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MANY VEGETABLES WILL TOLERATE THAT 1ST BIT OF COLD WEATHER

SHARE MANY VEGETABLES WILL TOLERATE THAT 1ST BIT OF COLD WEATHER

If your tomato vines are still green, count your blessings. Most of us had a frost that finished them plus peppers, zucchini, melons, cucumbers, squash and tender flowering plants. Those crops will be a glimmer in our eye for a few months now.

That first snap of cold weather needn't eliminate fresh vegetables from the diet. The inevitable deep freeze is still in the future, but until it arrives, enjoy the cool-tolerant vegetables and the flavor, vitamins and minerals they provide.Broccoli is at its best, as large side- shoot growth is encouraged by cool weather after the center head is removed. Ammonium sulfate, a half cup per 10 feet of row, will supply the needed nutrient for this growth. Cabbage will tolerate several degrees below freezing and still be usable. Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family, and this above-ground turnip is frost-resistant. It will be succulent well into frosty weather.

Swiss chard is one of the most versatile of greens. Use the leaves as long as you're able (they've probably grown all summer!), then await more, which will come next spring as the snow melts. If you seeded a late spinach crop, it will also be edible after hard frosts.

Cauliflower isn't as hardy as the crops just mentioned but will survive light frost. On the other hand, brussels sprouts can go well into freezing temperatures, and their quality will improve. Some of the best of these miniature cabbages have gone to my plate as the February snow departed.

Root crops are in excellent storage after the soil cools, and the rains create high humidity to prevent wilting. Carrots, beets and turnips should remain in the soil until freezes kill the tops. In all but heavy soils, they'll be best stored right in place. Mulch with a thick layer of straw or leaves to avoid cold weather damage. I like to use leaves contained in a plastic bag. They don't blow away, and they're easy to move off the row after I've been able to find it under a deep snow cover!

Potatoes are a little more finicky about long-term storage. After the vines are killed down, leave them in the soil for the skins to set. Until the soil freezes, that location is fine. After digging, you'll need to supply them with temperatures as close to 35 to 40 degrees as possible for maximum quality.

The latest recommendation for root crop storage seems incongruous. That is, even though they require a very high humidity for maximum life, a drying period after digging will extend that time. If the skins on potatoes, beets, carrots and onions have a chance to cure in the sun for six to eight hours, there is less chance of rotting during storage. Small wounds and abrasions heal so that decaying organisms aren't so likely to enter in a damp environment.

This brings to mind a No. 1 priority when selecting crops for storage. Store only the very best and eat crops that may have slight blemishes now. Quality simply does not improve with time. Vegetables should be mature, firm and free from cracks or diseases. During harvesting and preparation, handle them carefully so they won't get cuts, scrapes and bruises that will reduce storage time.

Pumpkins and winter squash should be harvested when they have been nipped by frost. The vine is the best "storage" place until then. Leave at least a 1-inch stem. If picked without the stem, squash soon starts decaying in that area.

Even though acorn squash may look the same on the outside after being stored two to three weeks, the quality usually isn't as good. However, some of the large squashes, such as hubbard and banana, will keep for a much longer period. For storage, butternut and or buttercup squash are better quality and keep very well. And for a small family or a couple, the smaller squash is more practical.

Here are some hints in case your tomato vines aren't black:

-Pick fruits that are turning slightly pink or the ones that are in the green-mature stage. When green-mature, tomatoes turn from dark green to a light green or slightly white. There's no need to waste time and space storing small, hard, green-to-the-core tomatoes.

-Some people recommend pulling the vines and hanging them in the garage. I've tried it and, like others, have ended up with a messy garage floor. Green-mature tomatoes will ripen, but those that are immature will stay green and never turn color.

-When it comes to storing green tomatoes, people often make more work out of it than necessary. The tomatoes needn't be individually wrapped in paper. This only makes work, and it's difficult to know when they are ripe, so they often spoil before they are discovered.

Instead, place them on a shelf in a single layer or in a box in a double layer. This way it is easy to check them for ripeness or spoilage. They'll keep longer if temperatures aren't below 55 degrees. Ripen them at 70 degrees. Tomatoes do not need light to ripen, and if put on a sunny window sill they may burn.

A booklet, "Home Storage of Fruits and Vegetables," is available at the USU Extension, 2001 S. State St., Room S1200, Salt Lake City, UT 84190-3350. It costs $2 if picked up or $2.90 if you want it sent to your home.