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Crazy Squash Story

Neck Pumpkin on the vine

You could describe a neck pumpkin as a megagigantic butternut squash. This one is about 30 inches from stem to blossom end. At harvest it weighed 19 pounds. In central Pennsylvania, people favor neck pumpkins (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash) for pumpkin pie. This same squash appears (ripe) in two other photos in this post.

I had some fun with squash this year. Actually, I had a series of fortunate unlikely accidents. Each one was minor and seemingly unimportant, but when I think it through, the accidents together make a story worth sharing.

I present the accidents in the order they revealed themselves to me… but I’ve numbered them in chronological order. I hope that makes sense.

Accident #3: Windy Wipeout

I “acquired” a small section of one of our ornamental beds in 2013 to grow beans and zucchini. That worked so nicely that I used space the same way this year. As soon as the soil was warm, I planted a hill of zucchini seeds and mulched around the hill with autumn leaves that hadn’t broken down over the winter.

Whenever I checked the garden (daily when I was home), leaves had shifted to cover the hill. I’d brush them aside, but wind would move them back again and again. As seedlings emerged, I wasn’t home enough to keep up with the wind, and eventually leaves smothered the young plants.

Accident #2: Hedging Bets

I’ve been developing a “rain garden” and set new perennials along the bank in early spring. Among my plantings, several seedlings emerged that were obviously of the cucurbitaceae family (the Gourd Family). These would have to be volunteers from squashes I’d grown in past years, but I didn’t know which: Butternut, Neck Pumpkin, Blue Hubbard, Fairytale, or Zucchini. I decided to leave to seedlings at least until I figured out their variety.

Accident #4: Bad Redo

Hybrid winter squash vines

Before producing their first fruit, my hybrid squash vines had overtaken a huge swath of an ornamental bed. The plants were supposed to be zucchini which are very compact as squashes go so the behemoth hybrid winter squash plants were totally inappropriate. From the farthest squash leaves in this photo to the nearest is more than 20 feet. The mountain of leaves rising to the window is a stand of trellised climbing beans. Beneath them and a four foot stretch of squash vines is an azalea bush that puts out red flowers in spring.

I re-planted the original hill of zucchini seeds. At least that’s what I thought. I used seeds I’d stored in an unlabeled, folded paper towel. I was fairly confident these were zucchini seeds I’d collected over the winter from a very mature fruit I blogged about here: Summer Squash is a Choice You Make.

Soon, the volunteer cucurbitaceae seedlings near the rain garden revealed themselves to be zucchini. For a week or two I pondered removing the second planting of zukes from the ornamental bed; we’d never eat so much zucchini!

And then it became obvious that the plants emerging from my second planting of zucchini seeds weren’t zucchini plants. I was intrigued: What had I planted?

Accident #1: Cross Pollination

Turning back the clock to mid-summer of 2013 gets us to a defining moment for this year’s squash crop. I had Fairytale squash, neck pumpkins, and butternut squash growing strong, but the plants were still young.

Hybrid squash on the vine

The first fruit from my hybrid squash vines hung among the branches of a butterfly bush. I tried to imagine it was a weird neck pumpkin, but it hardly changed shape as it grew—it just got bigger.

One morning, a beautiful female blossom was prominent on a neck pumpkin vine, but there were no corresponding male blossoms. There was a male blossom on the Fairytale squash vines with no female fairytale blossoms to pollinate. I hated to lose a squash fruit, so I used the Fairytale blossom to pollinate the neck pumpkin. Had no idea if this would work, but I hoped it would at least fool the fruit into developing.

That and several other neck pumpkins eventually matured. We ate squashes, I preserved squashes, and I collected seeds from squashes. In fact, I gave away neck pumpkin seeds to readers of this blog.

Back to This Summer

In June of this year, I started two planters each with 4 neck pumpkin seeds on my screened porch and I set the seedlings in the garden in early July. From markings on the leaves of the “not zucchini” plants in the ornamental bed, I guessed they also were neck pumpkin plants. And then those “not zucchini” plants produced a fruit. It wasn’t a neck pumpkin.

Neck Pumpkin and Fairytale Squash

My hybrid squashes grew from seeds of a neck pumpkin (the very long squash in this photo is a neck pumpkin). In 2013 in a pinch, I had pollinated a neck pumpkin flower with one from a fairytale squash plant (perhaps from the very plant that produced the fluted round squash in the photo). Apparently, I collected seeds from that cross-pollinated fruit and, thinking they were zucchini seeds, planted them in spring of this year. Note the 12-inch ruler tucked under the fairytale squash. These are very large fruits!

The mystery squash plants grew aggressively, covering an azalea bush, climbing into a butterfly bush, stretching 20 feet along the wall through the rest of the ornamental bed, and five more feet into the herb garden. The plants, I realized had to be the result of that fateful cross-pollination in 2013: I was growing a hybrid of my own creation.

Photos reveal my hybrids are a sensible shape and color to have emerged from the cross. The fruits ripen to a creamy tan, just like neck pumpkins and fairytale squashes. The shape isn’t what I might have predicted, but it’s easy to imagine it as a morph between the two fruits. The fruits are bulky—reasonable considering neck pumpkins sometimes get to 20 or more pounds and fairytale squash might make it to 30 or more pounds.

Next Season’s Squash

I’ll collect seeds from my hybrid squashes and plant at least one hill next summer. If I can control it, I’ll pollinate these only with flowers from the hybrids themselves… which is what I did this year. It will be interesting to see the characteristics of progeny from the hybrids—I could get neck pumpkins, I could get fairytale squash, and I could get a variety of fruits that fall somewhere in between.

I hope the neck pumpkin seeds I mailed to readers weren’t hybrids. I know I collected unadulterated neck pumpkin seeds last year because the plants I started on my porch and moved to the garden produced neck pumpkins. I suppose if my readers got hybrids, I might have heard about it from someone by now.

Neck Pumpkin, Fairytale Squash, and hybrid of both

And hybrid makes three. I chose the cutest of my hybrid squashes for this pose. It’s not the largest of the lot, but it weighed in at a hefty 12 pounds. I’ll post about it again when I butcher it for a meal, pies, and what-not… a squash that size goes a long way.

 

Bloom Day After Freeze

Pea flower after frost

My pea plants have been in bloom for four weeks, but cool autumn temperatures have slowed growth. I’d bet many blossoms are all of four weeks old and still looking fresh. The few pods that remain from blooms that have dropped petals haven’t even hinted at thickening. I might have harvested them to eat as snow peas, but I couldn’t spot even half a dozen on 28 foot-rows of plants. A two-night deep freeze has finished off the pea plants.

Just last night we experienced a deep freeze—down to about 24F degrees. It was cold enough to wipe out almost all the annuals I grow in my kitchen garden except for lettuce; the lettuce still looks happy. The cold damaged my pea plants, however, so I definitely won’t get a fall harvest from them. Next season, if I do a second planting of peas, it needs to happen three or four weeks earlier than this year’s second planting.

Despite the cold damage, the pea plants are still in bloom. After that, I had to step out of the kitchen garden to find flowers for today’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post. There’s not much left, but some of it is beautiful. Please enjoy the photos.

Frost-killed cosomos

Still within my vegetable garden, every cosmos blossom woke up five days ago looking like this. It was a light frost, but the temperature reached about 30 degrees. There are cosmos in my garden because someone once told me to plant cosmos with corn and the corn wouldn’t attract ear worms. In two seasons of growing the combination, no ear worms… but that could be simply because the pesky insects haven’t yet discovered that I grown corn.

Petunia flower

Four feet away from my vegetable bed is an ornamental bed in which my wife planted petunias. Despite 24 degree nights, the petunias are in prime condition.

Rose in late autumn

I once returned from a trade show with some 24 young rose plants. Many survived under lights for three months until I could plant them outdoors. This blossom is on one of three plants in my herb garden. The plant is covered with beautiful pink blossoms and bright orange hips. I suspect a few more nights down to 24 degrees and the plants will finally shut down for winter.

Violet flower

I featured violets in my September Bloom Day post and am impressed that the plants are still in bloom. These are the over-performers of the year: they put out blossoms in early spring and kept at it through the entire season.

Forsythia in fall

There seem to be confused forsythia blossoms every fall and this is no exception. I found several dozen blossoms on my plants. I guess they’re anxious for spring but I’m glad to see most of the buds holding tight; I’d rather they join the show in March.

 

Wordless Wednesday at Autumn’s End

Autumn cornfield in central PA

 

Cruising Autumn in Pennsylvania Farm Country

Autumn at the farm

Weeds in the foreground provide a glimpse of some crop nearing harvest that stretches back to barns, silos, and storage buildings. Behind all that, a wooded hill shows off in early autumn. About five minutes by car from my home, this scene represents the beauty of Pennsylvania farm country in autumn.

Screamin’! As in, fall colors have been screamin’ for the past five weeks and I’ve enjoyed them more than I remember ever enjoying autumn. I wish you all could have joined me! Because that didn’t happen, I put together a slideshow. I hope you’ll have a look and let it inspire you to come through central Pennsylvania some year in mid October.

Sure, New England is the fabled fall colors capitol of the world, but you can do some rousing leaf-peeping from Pennsylvania’s Nittany Mountain mid-state through the glacial valleys that lead East, and up into the Poconos that tumble down to the Delaware Water Gap at the border with New Jersey. (I’m sure Pennsylvania’s “Grand Canyon” area is impressive as well.)

Colorful hill above a paddock

Autumn leaves provide a dramatic backdrop for what looks like a livestock barn at the end of a paddock. My wife and I used to own 21 acres of the hill that rises in the background of this photo.

Excepting for a few photos I captured in Ithaca, the scenes in the slideshow are within 20 miles of the Cityslipper Ranch (my house). When you decide to visit central PA, give me advance warning and there might be a bed available at the Ranch. Even if we can’t keep you overnight, there most certainly will be food from the garden and enthusiastic conversation to punctuate your trip. And autumn leaves, of course. Please enjoy the scenery:


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

 

Wordless Wednesday Sunset, 2014

Sunset in central PA

 

Gloom and Bloom Day Autumn, 2014

Cosmos

Why are there cosmos in my kitchen garden? Someone once told me that cosmos growing with sweet corn keep away corn ear worms. I still don’t know whether it works, but I’ve yet to find ear worms in my corn. This year, the corn didn’t do well, but the cosmos plants are about ten feet tall and bursting with blossoms.

There had been a power outage by the time I woke up this morning. It was raining. For a few minutes during the day, the rain stopped, but when I had a chance to get out to the garden and make photos, I got wet.

Lighting was horrible… my super-sophisticated camera struggles in low light, and cloud cover certainly kept the light low. Still, some nice things happened in the rain. Garden Bloggers Bloom Day corresponds this month with our average first frost date so it’s great to find blossoms pretty much everywhere in my kitchen garden. Photos tell the story.

Pepper blossom

My pepper plants have done well. I’ve canned a lot of pepper relish, chili sauce, and salsa. Also, we’ve eaten peppers throughout the summer. It’s sad to see blossoms and buds on virtually every plant and know that they all will be frozen off before they can produce fruit.

Tomato blossom

This may be the most raggedy tomato blossom ever to grace my blog. It is absolutely the last tomato blossom of the season. Amazingly, late blight had arrived by mid summer, but unseasonably cool, dry weather somehow held it in check. I harvested lots and lots of tomatoes before the blight came back to life and reduced my plants to blackened, shriveled masses. There’s almost nothing left.

Zucchini blossom

The zucchini seeds I planted in early spring got smothered by leaf mulch that wouldn’t hold its position around young sprouts. So, I planted more zucchini seeds and they grew up into enormous, sprawling winter squash plants. Apparently, I mixed up my seed packets. So, in late summer, I made a final attempt to rear zucchini plants. They have done well, and I’ve already harvested enough zukes to make me happy… but there are several more ready or on their way. Is that enough? Not for zucchini plants! This flower really wanted to open today, but realized its load of pollen would go to waste; I expect it to be in full bloom tomorrow.

Neck Pumpkin blossom

My winter squash—exclusively neck pumpkin this year—has been prolific. From two hills there must be close to a dozen fruits, and I have not been diligent about hand-pollinating. I’ve harvested a few, and more are ready, but I’m keeping special eye on a monster that hangs from the trellis and rests on the ground. When I stand next to it, the top of the squash reaches about six inches above my knee. That’s about 30 inches of squash and I’m guessing it’ll weigh in close to 20 pounds. I’ll post about it when I harvest in the next week or so. The photo shows one of about four winter squash blossoms that opened today.

Pea blossom in the rain

I planted pea seeds close to August 15th, figuring 65 days to maturity would bring them home just about today. They started blooming only two days ago, so I’m hoping for two or three weeks of seasonably warm weather; perhaps I’ll get a small harvest before snow falls.

Marjoram in bloom

Marjoram has been my favorite plant in this year’s kitchen garden. It has been in bloom continually since mid July… that’s three months of color and food for pollinators. I’m seriously considering propagating my marjoram to plant a larger corner of the yard.

Hydrangea blossoms

In the winter of 2012-2013, critters chewed my recently-planted hydrangeas back to the soil. In 2013, the plants bounced back only to be eaten to the ground in winter of 2013-2014. Despite the abuse the plants have gotten, one managed to put out a single cluster of blossoms very late in the season. I think they’re gorgeous and would love to see the plants grow up so they can spew flower clusters everywhere. No, hydrangeas have nothing to do with kitchen gardening. This winter, I’m putting a fence around them.

Gaillardia blossom

When I look over the fence from inside my kitchen garden, I can see an ornamental bed my wife has managed for many years. This was her breakout year: new perennials got established quickly, and annuals exploded, putting on quite a show. For the first time in many attempts, gaillardia looks permanent. I hope it survives the winter.

 

Blond Zucchini?

Green Zucchini

As long as I’ve known zucchini, it has been a dark green squash like the young one in this photo.

To some kitchen gardeners, the existence of blond zucchini is no surprise (though calling it “blond” is probably not normal). In my experience, whether store-bought or homegrown, zucchini is a dark-green squash. It never occurred to me there might be other shades of zuke, and I really didn’t care.

Until this summer.

You see, on one of five zucchini plants growing from commercially-package seeds, a squash developed that is very light, creamy green rather than zuke green. Of course, while writing this, I can’t find the seed packet. It was a late-season purchase to fill a hole in my vegetable production; I planted zukes in August because they grow and mature so quickly.

I do know it was a generic zucchini seed package. It named the variety and mentioned nothing about mixed colors. So… either the plants from which the seeds were harvested were open-pollinated and grew next to blond zucchini OR the seed that produced my blond zucchini experienced a random mutation.

My zucchini experiment

What does an overenthusiastic gardener do when faced with an oddity such as a zucchini of a different color? This gardener lets the stupid squash mature so the seeds become viable. I’ve several questions:

  1. Is blondness a dominant or a recessive trait? In other words, in a cross between a plant to produces dark green fruits and one that produces blond fruits, will there be more blond offspring or dark green offspring?
  2. Whatever color is dominant, can I coax more blond zucchini from this family line? You see, I hand-pollinated the flower from which the blond squash emerged. I used a male flower from a plant that produces dark green zukes. I didn’t know I was pollinating a blond zucchini plant (the leaves and stems look identical).
  3. If I can produce further blond zucchini plants, can I isolate seeds that will always produce ONLY blond zucchini? If so, I’ll have a unique variety of zucchini developed right here in my own garden.

Blond Zucchini

One of my zucchini plants produced a blond fruit! Granted, it’s hiding under leaf stems, but you can clearly see its color is creamy light green rather than the mottled dark green of my other zucchinis. I’m going to try to create a line of blond zucchinis. This is going to be fun.

To answer these questions, I’ll harvest the zuke when frost is inevitable. It should be pretty mature by then. I’ll collect seeds and start some indoors very early in the spring. Those should mature quickly enough that I can harvest seeds from the spring crop to start a mid-summer crop; with a decent growing season I can get two successive zucchini plantings in a season.

The first planting will be of seeds from only this zucchini. I’ll try to pollinate each plant using its own flowers. If that’s not possible, I’ll be cross pollinating from plants that may carry the blond gene so I’ll have a decent chance of seeding more blond squashes. Perhaps by the end of the 2017 growing season I’ll have a reliably blond line of zucchini descended from the freak in this year’s zucchini patch.

What fun! (And, my wife rolls her eyes.)

http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/plant-vegetables/blond-zucchini

Horseradish!

You Can Grow That!

Horseradish roots

After 17 months in my refrigerator, the horseradish roots my brother gave me looked pretty happy. Those are some seriously healthy-looking green leaves… despite that they’ve seen almost no light for more than a year.

How about a little horseradish with your steak? Once a year at Christmas, we have beef fondue with a collection of homemade steak sauces. At least two of those sauces include horseradish… horseradish from a jar. But that’s going to change.

In March of 2013, my brother gave me to horseradish roots dug from his garden. I was busy and so I left the roots wrapped in plastic in my refrigerator. I remained busy. Finally, on the last day of July of THIS year—fully 17 months after they went into the refrigerator—I took those horseradish roots out and planted them.

Horseradish character

I don’t have much experience with horseradish in the garden, but I recognize a character when I see one. Almost nothing survives more than a year in MY refrigerator. Granted, I’ve witnessed spontaneous generation in there, but not of anything I’d want to eat. Horseradish roots emerged unscathed from their long imprisonment.

Where to get horseradish

If your brother (or mine) isn’t going to give you horseradish roots, you might find some to plant in the produce section of a local grocery store. I’ve seen 12-inch pots of horseradish at garden centers selling for around $6.

From what I’ve read, you shouldn’t be shy about acquiring plants now, next week, next spring, or even mid-winter. If you can’t dig the soil to plant, you can probably keep a potted root going indoors. Or, cut off the leaves, dig the root, put it in an unsealed plastic bag, and keep it in your fridge until April.

I’d heard horseradish will spread in a garden, taking as much ground as you’ll allow. And, I’ve heard it’s very hard to dig up horseradish adequately to shut it down. Pushy plant.

So, I took precautions. Photos tell the story. You want fresh horseradish and plenty of extra to preserve for year-round steak sauce? You can grow that!

Containment ring for horseradish

I used an electric hack saw to cut the top and bottom thirds off a plastic 60 gallon food barrel. The middle third is an open-ended cylinder about 12 inches deep. Buried in the soil, it provides a root barrier for most plants. I hope it’s enough to control my horseradish.

Horseradish planting depth

After I set the two roots in soil, initial watering fully exposed the top of one of them. That naked root did nothing while the barely covered root put out new growth in just a few days. I covered over the exposed top and new growth came on almost immediately. From this I conclude: Plant roots so the tops are underground. (Please note this is not even vaguely scientific; it could be coincidence that the buried root grew when the other didn’t… )

Horseradish plants

From July 31 to September 10, this is what my horseradish did. I won’t harvest any this fall, and I’m going to let it alone in the spring. Had I planted it in April or May, I might try for a harvest, but two months hardly makes a full growing season. Christmas 2015? We’re having homegrown horseradish in our steak sauces.

 

Autumn in Lewisburg’s Community Garden

Cabbages!

Cabbages provide some drama at the Lewisburg Community Garden. If this is on a private allotment, some Lewisburg family is going to be sick of cabbage-based side dishes.

I stopped in recently at Lewisburg’s community garden and saw some impressive sights. Most impressive of all: tomato plants that had late blight lesions over a month ago had somehow survived, put out new growth, and produced even more tomatoes! I guess cool days and an amazing lack of humidity made the blight fungus uncomfortable and kept it from reproducing.

The community garden seems in peak season. It’s producing beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cabbage, raspberries, and even salad greens. There are gorgeous displays of flowers scattered throughout, there’s a large expanse of sweet potato vines promising a healthy harvest of tubers, and there’s very little evidence any plants are in late season decline. Photos provide some sense of what’s up at the community garden.

Lettuce and pak choi

Lettuce shouldn’t look like this in Lewisburg in early autumn. To be so mature, these plants would have to have sprouted and grown during the hottest part of the year; that’s when lettuce is supposed to bolt and produce flowering stalks. Significantly below normal cool could have gladdened any lettuce farmer in central PA.

Chard

Chard is a gorgeous food plant that could easily have a place in ornamental beds. There’s plenty of healthy chard in Lewisburg’s community garden.

Everbearing raspberries

About half of the tillable land in the Lewisburg Community Garden grows food for a local food bank. There is a spectacular stand of raspberry brambles that is loaded with ripe berries. I hope to learn what variety these are so I can include them in my own bramble patch.

Blue morning glory

The renter of a particular allotment in Lewisburg’s community garden clearly prefers flowers over food. The space resembles a cutting garden with a huge variety of plants just showing off. A morning glory on the fence has the most deliciously blue blossoms. For all the show gardens and garden shows, this is one of the most beautiful garden elements I’ve seen all year.

 

How Now, Chow Chow?

Sweet Peppers

Every chow chow recipe I’ve seen includes sweet peppers. Maybe I’ll use some of these.

I keep hearing about chow chow and how desperately I need to try making some. Since learning of this concoction of veggies (and sometimes fruit) that sends many home canners into orbit, I’ve noticed several articles and blog posts about the stuff. I took particular notice recently when I saw jars of chow chow judged at a local county fair. It’s time to take chow chow seriously!

I can’t tell you what produce should be in chow chow. Every jar at the county fair had its own mix of vegetable chunks. Honestly, none made me want to pop a lid and dig in, so I’m taking it on faith when enthusiasts tell me chow chow is to die for. Maybe I’ll chop some together from what’s left in my garden. I found a recipe on another blog I might try: (Southern Chow Chow from the Garden). Or… do you have a chow chow recipe you’d like to recommend? If so, please leave a link in a comment below.

http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/small-kitchen-garden/how-now-chow-chow

 

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