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A bushel of Honeycrisp apples.

The cooler summer weather suited apples just fine, says horticultural science professor Jim Luby. Luby helped develop the very popular Honeycrisp apple, pictured here.

Pumpkins down, apples up: Results from an abnormal crop year are coming in

Results from an abnormal crop year are coming in

By Gayla Marty

Published on October 5, 2004

It may not be Minnesota's worst crop year ever, but it's an odd one.

Killing frost on the nights of August 20-22 wiped out and damaged crops in the northern half of the state and a cold August was followed by a summery September.

A "frost team" to help support farmers after the August freeze morphed into an emergency response team for the floods that hit southern Minnesota a few weeks later.

The results: Big and small farmers over much of Minnesota took a big hit. Crop insurance claims are up; statewide corn and soybean yields are down.

In most parts of Minnesota, soybean harvests occur in October. Corn, which was slow to develop due to cool August temperatures, is still very wet.

"Much of the corn may not be harvested until the snow flies in order to get the moisture down," says Hans Kandel at the Crookston Regional Extension Center. "It's hard to estimate yet, but my guess is that we'll be coming in at 70 percent of normal yields."

Pick your green tomatoes

As long as you pick your tomatoes before they freeze, they will ripen slowly and you can enjoy them for several weeks.

>> If a light frost is predicted, cover tomato vines with blankets, sheets, tarps, or plastic.

>> Pick and store green tomatoes in bags or boxes in single layers. Sort weekly to throw out the rotten ones.

>> Another option is to pull the entire vine out of the ground and hang it upside-down in the garage or basement.

>> After a hard frost that wilts the leaves, pick and cook tomatoes immediately. Otherwise, they will rot quickly in storage.

>> Use green tomatoes to make mince meat pie (see recipe below).

>> Attend the Green Space Partners Green Tomato Festival, Thursday, Oct. 21, 6-8 p.m., St. Paul's Church, 2742 15th Avenue South, Minneapolis. For more information, see or call 612-278-7123.

--Source: Green Space Partners

Widespread freezes of corn and soybeans could show up later as slightly higher prices for beef and pork. Crop losses will also mean reduced tax revenue for the state. Even though an estimated 90 percent of Minnesota corn and soybean farmers buy crop insurance and will be protected from devastating losses, only good harvests and prices can benefit the economy.

Other crops hurt by the early freeze were oats, flax, canola, sunflowers, hay, wild rice, potatoes, and edible beans. Sugar beets escaped widespread damage, though their quality will be poorer due to the low number of sunny days. In the northwest region, wheat and barley will have normal yields but lower quality.

At the grocery store, consumers saw lots of cool-weather crops like kale and spinach but less local produce overall this summer. Most gaps were filled by out-of-state imports at the same or only slightly higher costs.

Minnesota's fledgling vineyards located mostly in the lower third of the state, which struggled during the cool summer months, made up lost time in the warm September; they are now expected to fare modestly well. (See UMNnews story, Seeking a cup of the cold-hardy )

We'll see fewer local pumpkins, a lot of green tomatoes, and a prolonged season of cool-weather crops like broccoli. Meanwhile, a great crop of apples is shaping up.

"Apples are actually having a very good year," says horticultural science professor Jim Luby. "The cooler summer suited them just fine. That's one of those silver linings."

Recipe: Green Tomato Mincemeat

Mincemeat made from green tomatoes is the up side of early frost, the equivalent of lemonade from lemons. It's an old-fashioned pie filling that also includes apples, raisins, currants, and spices--but no meat. Between the layers of my mother's pie crust, it's divine--the single thing that surpasses turkey and dressing in Thanksgiving memories.

1 peck (32 cups) green tomatoes
1 peck (32 cups) apples
1 Tbsp. salt
5 lbs. brown sugar
1 lb. white sugar
1 lb. currants
1 lb. raisins
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground cloves or 2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1 cup suet, ground
1 1/2 to 2 cups apple cider vinegar

Cut up green tomatoes and grind in a coarse grinder. In a large pot, cover with cold water, add the salt, bring to a boil, drain, and repeat for a total of 3 times. Peel and core apples and grind in a coarse grinder. Mix tomatoes, apples, and remaining ingredients. Boil 1 hour, watching carefully to avoid burning. Can and seal in quart jars or freeze. This filling is very rich. Two-crust pie can be made thin; or use equal portions of mincemeat and raw apples.

Compiled from various sources