Whether you’re growing your own or purchasing from your local farmers market, it’s high season for stone fruits and berries.
If you have a bumper crop or overbought at the market, freezing is a great way to enjoy these summer delights long into fall and winter. Freezing requires no special equipment. It is a quick and economical way to preserve the harvest.
To avoid bacterial contamination, be sure to clean your counter tops, colander, knives, trays and other equipment. Wash your hands with soap and water beforehand. Wash the fruit by filling a sink or deep container with cool tap water. Lightly scrub fruit to remove any soil or debris. Remove the fruit from the container with a colander or sieve.
You can freeze berries and pitted cherries directly. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet or flat trays covered with parchment paper. Place in the freezer. Once frozen, the berries can be put in freezing containers or bag. An advantage of this method is the berries do not clump together and small amounts used as needed.
Not all containers are made to store frozen food. Pick containers designed for freezing. They are moisture and vapor resistant, durable and leak proof. Date and label the contents in the containers with a freezer pen to prevent running and fading.
To prevent fruit flesh from darkening, treat light-colored fruit such as apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and apricots by dipping in a solution of ascorbic acid. It is available in powder form at pharmacies and supermarkets where food preservation equipment is sold. It is often mixed with sugar.
Natural anti-darkening methods include unsweetened pineapple juice, citric acid and lemon juice. Apples can be blanched for two minutes to prevent darkening. Other fruits, such as peaches, apricots, nectarines and apples are best preserved after blanching, a quick dip in boiling water and then a cooling bath in ice water.
Peel, core and slice apples before blanching them in boiling water for two minutes. When cooled, place in freezer proof storage containers. When needed, apples can be thawed and used according to any recipe.
Home-made applesauce can be easily frozen in freezer containers after cooling. Apricots can be blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds with skins on. When cooled, cut in half and remove pits. For peaches, remove skins after submerging in boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds and cooling in ice water. The skins should easily slip from the flesh. Drain remove the pit and slice.
Nectarines do not need to be peeled, but dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to prevent the skin from toughening. Treat with ascorbic acid, pineapple or lemon juice to prevent darkening and freeze. For more information on freezing fruits, visit nmsu.edu/pubs/_e/E321/welcome.html “Freezing Fruit Basics.”
Switching gears, let’s talk about an issue that may appear in the garden due to the arrival of the monsoon rains. Although we are thankful for the rain and the break in 100-plus degree temperatures, with the rain comes higher humidity, creating the perfect conditions for powdery mildew.
Powdery mildew is a disease caused by numerous different fungi than can infect almost any plant in the garden, from ornamental flowers and shrubs to turf and vegetables. Zucchini, squash and melons with large leaves are especially susceptible to the disease.
The lack of airflow and dense leaf coverage create a natural incubator (warm and humid) for the fungi to flourish. Symptoms of the fungi are powdery white blotches on the leaf that may merge and cover the entire leaf, stem or flower. It probably won’t kill your plants, but it can weaken them and make them vulnerable to other diseases, insect pests and environmental stressors.
To manage the disease, prune out infected parts of the plant. Removing some of the healthy leaves from squash and melons can increase air flow and reduce humidity under the plant. Avoid overcrowding. Remove fallen leaves and plant debris from the ground and place in the garbage.
Do not over fertilize with nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, creating dense leaf canopies that restrict air flow and increase humidity.
For more information, visit the NMSU Publication site, extension.nmsu.edu. Free virtual classes are offered from 3-4 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month with “Ready, Set, GROW!” and the second and forth Wednesday with “Gardening with the Masters.”
For upcoming classes and recordings visit, aces.nmsu.edu/desertblooms/ready-set-grow.html and sandovalmastergardeners.org/gardening-classes/gardening-with-the-masters-online.
Classes are free, registration required.