Harvesting grapes

Do I need to wait until after the first frost to pick grapes? This year my grape vines are loaded. I’ve tasted a few and they are semi-sweet, but still somewhat tart. They are concord. We are to have weather around 37 degrees, maybe a little lower, Thursday night. Fortunately, the birds have ignored them so far, so I don’t want to lose what has turned out to be a bumper crop, but I’ve also been told that the first frost adds to their sweetness. Would appreciate your opinion.

Rose Wesolek
Mahaffey, Pennsylvania

It depends on how hard the frost is. A light frost will sweeten the grapes, but a hard one will soften them so you have to really hurry to juice them before they go bad. I’d pick ’em while they’re still good, if it were me. — Jackie

Tattler lids

Usually when I can, I remove the ring after the lid is sealed. I just ordered some Tattler reusable lids to try. Can I remove the rings on those one the lids are sealed?

Charlene Nelson
Casselton, North Dakota

Yes. You can. I’ve done it and they are happily sitting on my pantry shelves, nicely sealed after a year! — Jackie

Choosing a garden location

After 30 years of military service my husband and I just bought our dream forevermore homestead. Our question has to do with the spot we have decided on for our garden. Can’t seem to see that there was ever one on the place and well, we have red clay. We have an abundance of moving boxes. If we lay these out over the area and top them with dried leaves and manure and whatever else we come across, do you think the boxes will decompose by next spring and can be tilled in and help kill the grass etc. that is growing there now? Or if you have a better suggestion. We wanted to do whatever work we could now, to help us be more successful next spring.

Huntsville, Alabama

The moving boxes and leaves will probably work fine, but to be sure, why don’t you cover the whole works with a black plastic, after you water the leaves/boxes well. Weight the edges down and toss a few boards on top to keep it from billowing in the wind. The plastic will help “cook” the grass/weeds/seeds and speed up decomposition of your boxes. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. How exciting! — Jackie


  1. Jenny, Sandy is correct – and I think most any cardboard these days has so many chemicals it isn’t fit for a garden. Years ago using cardboard was OK and it is still done in Europe. If you put down leaves and other vegetative material, then as Jackie says, cover it with plastic weighted down so it won’t blow, it will probably be cooked down by spring. Clear plastic will give you a higher temperature than black plastic. You may have a cardboard recycling bin or company near by. But please don’t use those boxes whole or shredded where you are going to grow food. If you use manure you must ask whether the food plants the animals were given were treated with aminopyralid or clopyralid type herbicides (Milestone, Forefront) because these herbicides do not break down during digestion and are present in their unaltered active form in manure. The contaminated manure will kill any vegetation grown in it, including your vegetable plants, berries, fruit trees, whatever. Composting does not break down these chemicals. They are the most persistent chemicals being used for weed control. If your garden soil is contaminated with these herbicides it will be 2 to 4 years before you can plant anything in the soil. Any hay or straw you use for mulch may also be contaminated if it was sprayed or grown in soil where the chemicals were used. The mulch will also kill your plants because the herbicide is still active. These chemicals have been in use since at least 2008, so old hay/straw/manure could be contaminated. Please be very cautious about what you bring into your garden and if possible use only materials from uncontaminated organic farms.

  2. Jenny, Be sure to check and see where the boxes were made. If in China, DO NOT use them on the garden. The cardboard may be treated with strong chemicals for shipping. Our dog chewed on one and was a very sick gal for several days.

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