Gardening Column

Food preservation questions? OSU Extension Service has answers

Are you planning to preserve food from your garden or purchased from a farm this summer? If so, call or visit the OSU Extension Service office before you start canning, freezing, or drying.

Costly and potentially harmful mistakes can be made by using outdated canning recipes and instructions. You can find free publications and pressure gauge testing (available from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays) at the Columbia County Extension office located at 505 N. Columbia River Highway in St. Helens. If you have questions, phone the office at 503-397-3462. You can download for free all our food preservation publications at An additional great resource is the National Center for home Food Preservation at

The OSU Extension Statewide Food Preservation Hotline (1-800-354-7319) is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. starting on July 13 and ending on Oct. 11.

Garden and landscape topics

Slugs hide when it’s hot.

They cram themselves into cracks in the soil or under boards or rocks. But with cooler weather in the forecast for a week or two, they may start foraging (and mating.) again. Survey at night with a flashlight and be ready to bait or chop if they threaten your tender crops or your peace of mind. The slugs we have in our gardens are not native to this continent but came with European settlement of North America.

Tomatoes get blossom end rot this time of year. It appears like a blackened, leathery patch on the bottom of the fruit. It is not a disease (at least initially) but rather due to skin and fruit cells dying in that portion of the fruit. The reason that they die is that they are short of calcium.

Calcium shortage can be reduced by liming your soils once every three years with agricultural lime at the rate of about 10 pounds per 100 square feet. It should be worked into the soil either in the fall (best) or spring before you plant. But that is not the whole story. Calcium is gathered into plants through roots. Once in the plants, it is shunted to fruits (your tomatoes) or the tomato shoots. The shoots win the contest for calcium if it is in short supply. Your fruits come up short and show blossom end rot symptoms. Some judicious shoot pruning can reduce the competition but don’t prune too many of the shoots off or you will have no leaves to make sugars to make tomatoes. Complicated isn’t it?

To stretch your brain further, if you water too sporadically and your soil gets pretty dry before you water again, when the roots start taking up water again, they grab lots of minerals but, at first, not much calcium. It is a rather balky mineral for roots to capture. Even watering throughout the growing season can prevent the interruption of the calcium flow and thereby reduce blossom end rot. Some varieties are more prone to blossom end rot than others. The first harvest of San Marzano tomatoes often has BER but the later harvests do not.

In summary, to reduce blossom end rot:

  • Lime every three years
  • Water evenly
  • Prune out excess shoots to reduce the competition for calcium
  • Make a note of which varieties are more prone to the problem in your garden from year to year

Fall and winter vegetables need to be planted this month or by mid-August. Good candidates are leeks (if planted right away), snow peas, kale, chard, lettuce in waves of plantings, radishes the same way, spinach, and overwintering onions.

OSU Master Gardeners™ Demonstration Garden at the Columbia County Fair

The Columbia County Fair starts Wednesday, July 14 and runs through Sunday, July 18. For 33 years, participants in the

Master Gardener program have managed a demonstration garden out at the fairgrounds. This year is no exception. The flower beds, fruit areas, pollinator displays, and other special areas like the shade and succulent beds are wonderful. It has been a challenge with the heat and Pandemic restrictions until recently. As always, there will be Master Gardeners there to answer your questions or guide to various areas. Plan on making a trip to the fair this year and stop by at the garden. It will be well worth your time.

Plant an extra row for the food bank, senior centers, or community meals programs. Cash donations to buy food are also greatly appreciated.

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Have questions?

If you have questions on any of these topics or other home garden and/or farm questions, please contact Chip Bubl, Oregon State University Extension office in St. Helens at 503 397-3462 or at The office is open from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and will be fully open in August.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) written/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call 503-397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at and click on newsletters.

Many Extension publications available online

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to Click on publications and start exploring.

For more information

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

505 N. Columbia River Highway St. Helens, OR 97051



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