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Posts Tagged ‘neck pumpkin’

As Gardening Season Ends

Tomatillo from my community garden plot

I started six tomatillo plants from seed and they were very happy in the community garden. I’d never grown them, and was impressed at how prolific the plants were. I harvested mid-summer and canned many pints of salsa verde which, by my estimation, is more about the onions and peppers than about the tomatillos. Unfortunately, chemo has suppressed my sense of taste, so I’ve no idea whether the salsa verde tastes good. The tomatillo plants continue to grow and produce, and I may have left more than 100 fruits to rot in the garden. It seems unlikely I’ll plant tomatillos in next year’s garden.

It has been a hard season. I’ve faced two huge challenges to maintaining my kitchen garden:

1. It has been unusually dry this year. What little rain we’ve had came over a two-week period in August and did more damage than it did good.

2. I had major surgery before the season started to remove a tumor from my pancreas. Subsequent chemotherapy failed, and an alternative chemotherapy regimen has kept me weak and nearly constantly uncomfortable with gastric distress.

I had some help from my wife and some friends. My wife prepared one end of the main vegetable bed where I planted peas and carrots. She erected trellises for the peas, and we both harvested when peas were ready.

When my wife was away, a group of friends visited one weekend and removed an enormous amount of weeds from the main vegetable bed.

Conjoined paste tomatoes

All 68 tomato plants are still growing well, but late summer brought quite the onslaught of tomato fruit worms. Most tomatoes remaining on the plants are getting devoured, but I’m still harvesting about a half gallon of decent ones every four or five days. This is a single, unusual tomato on a plant that usually produces pepper-shaped fruits. It looks as though two tomatoes merged at birth.

What truly kept me in the game was signing up at a community garden. There I got two 10’ x 20’ plots where the garden’s management applies composted manure, plows it in, and plows again a week or so later to stop the first growth of weeds—all before gardeners have access to plant.

It was crazy easy for me to plant my prepared community garden plots. The soil was loose and raked smooth; I had only to press seeds into the soil or set seedlings in holes I could dig with my fingers.

The community garden helped me manage the dryness challenge as well: There are faucets and hoses that reach every plot and I was able to water my plants every 2nd or 3rd day.

I’ve gone rather light on blogging about the garden. The cancer has diminished many activities that used to be easy or even fun. Rather than catch up on all the most interesting moments of the season, this post is about where the season’s ending. Photos tell the story.

Three gallon tomato harvest

This was a typical harvest—three gallons of tomatoes and a few sweet peppers—about every three days until august. I’ve canned gallons of tomato pieces, whole tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Oh, and chili sauce and salsa in which tomatoes are a major ingredient.

Pruned tomato plants

Happily, the dry season discouraged common tomato plant diseases. I saw no early or late blight on my plants, though late summer rain fired up some bacterial disease that worked its way up the plants from the ground. I pruned affected leaves for several weeks, turning the tomato patch into a rather weird landscape.

Ten-foot tomato plants

My tomato trellises top out close to seven feet. The plants have grown three feet above the trellises… though this photo shows them a bit shorter. Tomatoes in the highest growth won’t ripen before frost, but there are a few just below the seven foot level that have a chance.

Small neck pumpkin

By early July I had grown squash seedlings under lights indoors and I planted them out at the community garden. One hill of neck pumpkins has barely performed; I must have set it on a bad patch of soil. Still, there are two rather tiny neck pumpkins maturing on the vines.

Small Kitchen Garden squash

Three years ago, without asking permission, my garden cross-bred a neck pumpkin with a fairytale squash. Unknowingly, I harvested seeds from a hybridized neck pumpkin and planted them in the next season’s garden. They produced gorgeous squash that I hoped I could stabilize through two seasons. Last season, they seemed to breed true. However, seeds I planted this year have produced three distinct varieties of fruits. The variety in the photo is the most prolific. The skin becomes creamy brown when ripe, a bit lighter than a butternut squash. Perhaps this version will breed true for next season’s garden.

Supposed purple cayenne peppers

I don’t recall where I got it, but last winter I picked up a packet of cayenne pepper seeds. It was a mix of seeds that would produce peppers in a variety of colors. Purple cayenne peppers, I think, are cheaters. The fruits start out purple but ripen to a bright red. Other colors in the packet were red, yellow, and orange. Sadly, I failed with cayenne. The plants were prolific early when I was dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes and sweet peppers. Most of the cayenne peppers ended up in the crisper drawer and became anything but crisp.

Sorghum approaching harvest

A first for me, and still in progress: sorghum. I bought a packet of one hundred and fifty seeds and planted them in a tight square at one end of the bed. The plants have flourished. The seed heads are full and, I’m sure, ripe. Everything I’ve read suggests harvesting the seeds as close to first frost as possible and leaving the stalks to get some frost bite. Then harvest the stalks and squeeze the sap out of them to boil into syrup. Frost may be two weeks away, so I won’t be messing with the sorghum right away. In fact, my next big harvest needs to be potatoes. The above-ground parts of my potato plants never stopped growing until they were overrun by squash plants.

Cannas in the community garden

On a whim, I reserved several canna lily roots that we didn’t need to complete our “Hawaiian corner” behind the rock garden this year. I stuck the spare roots in my community garden plot among squashes, onions, and potatoes where the cannas wouldn’t interfere with other plants. It was quite late in the season, so the cannas are late bloomers, but there have been several flower spikes so far. In a few weeks, I’ll pull the roots and save them for next year. Knowing how many we need behind the rock garden, I’ll set aside a few extra to add flare in next year’s community garden plots.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – As Gardening Season Ends

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More Squash! February 2013 Post Produce

one neck pumpkin goes a long way

One of four 12-pound or larger neck pumpkins I harvested last autumn, this winter squash dwarfs my largest chef’s knife and hangs off both sides of a very large cutting board.

This month’s Post Produce is only barely about winter squash. You see, my dad moved out of our family home. He decided to take an apartment in a progressive care facility, and I’ve been spending a whole lot of time in Ithaca helping him get settled, making repairs in the house, and staging removal of everything. We hope to have the house ready to rent by June.

During my last stint in Lewisburg (where I live), I made a small vat of curried squash soup. To do that, I cut up a 12 pound neck pumpkin and cooked some of it, leaving a big chunk in the refrigerator. When I packed up to return to Ithaca this week, I brought the leftover (uncooked) neck pumpkin along. Tonight, I cooked it.

Seed Giveaway

A complete seed set for the giveaway described in this post includes the following:

This is a Post Produce post, but it falls just three days before I close my seed giveway. I’m giving away seeds from the squash in the photos as well as from two types of tomato plants and a variety of sweet Italian peppers. If you’re reading this before February 25, 2013, click this link to enter the giveaway.

When I Cook Alone

I tend not to be super-motivated when I cook for myself. I usually cook a meal for six, expecting to eat it over the course of three or four days. I’ll have it for dinner one day, lunch and dinner the next, and so on until it’s gone. The neck pumpkin plays into this scheme for my current stint in Ithaca: I’ll have it and mashed potatoes with the boneless pork ribs I cooked tonight. That ought to get me through the weekend and partway through next week.

The photos show what I did with the squash. This is a super-de-duper-de basic preparation that results in a classic side dish. What makes it special is that the neck pumpkin I used came from my garden in October, and it’s still in great shape in February! Two more neck pumpkins sit in a rocking chair in my dining room and will likely become curried soup, gilled squash, or more mashed squash… it’s hard to predict.

Now You Post!

To participate in this month’s Post Produce, scroll to the bottom of this page. There, use the Linky widget to link to your blog post. Simple; quick. After you link, please visit other bloggers’ Post Produce posts and see what your fellow gardeners are eating.

cutting a neck pumpkin

The neck of a neck pumpkin is solid squash meat. I used about two-thirds of the neck for one batch of soup, one-third of the neck and some slices of the bulb for a second batch of soup, and what was left of the bulb became mashed squash that I’ll eat over the next four or five days.

pieces of neck pumpkin

These are the pieces of neck pumpkin I brought with me to Ithaca: they still need to be peeled and scraped before going into the cook pot. I work on my mom’s in-counter cutting board after clearing off such things as hose washers, giant tweezers, and tungsten microelectrodes. Since my mom died, my dad has reinterpreted the use of the kitchen.

peeling a neck pumpkin

The old vegetable peeler I remember from my earliest days is incredibly dull but still able to cut the skin off a winter squash. My mom left a new, sharper peeler, but that has moved with my dad to his apartment. In case you’re preparing winter squash for your first time, please pare deeply. The flesh directly beneath the skin is firm and bitter, and your squash will taste better if you remove the skin and one or two more layers of flesh.

cutting chunks of neck pumpkin

After peeling the sections, and scraping the stringy stuff from the insides, I cut the squash into fairly large chunks and add them to a pot of water.

neck pumpkin on the stove

The Pyrex pitcher on the right dates back to, perhaps, the 1970s. I heat water in it daily for hot chocolate mixed with instant coffee—that’s my main source of caffeine. Note that I haven’t covered the squash chunks with water; I’ll add a lid to the pot and anything above water will cook in steam. I start the burner on high, but turn it down to medium when the water boils. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the squash to soften.

seasoning cooked neck pumpkin

When the tip of a knife easily slips through the skin side of the squash chunks, I pour off the water. Then I add two tablespoons of butter and three tablespoons of brown sugar – please add more or less of either to suite your own tastes. I stir with a spoon, superficially mashing individual chunks of squash as I go. I prefer a chunky mixture over a smooth one, but were I cooking this for others I’d use a potato masher.

Here’s the Linky widget. Go ahead: add a link to your Post Produce post. I look forward to seeing what you’re eating from your own garden:

 

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Winter Squash: You Can Grow That!

squash leaves

The leaves of a neck pumpkin plant form a canopy along the top of a four-foot-tall trellis. Until they start to deteriorate in autumn, winter squash plants add remarkable textures to a garden. Left to run along the ground, leaves create enough shade to keep weeds from getting established.

Winter squash is by far one of my favorite vegetables to grow. Happily, it’s also a really easy plant. It’s easy but for a few challenges:

  • It requires a lot of garden space
  • It’s susceptible to Squash Vine Borers
  • It’s susceptible to squash bugs
  • It can host mold that can kill an entire plant
  • It may not set fruit without human intervention

No, seriously, it’s easy to grow winter squash. You can beat all of the challenges with little effort, and the reward is a harvest of delicious, nutritious, and versatile food that stores well and could last through the winter.

butternut squash on the vine

Squash vines on trellises are strong enough to support the fruits they grow. Here, a modest butternut squash hangs from the vine. I’ve had 17 pound neck pumpkins do the same. The vines hold up fine, but one year three squashes on the same side of a trellis were enough to collapse the trellis.

Optimize Garden Space

Winter squash plants are vines, and a single hill (three or four plants set close together) can spread over 100 square feet or more of ground. Minimize the ground they cover by providing trellises and training the plants up. I’ve run trellises north-south, and others east-west, and the squash have been happy on both. My trellises are only four feet high, but I’d design seven-foot trellises if I were starting over.

On the other hand, under the “Beat the Squash Bugs” heading, you’ll see that I plant squash in the garden in mid-July. I grow peas on sturdy trellises starting in late March and they’re done by July. So, I simply leave the trellises in place for the squash when I stomp down the pea plants.

Beat the Squash Bugs

Your simplest defense against bugs is to grow bug-resistant winter squashes. I’ve had great luck with butternut squash and neck pumpkins. Both seem immune to squash vine borers (SVB), and I’ve harvested squash from them even when they were crawling with squash bugs.

But I have almost no squash bugs anymore and the reason is simple: I hold off until mid July before planting winter squash in my garden. This may shorten your growing season too much if you live in zone 5 or below, but here’s the trick: Start hills of squash in early June by planting in containers.

squash seedlings in mid June

Each sawed-off drink bottle in this photo contains a “hill” of squash seedlings about 14 days after I planted seeds. I start the seeds in early June to transplant in mid-July. Usually, that beats the squash bugs, but for added assurance, I plant butternut squash and neck pumpkin which are both amazingly immune to SVB and squash bugs.

For each hill, cut off the bottom third of a 2-liter soda or juice bottle, poke a few holes in the bottom, fill with potting soil, and set three or four seeds and inch deep. Keep these containers in a sunny screened porch until mid July (or under protective cover such as cloches, hoop tunnels, floating row covers, or screened enclosures), and keep the soil moist. Around July 15th, transplant each hill of seedlings as a single plant into your garden. There’s a reasonable chance that squash bugs will have given up on your garden by then, and none will bother your winter squash.

Will Your Squash Plants Mold?

My butternut squash and neck pumpkin plants have never developed mold, though I’ve grown other types of squash plants that have molded. So, start there. You’re already choosing these varieties because they resist SVB; perhaps they are also mold-resistant. By planting late, you keep the squash bugs down, so there won’t be sap oozing out of the squash leaves. Sap drawn by squash bugs can provide a great environment for mold to grow, so beating the bugs may beat the mold. Finally, by growing squash up on trellises, you promote air movement in your squash patch; that reduces moisture on the leaves and discourages mold.

squash leaves

It’s easy to identify a female squash flower. The blossom protrudes from the end of a miniature squash, and the flower’s pistil is a central stalk that forks into landing platforms for bees. Amazingly, a squash blossom starts to wilt about when the sun is highest in the sky. Pollination must take place before the flower wilts.

Don’t Go Fruitless

Many squash growers report frustration when their plants fail to set fruit. They report that flowers appear, but the young squashes attached shrivel and die. Squash flowers draw more attention from bees than anything else in my garden, and you’ll probably have the same experience. However, leaving pollination to the bees can lead to poor squash production. Photos in this post show how I pollinate my winter squash—every winter squash. It’s one of my favorite tasks in the garden and I’ve never lost a squash that I hand-pollinated.

Grow Squash!

Butternut squash and neck pumpkin are very similar. Neck pumpkins have a milder flavor, but if you serve it in place of butternut, few diners will notice the difference. People in central Pennsylvania favor neck pumpkin for pumpkin pies. But beware! A large butternut squash might weigh two or three pounds. A large neck pumpkin can weigh 25 pounds.

I gotta say: it’s really satisfying to drag a 17 pound vegetable out of the garden. Managing the few quirks of winter squash is a minor inconvenience for the pleasure. Give winter squash a try. You can grow that!

Find more You Can Grow That posts at youcangrowthat.com.

winter squash without pollination

If a female squash flower doesn’t receive pollen from a male squash flower, the fruit dies. Amazingly, this happens often even when bees are very active in a squash patch. It’s disheartening to see a squash rot away like this. Protect your investment in squash seeds by hand-pollinating every blossom.

male winter squash blossom

A male squash flower grows directly from a stem; there is no fruit beneath it. The stamen is a single or split stalk obviously coated with pollen. Look carefully and you might also notice a dusting of pollen all around the inside of the blossom.

prepping a male squash blossom to pollinate a female blossom

To pollinate a squash, find and pick a male flower. Then peel the petals away from the stamen. Discard the petals.

hand-pollinating a winter squash flower

Hold the stem end of the peeled blossom and wield it like a brush to “paint” the pistol of the female squash flower. Be careful not to agitate the bees in the blossoms, though in all the years I’ve pollinated squash, a bee has never shown interest in me. Bees have flown into blossoms I was holding before I had a chance to strip off the petals, but the bees ignored me. You can use one male flower to pollinate several female flowers.

neck pumpkins and butternut squash

This small pile of winter squashes includes neck pumpkins and butternut squash. The wine bottle gives you a sense of scale; the largest neck pumpkin in the heap is nearly two feet long. A well-developed winter squash that is still green at harvest will ripen slowly at room temperature in your house.

 

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Painful Return to my Small Kitchen Garden

My artichoke plants are a semi-satisfying success in my small kitchen garden this year. I started several plants from seed indoors in February, and transplanted four into my garden in June. These plants clearly have no intention of making chokes this year, so I’ll devise cold frames or other cover to protect them from deep-freezing during the winter. Perhaps next year I’ll harvest some artichokes.

The growing season had already been tough on my small kitchen garden, and then I really let it go. I spent a week at the annual symposium of the Garden Writers Association, and left my garden to fend for itself. Things were pretty sketchy when I left, but they were downright distressing when I returned.

When I left, I had been collecting tomatoes but things had just gotten started. Plants were topping out at seven feet, and I’d harvested about three gallons of fruit. While there appeared to be many more fruits setting, some type of infection was spreading among the plants. Lesions that looked like late blight had started low on stems and leaves and they were working their way up the plants.

Small Kitchen Garden on the Brink

When I left, climbing beans were just starting to put out flowers. There were three distinct clusters of bean vines growing among the tomatoes. A too-small trellis in an ornamental bed supported too many healthy-looking, crowded bean plants,

Finding a fence panel out of position makes me a little uneasy: how long has it been this way? What classes of rodents have noticed? Is anyone now inside my kitchen garden? What might already be dying because critters have come-and-gone through this huge opening in the garden’s defenses?

When I left, a stand of sweet corn held the promise of, perhaps, two dozen ears for meals—assuming anyone harvested them as they became ripe.

When I left, my cucumber plants formed a bush of healthy green on my deck and they were flowering like nobody’s business.

When I left, my bush wax bean plants were bereft of mature beans, but there were many young beans starting, and plenty of bean flowers were open.

When I left, my winter squashes were putting out blossoms every morning. I hand pollinate my winter squash, so I dreaded missing so many days; no one in my family would be willing to pollinate the squash flowers.

The Sad State of My Small Kitchen Garden

The photos show and explain what I found when I returned to my small kitchen garden. For the most part, the garden’s situation is grim. There are some bright spots, and I’m confident things would be little different had I stayed home… sometimes the elements simply don’t cooperate with a kitchen gardener. It makes me unhappy for a bit, but eventually I shrug and look ahead to next season.

When I returned from the Garden Writers Association conference, my wife asked, “Where are your bean plants?” She had, apparently, looked for them so she could harvest beans, but she hadn’t found them. Sure enough, plenty of beans had matured beyond tender while I was away; I sorted through them to find young beans my family would be willing to eat… but it gets worse: When several of my tomato seedlings had failed in late summer, I had planted climbing beans in their places. The bean plants were healthy and poised to bloom when I left, but two plants were wilting badly when I returned. Those particular bean plants have since died.

Sure, most of my corn plants tipped during a big storm, but kitchen gardeners lament that corn always falls over. My sadness related to corn is that no one harvested any while I was away. There are, perhaps, two dozen ears that should have been eaten but that will, at best, be old and tough if I harvest them now.

I pick tomatoes when they just start to blush. These tomatoes are nearly fully-ripe. I found many overly-ripe tomatoes in my small kitchen garden after my weeklong trip… the green shoulders and cracks illustrate why I pick tomatoes at the first sign of pink and let them ripen indoors.

As sad as I was to find nearly-ripe tomatoes on my plants, this discovery made me much sadder: there’s no question my tomatoes have late blight; all my tomatoes. Many look healthy, but the plants they’re on are in horrible shape. My tomato harvest is done for this season—far too early.

The cucumbers also misbehaved in my absence. In fairness, had I stayed home they’d have been no different. Several oddly-shaped cucumbers developed, but none are compelling enough that I’d harvest and eat them. For this, I’ll concede I didn’t give them the best chance to succeed. I planted too many seeds in deck planters and they performed as if stressed. I’ll grow cukes in planters again, but I’ll set far fewer seeds per gallon than I did this season.

There is a bright spot in my small kitchen garden. Actually, it’s all over the garden: My winter squashes are in decent shape. On the left: a small neck pumpkin. In the center, two small butternut squashes next to a huge butternut; the rear-most squash (only partially visible) is at least five times the size of the one in front of it. On the right: a Blue Hubbard squash that doesn’t seem interested in becoming a giant. Still, it’s great to have several Blue Hubbards that have survived past the typical onslaught of Squash Vine Borers… I hope they survive this more than double the average rainfall for August and September.

This may be the champion squash in my small kitchen garden. It’s a neck pumpkin hanging on what I usually use as a pea trellis. The squash was about 22 inches long in this photo, and it has grown about three inches longer since I took the shot. I’ve seen neck pumpkins weighing more than 25 pounds!

 

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Winter Squash Damage at Your Small Kitchen Garden

I’ve written about squash flowers repeatedly in this and other blogs. Every morning in late summer, a new crop of flowers emerges. Blossoms remain full and open in the cool of morning, but they start to fade in the afternoon. If a female flower doesn’t get pollinated on the morning it opens, it probably won’t get pollinated.

Winter squashes are among my favorite harvests from my small kitchen garden. In late summer, winter squash plants put on a spectacular show as they blanket the planting bed and pop out dozens of bright orange blossoms. Squash fruits grow from miniature to full-size in a matter of a week or two—and for some types of winter squash, those fruits can be ginormous.

Winter squashes have rich, earthy flavors that work well sweet or savory… but that easily seduce you into mixing sweet and savory in the same dish. One of my favorite ways to prepare squash is to grill it with a light sprinkling of salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder, and brown sugar. 

Winter Squash is Resilient and Durable

There’s a benefit of winter squash that many kitchen gardeners don’t consider when planning their gardens: some winter squashes are amazingly durable and resistant to damage. These characteristics make winter squashes extremely low-maintenance, long-term storage food products.

I picked this squash shortly after a small animal had chewed it up around the stem as you can see in the photo on the left. I set the squash to cure where it stayed warm and dry, and about a month later the damage had healed (as you can see in the photo on the right)! Even after such a sketchy beginning, the squash held up nicely until it suffered a new malady in April.

Six months after harvest from my small kitchen garden, this neck pumpkin was as healthy as I could hope. Yes, it’s the squash from the earlier pair of photos. Sadly, here after 6 months, gouges began to appear where last summer’s damage had healed.

As I explained in an earlier post titled Store Butternut Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden, winter squash left on the floor of a mildly cool and dry room can keep from harvest through mid spring. In fact, even today (May 1) I have a few neck pumpkins on my dining room floor; they’ll be nearly as good eating today as they would have been last November.

As you’ll see in the photos, winter squashes protect themselves from damage. I harvested a neck pumpkin last fall that had all kinds of tooth marks from a small rodent. Many of those marks went through the squash’s skin. Within a month, all the holes in that squash had healed; the fruit had grown scabs and new skin even without assistance from an attached, healthy plant.

It became apparent that something was eating my carefully-stored winter squash… and it should have been no surprise: the residential rhubarb inspector of past blog posts is also a residential winter squash chomper. The year in which a puppy joins your household is not a good year to store winter squash on your dining room floor.

New Winter Squash Malady

While my winter squashes have kept well on my dining room floor, in April they began to show signs of an unlikely malady. Scratches appeared near the stem ends, and eventually whole sections of skin simply vanished. The cause became clear: PUPPY! Our chocolate lab puppy, Nutmeg, apparently likes the flavor of squash as much as I do.

Sadly, the squashes she has chewed aren’t healing; exposed damp surfaces have grown mold.

So, I offer an observation to amend my earlier post about storing winter squash: make sure the cool, dry floor where your store your squash is out of reach of family pets.

Our residential rhubarb inspector doubles as a residential dishwasher inspector. She gave me this look when I asked her if she had any idea what might be damaging the winter squash. It’s kind of impressive that so many puppies make it to adulthood.

 

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Your Small Kitchen Garden Seed Giveaway 2011

This is a paste tomato from which I harvested seeds for the giveaway. Yes, I fermented the seeds to kill bacteria and fungus, so they’re not likely to introduce disease to your garden. I believe this is an Andes tomato. It contains very little moisture and few seeds… it’s mostly meat. It tastes terrific raw, in salads, dehydrated, canned, and sauced. The plants are indeterminate, and I pluck suckers. In a bad growing season a plant yields 15 or more 8- to 12-oz tomatoes; in a good growing season, about 30.

THE FREE SEED OFFER CLOSED ON FEBRUARY 13, 2011 as stated originally at the end of this post. Chances are that I’ll have more seeds to give away for the 2012 growing season. Please check back in January or February of 2012.

FREE SEEDS! Your Small Kitchen Garden blog is celebrating its second annual seed giveaway. You might guess from the blog that I love to grow vegetables and fruit, and that I love to share my love for kitchen gardening with others. By giving away seeds, I hope to encourage other people to grow food and maybe share the wonder of it.

Last year, I gave away packets that contained seeds to grow Neck Pumpkins, Blue Hubbard squash, and Paste Tomatoes (probably of the Andes variety). I’m doing it again! Here are the details:

Small Kitchen Garden Free Seed Sets

The offer I’m about to describe ends on Sunday, February 13, 2011. A “set” of seeds contains three packets—enough to grow one hill of neck pumpkins, one hill of blue hubbard squash, and at least 20 paste tomato plants.

I’m not sure how many sets of seeds there will be as I haven’t yet butchered the blue hubbard squash. I anticipate approximately 45 complete seed sets to give away, but I’ll send some partial sets if I run out of one type of seeds. As things went last year, I ran out of blue hubbard squash seeds first and mailed a few sets that contained just neck pumpkin and paste tomato seeds. This year’s outcome depends on how many people qualify for seed sets.

One sad caveat: Seeds are available only to folks in the United States and Canada. I reviewed Australian import rules last year and realized if I tried to do that for every country, I’d be at it until the fall harvest… so US and Canada only, please.

The thing in this photo that looks like a big butternut squash is a neck pumpkin. It is remarkably like butternut (also shown): very resistant to Squash Vine Borer, orange flesh, tastes like butternut. These things can grow to 20 or 30 lbs, though my largest this year was about 12 pounds.

Earn Squash and Tomatoes from Your Small Kitchen Garden

Technically, I suppose I’m not giving away seeds; there are strings. Here’s what I ask for you to qualify for free seeds:

1. Leave a comment in response to this blog post. In it, tell me something about your preferences for tomatoes or squash. Tell me, perhaps, which you prefer, how you use them, or whether you’ve grown them… and make me laugh.

The blue hubbard squash in this photo is about a quarter the size of my chocolate lab. Thankfully, the dog didn’t fall asleep next to it or she might have awakened as a pod dog. This is a challenging squash to grow; it is very susceptible to Squash Vine Borer; all my blue hubbard plants succumbed without producing viable fruit in 2010. This year I’ll plant outdoors at the end of July… and I may use floating row covers to keep insects from laying eggs on the plants. If you get a few blue hubbard squashes from your plants, they could be more than 20lbs each. The meat of a blue hubbard is a rainbow of colors and has one of the best squash flavors I’ve ever tasted.

2. Complete and submit a form on the Contact Us page. If you want to receive seeds, I’ll need your snail mail address, so enter it into the form. Make sure you use the same email address on the Contact Us form that you use when you write your comment. Also, if you plan to promote your entry (read items 3, 4, and 5 below), please identify in the form the Twitter and Facebook identities you’ll use—and/or identify the URL of the blog on which you’ll post a link.

If you do items 1 and 2, you’ll go to the end of my mailing list to receive seeds. I’ll mail seeds on a first-come-first served basis until I run out of seed sets… but there are some twists. You can move up on the mailing list by doing any or all of the following:

3. If you’re on Twitter, tweet a link to this giveaway that includes the hash tag #skgseeds.

4. If you’re on Facebook, post a link to this giveaway and include the hash tag #skgseeds in the text.

Each day that you Tweet or post on Facebook as explained in items 3 and 4, you’ll move up one place on the mailing list. The most you can move up in a calendar day is two places—one for Tweeting, and one for a Facebook post.

5. Finally, you can get a top spot on my seed giveaway mailing list by posting something about the giveaway—along with a link to this page—on your own blog. What do I mean by “top spot?” I mean I’ll build a mailing list of bloggers who post links on their blogs. I’ll mail seeds to the entire list of bloggers (in the order that they post) before I mail to any other entrants.

At Least Get on the List!

Don’t let all these options throw you. At least leave a comment and post your snail mail address on a Contact Us form (items 1 and 2). Chances are you’ll get at least some paste tomato seeds. Of course, when you get your seeds, I hope you’ll think of me during the growing season and provide an occasional update—perhaps with a photo. I was pleased to hear from a few of last year’s winners. I enjoyed that my friend over at gardenmom29 posted photos of her neck pumpkins… I’m pretty sure the two in the 5th photo in her blog post grew from seeds she got in last year’s giveaway.

The seed giveaway ends on Sunday, February 13. I’ll mail seed packets in the week after that.

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Packaging Seeds from my Small Kitchen Garden

I laid out seeds, envelopes, and envelope labels on a table in my billiards room. While I’m giving away Blue Hubbard squash, neck pumpkin, and paste tomato seeds, I also collected seeds from butternut squash, dill weed, and several types of peppers. Most of these will go to The Dinner Garden, a charity that provides seeds to family’s starting gardens in response to economic difficulties.

Two weeks ago, Your Small Kitchen Garden offered up sets of seeds to visitors who asked for them. I’ve been pleased by the response; more than 40 people have left comments requesting seed sets. A complete set includes six seeds of Blue Hubbard squash, six seeds of neck pumpkin, and twenty seeds of chili-pepper-shaped paste tomatoes.

In that post I joked that I’d judge comments on creativity and humor, and I’ve enjoyed the humor in some of the comments. However, the only criteria for receiving seeds are:

  1. Leave a comment explaining which seeds you most want to grow
  2. Complete a “Contact Us” form with your mailing address
  3. Do these things before the seeds run out.

The Small Kitchen Garden Seed Project

I’ve been packaging seeds. To do this, I set up a small table in the corner of my billiards room and laid out all the seeds I saved last season. I designed and printed simple labels and stuck them on coin envelopes. As I started to count out seeds and package them it occurred to me: what if the seeds aren’t viable? I’d feel rotten to learn I’d sent seeds to so many people, and none of those seeds sprouted.

More than a week after planting, one of the three tomato seeds I planted to test viabiity sprouted. By the time I finished this post nearly 2 days later, all three seeds had sprouted. I’m mailing out more than 40 packs of these seeds in the coming week. If you left a comment on my post Free Seeds from Your Small Kitchen Garden, did you also send your mailing address to me via the web site’s Contact Us form? I noticed many visitors overlooked that important step.

So, I test-planted some tomato seeds and waited. Last March, when I started tomato seeds indoors, I had sprouts two days after planting! This January, there were no sprouts for over a week. Finally, on Monday, the first tomato seed sprouted. On Tuesday, two more sprouts appeared. These seeds are viable!

As the cutoff date for my seed giveaway approaches, I’ve packaged up several dozen sets of seeds. I’ve more to package, and I haven’t yet addressed all the envelopes, but I’m confident these seeds will perform when treated properly.

I’m excited to share the seeds; I hope that many of the people who receive them will write once or twice to tell me how their seeds do, and to tell me what they think of the produce they grow.

In the meantime, I’ve already started this year’s small kitchen garden; I’m going to try to keep my tomato seedlings alive indoors until April. I’ll build a tent around them to trap in some moisture and heat, and I’ll flood the tent with light. If things go well, I’ll transplant into larger containers once or twice, so I’ll have very large plants when it’s time to move them outdoors.

By “potting up” the plants this way, I may get a 30-day or better jump on the tomato-growing season. Who knows? Maybe I’ll harvest a few tomatoes in early July this year.

 

 

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Free Seeds from Your Small Kitchen Garden

FREE SEED OFFER HAS EXPIRED. Please note: The next-to-last paragraph in this post reads: This offer is good through February 5, 2010.

This 20 pound neck pumpkin went into canning jars and so far has produced a delicious pumpkin cake. I can’t promise your neck pumpkins will grow so large, but they’ll have a chance if they are offspring of this bad boy.

FREE SEEDS! Your Small Kitchen Garden blog is giving away a bunch of seeds to encourage kitchen gardeners everywhere, and to spread some fun. Do you remember that Neck Pumpkin and the Blue Hubbard squash I wrote about in November and December? Or, maybe you read about the amazing chili-pepper-shaped paste tomatoes I grew in 2009?

While you’re planning your 2010 kitchen garden, consider this: Until I’ve no more to distribute, I’ll mail a modest set of seeds to each person who leaves a qualifying comment in response to this blog post. A seed set will include six Blue Hubbard squash seeds, six Neck Pumpkin seeds, and 20 or more paste tomato seeds. It’s not a lot of seeds, but it should be enough for you to start your own tradition with these squashes and tomatoes (should you decide to do so).

Someone told me they read that a Blue Hubbard squash was the model for the alien pods in one of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies. This Blue Hubbard weighed in at 27 pounds. Leave a qualifying comment for a chance to receive six seeds from this squash.

Qualify for a Seed Set

Here’s how to get your seed set: Leave a comment in response to this blog post telling me you want to receive seeds and explaining (in one or two sentences) which of the three plants you most want to grow and why. While your comments will be judged on the basis of creativity and humorousness, the only criterion for selection is the order in which I receive them.

A neighbor has been growing chili-pepper-shaped sauce tomatoes for decades and these are from that family line. The tomatoes are nearly all-meat, and they taste terrific raw. Plants are indeterminate, and fruits can weigh from eight to 16 ounces.

In other words: first-come, first-served. When I run out of complete sets, I’ll send whatever combination of seeds remains until all the seeds are gone. I expect the Blue Hubbard squash seeds to run out first, then the Neck Pumpkin seeds, and finally the sauce tomato seeds, so if you want all three, leave your comment early. Oh, and please keep it at one seed set per person.

Receiving Your Seed Set

Once you leave a comment to this post, use the Contact Us form to drop me a note that includes your snail mail address. Make sure you include the same email address that you use in your comment; I’ll use email addresses to match each Contact Us form to a comment… so if the addresses don’t match, you might not receive your seeds.

This offer is good through February 5, 2010.

My Australian friend who goes by @GardenBy on Twitter brought to my attention that there may be issues with mailing live seeds to international destinations. I once researched import laws of shipping seeds to Australia and was discouraged by what I read (mostly that there was so much to read and interpret and I could never do an adequate job research such issues on a country-by-country basis). So… I regret that I must amend this giveaway with the restriction that I will ship seeds only to people in the United States of America and Canada. Thanks for understanding.

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Exploring Neck Pumpkin at Your Small Kitchen Garden

There’s my big boy neck pumpkin on my large cutting board next to my biggest chef’s knife in front of my KitchenAid stand mixer. (Trying to provide a sense of scale.)

While my small kitchen garden lies dormant for the coming winter, I’ve been exploring winter squash. Always a fan of butternut squash, I planted several hills of it this year, and harvested about 25 pounds of fruits. Some were as small as grapefruits while others were about as large as quart jars. For my family, a one-quart butternut squash lasts for two or three meals.

I visit a farmers’ market nearly every Wednesday, and flea market produce vendors on most Sundays. Every autumn, I see a delightful variety of winter squashes. However, happy with my homegrown butternuts, I’ve never explored these others. Until this year.

In my last post, I described a Blue Hubbard squash, the full 27 pounds of which I purchased for $1.50. That post included a photo of a neck pumpkin that weighed in at a hefty 20 pounds. After two weeks of delays, I finally dissected the neck pumpkin. This is one very impressive squash!

I washed the neck pumpkin thoroughly before I started carving so as not to contaminate the squash’s innards with soil that might have remained from the farm where it grew. I cut sections starting at the neck end, and finally cut the bulbous seed chamber in two. A neck pumpkin is almost solid meat.

Gourds from the Amish

The neck pumpkin goes by many names, among them Pennsylvania Crookneck Squash (according to Cornell University’s web site). They are very common in central Pennsylvania—Amish country—and apparently not so common outside of this area.

Neck pumpkins I’ve seen have been as small as a large butternut squash, and even larger than the 20 pound fruit I bought at the farmers’ market three weeks ago.

I understand that neck pumpkin is ideal for making pumpkin pie. Given its resemblance to butternut squash, I imagined it might also be fine for eating as a side dish… and for cooking up in baked goods and other foods that call for pumpkin as an ingredient.

A simple vegetable peeler easily removes the skin from the neck pumpkin. Of course, such a peeler has trouble on very large expanses of skin; curves of the pumpkin interfere with the ends of the peeler. Cutting the neck pumpkin into small sections would reduce the problems of paring it. With the skin removed, I used my largest chef’s knife to cut the sections into one-inch cubes.

Neck Pumpkin Preparation

The photos in this blog post reveal the steps I took to prepare my neck pumpkin for consumption. Actually, I cooked only a half cup of the squash so I could taste it… the rest I canned in quart jars. The canning operation itself, I explain in my other blog, Your Home Kitchen Garden.

Preparing and storing winter squash offers many options: you can steam, boil, bake, roast, and even dry squash. Use a crock pot, a microwave oven, a stove pot, a conventional oven, a grill… it doesn’t matter. However you cook squash, it gets soft and mashable. For a chunkier side dish, peel and cube it before cooking. To save effort, leave the skin on until after cooking… but by the time you scrape the squash out of its skin, you’re likely to have mashed it up quite a bit.

As with cleaning a pumpkin that I’m about to carve into a jack-o-lantern, I used a spoon to scrape the seeds and their anchoring fibers from the squash’s seed cavity. I set the seeds aside to dry; I’ll be growing neck pumpkins from them in my small kitchen garden next year.

For canning, you create one-inch cubes of raw squash which you blanch for only a few minutes before putting them in jars and cooking in a pressure canner. You can use freshly cubed squash in any squash dish… cook peeled and cubed squash any way you want. Most simply, cover some with water in a pot and cook until soft. Pour off the water, mash the squash with a potato masher, and stir in butter and brown sugar to taste.

If you want to can some squash, please enjoy my squash dissection photos, and then head over to Your Home Kitchen Garden for a step-by-step canning review. This one, 20 pound neck pumpkin filled seven quart jars and left about two cups of pumpkin cubes that I used to make bread.

More about neck pumpkins and som excellent ways to use them:

 

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Blue Hubbard Squash for a Small Kitchen Garden

Two weekends in a row threw so many distractions at me that my gargantuan neck pumpkin sat neglected, cuddling some butternut squash on the rocking chair in my dining room.

Closing down my small kitchen garden for the coming winter seems to have made me a tad crazy for winter squash. I harvested about 28 butternut squashes from my garden, and then went out and bought a neck pumpkin which you can read about here: Neck Pumpkin: a Home Kitchen Garden Marvel.

My plan was to can the neck pumpkin and save seeds so I could grow my own next year. After two false starts, I still had a whole pumpkin on the rocking chair in my dining room… and I brought another wonder squash home from the Sunday flea market.

Blue Hubbard Wonder Squash

This is the first season I’ve noticed Blue Hubbard squash. It really stood out at the flea market where, for the past six or so weeks, there has been a table holding a dwindling supply of these most impressive gourds. Earlier, the price of a Blue Hubbard was enough that I gave it barely a thought. But this past Sunday, the one remaining pod-person Blue Hubbard listed at just $2.

Nothing like a little overkill when you’re trying to get across a simple truth: This Blue Hubbard squash is enormous! 24 inches long, heavier than a large neck pumpkin, and more volume than, perhaps, 20 of the butternut squash I grew in my small kitchen garden this summer. (Some of my butternut squashes were kind of small this year.)

What little I knew about Blue Hubbard squash at that point is that people say it is excellent for use in pies. Shucks. Neck pumpkin is great in pies, and I already had a 20 pounder at home. But only $2 for this amazing-looking squash… I pretty much had no choice; it was going home with me.

When I set hands around the squash to lift it, I realized that the skin near one end was damp and slimy; the Blue Hubbard had started to spoil. No matter; were I to buy a packet of Blue Hubbard squash seeds, I reasoned, I’d spend two dollars. So, even if I find half of this fruit spoiled, I’d be way ahead in the squash department.

The cashier at the farm stand felt bad about the squash’s spoilage, so she marked it down 25%; I paid only $1.50! It was a challenge to carry along with lemons, limes, and a head of cauliflower, and between the checkout counter and my car, three people asked what I was carrying and what I’d do with it. This is a truly remarkable gourd.

Blue Hubbard Squash Awaits

When I got it home, I weighed the Blue Hubbard squash and was astonished to see that it totals 27 pounds. That’s seven pounds more than the neck pumpkin! Of course, with one end rotting, the Blue Hubbard’s finished weight will be substantially less. For that matter, I’ve never seen one of these things opened, so I’ve no idea how thick the flesh is. Perhaps there’s only an inch of meat… or maybe the meat goes nearly to the center and there’s only a tiny ball of seeds.

Whatever the case, I’m keeping the seeds and planting some next July along with seeds from the neck pumpkin and others from this year’s butternut squash. I’m excited to explore this Blue Hubbard monster, and I’ll share the experience here.

These look like some excellent ways to use winter squash; Blue Hubbard should work just fine:

  • Blue Hubbard Squash Casserole « Local Nourishment – I saw a blue hubbard squash at the pumpkin patch we went to over the weekend. I too was kind of weary of it because it was so large and not sure what to do with it. I love the idea of replacing it for sweet potatoes (especially since I …

  • roasted winter squash soup with croutons – what can be more comforting than a bowl of creamy soup on a cold day? when the weather starts to turn a little chilly, i start making soups and this was my first one this month. roasting the acorn and butternut squash brings out a …

  • Winter Squash | MattBites.com – And if you’ll excuse me for saying this, sometimes they look as if they landed on earth from outer space. A few years ago I made it a point to familiarize myself with these hefty gourds. Until that point they were only gorgeous table decorations to me (trés gay, I know I know), and also made nice ammo during food fights.

  • Organic Baby Food-Steamed Winter Squash – This quick video shows how to make organic baby food from steamed winter squash.

 

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