Q: I buy my greens at the farmers’ market, but it’s open only on Saturday. How can I make the greens last until my next visit?
A: Farmers markets are great for buying fresh and local produce — but their usual once-a-week schedule can require a little extra know-how so that you can stock up without finding your food wilted at the end of the week.
After bringing home your purchases, wash the leafy greens thoroughly — being sure to rinse away all grit and dirt and any insects that might be hiding under the leaves of that head of lettuce.
Dry the greens in a salad spinner. Then wrap them in dry paper towels and slide the bundles into resealable plastic bags. Close the bags, and store them in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper.
To keep your greens and other produce as fresh as possible, separate them from certain fruits, such as apples, avocados, tomatoes, bananas, melons and stone fruits, which emit ethylene gas. Ethylene is generated during the ripening process and can accelerate the aging of fruits and vegetables nearby.
Q: What flowers and shrubs can handle the heat and don’t need much water?
A: Choose a plant that is drought-resistant and enjoys direct sunlight. If you’re in the market for perennials, try achillea, artemisia, dianthus, echinops, gaura or sedum, suggests June Huston, supervisor of the Kemper Home Demonstration Gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. If you want annuals, look for gaillardia, gazania or portulaca. Flowering-shrub options include caryopteris, callicarpa, pyracantha, rhamnus and spirea. Most of these plants hail from low-rainfall climates, so they are used to drought and high heat. In fact, they thrive in such conditions.
Place the shrubs or flowers in a spot that will give them partial shade during the hottest part of the day, such as near a tree, in a shade garden or close to a building that blocks the sun. Even plants that come from a locale that is hot and dry need relief from the heat.
Remember to add mulch on top of the soil, or mix in organic compost to boost the soil’s ability to retain water. When you water these plants, do so in the morning; that way, the heat will dry the foliage by the end of the day, and the plant will not contract one of the moisture-loving fungal diseases, like black spot on roses, during the night.
Q: Have you found a product that works well for killing poison ivy and poison oak?
A: Poison ivy is very common at my home in Bedford, N.Y., especially from May through July, when it smothers plants in the ornamental beds. Instead of killing the plants with chemicals or trying to cut them back, dig them out altogether using a shovel. Mike McGrath, a gardening expert and host of the public radio show “You Bet Your Garden,” also suggests saturating the ground, wrapping your hands in garbage bags and pulling out the root system by hand; when done, turn the bags inside out, over the poison ivy. Throw the plants directly in the trash. Wear gardening gloves and protective clothing and shoes throughout to guard against allergenic urushiol oil.
These extraction methods also work for poison oak, which is native to the Western United States; they ensure the plants are completely removed, not just dying. (Even dead poison ivy or poison oak plants can cause skin reactions on contact.) But given the risk of skin rash even with precautions, if the plants aren’t harming the garden (or near children or pets), it’s best to leave them alone.
If you do accidentally touch poison ivy or poison oak, act quickly — a rash will form in about 10 minutes. Thoroughly rinse the affected skin with cool water only, which removes the oil, unlike soap and other products. Don’t use a washcloth; it may become a new home for the urushiol oil and spread the rash to other parts of your body. Make sure you wipe off everything you touched, and then wash your hands.