.  Unless you have had those recipes tested in a University-based Food Sciences kitchen, you are taking a terrible chance.

Another thing that I must warn people about (and I think that I did blog about this) is the use of so-called reusable canning lids.  That’s a no-no.  These reusable lids have not been proven to seal and stay sealed properly.   Because of the sudden seal failure, the food can quickly spoil, leading to waste.

Finally, people have asked me why the canning recipes I have given are so very PLAIN.  The simple explanation is that food must be preserved or canned plain.  You see, canning is NOT the time for cooking creativity.  Fancy recipes, many of which have been handed down, are very chancy and some are even dangerous. The basic premise behind home food preservation is that you are PRESERVING the basic food for later use in recipes.  For example, potatoes should be washed, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares and simply processed with water and salt in a Pressure Canner.  The result is plain old potatoes, but those plain potatoes can then later be made into potato salad, prepared as hash browns for breakfast, added to casseroles, or even oven-fried.  You see, the recipe comes AFTER the preserved food is decanted from the jar, not generally before.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation website and the Ball Blue Book are the only places where there are recipes given that can be prepared for canning.  These recipes have been tested by scientists for safety.  I don’t believe that any other sources are trustworthy.

Finally, as the gardens are opening, probably next month, some little reminders:


Of course, you don’t want to forget that the Garden Registration this year is the FIRST full week of March this year, beginning on March 6 for people who had gardens last year and March 7 for new gardeners.   After the registration, the Gardens will probably be tilled and opened for planting very quickly.  About the only things that can be planted in the early Spring season are brassicas (Kale, Broccoli, Mustard Greens, Collards), lettuces, radishes, onions and peas. It is still way too early for things like corn, tomatoes and potatoes, and peppers.  I have seen many people attempt to plant corn in late March or April only to have disastrous results.  No corn should be planted until at least after May 10.

Your Etiquette

And with the opening of the Gardens comes the annual problem of some people forgetting their manners. Older gardeners fully understand these rules, but new people need a reminder.  First and foremost, please read the materials that are handed to you at the Registration.  There are rules and regulations for the Community Gardens that make the gardening experience enjoyable for everyone.  Use the garden maps to determine where your plot is.  DON’T REMOVE THE BLUE-TOPPED GARDEN BORDER MARKERS; if you do and your neighbors complain, you can be immediately banned from the Gardens.  Don’t  bring your dog to the Gardens–they aren’t allowed in there.  Don’t plant things in other people’s plots and  do not annex the paths and walkways to your garden plot as extra planting space. Finally,  do not allow your children to play with or on the water pumps–the pumps have pinch points that could injure little hands.


The next posting to this blog will include some brief reminders about garden preparation and I will give some suggestions regarding fertilizer.  As usual, please feel free to post comments and suggestions.










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