By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

If you don’t have your own garden, you probably buy your fruits and vegetables from the local grocery stores. All fruits and vegetables are required to have a sticker telling you where they came from. Of course, they are usually so small you would need to carry a magnifying glass in your purse to read them. Did you ever wonder how stuff from other countries is so fresh, (usually) when you get it? Cindy Tong, a post-harvest specialist tells all. 

Most of our apples come from either Washington state or New Zealand. New Zealand has winter when we have summer so the apples in the store now are probably from there. All apples from both places are picked in the fall and put into cold storage in a controlled atmosphere. This is high in carbon dioxide and low in oxygen. It keeps the apples in a sort of suspended animation. 

Since air freight is too expensive, New Zealand apples are shipped by container ships in specially controlled atmosphere containers. Then they are trucked to their final destination in container trucks. If you grow your own apples, keeping them in the crisper box in your refrigerator will lengthen their life so you can eat fresh apples at Christmas. Honey crisp apples may last well into spring with this treatment. 

We can grow apples, pears, pie cherries, apricots, honey berries, sand cherries, chokecherries and June berries here. June berries, also called Saskatoon berries are a great substitute for blueberries. Our soil is too alkaline to grow blueberries successfully. Of course, we don’t have the specialized containers to keep our bounty for months, but so what. Freeze or can what you can’t eat fresh. 

Vegetables can come from California, Mexico, or Central America. It is all hand picked then packed and precooled. Slurries of ice are poured on top of them, loaded into trucks and off they go. By the time you get them, many hands have touched your produce before you got it. It may have been fertilized by manure. Not only that, it has been sprayed by who knows what. It’s an excellent idea to wash any produce with a bit of soap before you put it on the table. Better yet, grow your own. 

About July 4th, is the time to bag your apples to prevent bug, worm or bird damage, and ensure a yearly crop. Remove all but one or two apples per clump. If you leave all 5 of the apples in the clump, the tree will have no place to start a new crop. It actually does this in mid- summer. The apples you bag will also be larger as they don’t have to compete with their sisters for food. 

When your June bearing strawberries are through bearing, the University Specialists suggest you mow the patch. Then thin out the older plants. This also gives you a chance to pull weeds that were lurking in the berries. If there are any flowers left, deadhead them, add new mulch and water an inch a week. If you planted new plants this spring, remove all flowers until mid-July. This gives the plants time to get well established before they become pregnant with berries. 

Remember, most tomato diseases are in the soil. Preventing soil splashing up on the stem or leaves will prevent most of them. A layer of 6 damp newspapers covering the soil around the stem then covered with grass clipping or leaves will do the job of preventing splash. 

Be a good gardener; take a walk through your gardens every day. This will help you keep an eye on any critter problems or beginning diseases. Besides, the walk is good for you.