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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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