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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 14

Your garden needs you!

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to reduce the chance of fungal infection and to conserve moisture.

* Feed vegetable plants bone meal, rock phosphate or other fertilizers high in phosphate to stimulate more blooms and fruiting. (But wait until daily high temperatures drop out of the 100s.)

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week.

* Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more. Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* It's not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers.

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