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After so much smoke, can harvest still be eaten?

Wash produce carefully, thoroughly to remove grit and ash

Kale leaves with ash
Ash collects on leaves of lacinato kale. Wrinkly leafy greens like these must be
thoroughly washed before being consumed. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

We’ve had smoky skies and falling ash for 25 consecutive days. These apocalyptic-like conditions make it difficult for anything to grow.

Still, our gardens persist. Green tomatoes continue to mature on the vines. Zucchini keeps growing rapidly. Apples, pears and persimmons are ripening on the trees.

But that leads to another question: Will what we grow be safe to eat?

Yes, but our harvest will need a little extra TLC before consumption.

The wildfire ash we’ve been experiencing should not harm most fruit and vegetables. It may give tomatoes and grapes a smoky or ashy flavor because their thin skins absorb smoke compounds.

Before eating, wash everything thoroughly, even crops such as melons or hard squash with rinds that won’t be consumed.

As for washing, follow these USDA recommendations:

Kale leaves in colander
A sprayer is useful in cleaning kale leaves after they've been
dunked for a few minutes in a bowl of water.

Leafy greens: The grit of ash can get down into the wrinkles of leaves (especially kale and spinach). Fill a large bowl or the sink with water. Submerge the leaves totally in the water and swish them around gently. Let sit for a couple of minutes, so grit can fall to the bottom of the bowl or sink. Remove leaves and place in a colander, discarding the water in the sink or bowl. Then, run the leaves under cold water, turning each leaf over individually. A sprayer works wonders for this task.

Sturdy fruit and vegetables: This includes beans, squash, apples and citrus. Wash thoroughly under a hard stream of cold water. Use a vegetable brush to softly scrub off grit. Let dry in a colander.

Delicate fruit and vegetables: This includes tomatoes as well as berries and ripe stone fruit such as peaches and pluots. Wash thoroughly under a steady but low-pressure stream of cold water, turning the fruit repeatedly as you rinse. Treat it gently to avoid bruising. Spread out on paper towels or clean cloth towels to dry.

When in doubt, peel. That goes for tomatoes as well as other fruit and vegetables.


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For week of Dec. 3:

Make the most of gaps between raindrops. This is a busy month!

* Windy conditions brought down a lot of leaves. Make sure to rake them away from storm drains.

* Use those leaves as mulch around frost-tender shrubs and new transplants.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they're dormant.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Plant one last round of spring bulbs including daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas. Get those tulips out of the refrigerator and into the ground.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers such as California poppies.

* Plant such spring bloomers as sweet pea, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Late fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from fall and winter rains.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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