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Posts Tagged ‘squash’

Taking Down the Vegetable Garden

Potato harvest from my community garden plot

In mid-October, I harvested about two-and-a-half gallons of fingerling and red-skinned potatoes. I’d left the potatoes in the ground way too long; rodents had tunneled under the tubers and had eaten many of them—perhaps almost as many as I harvested.

October 23 was the community garden’s “drop dead” date. I received an email at the beginning of October telling me I had to be done with my plots by the 24th; management would mow the plots and plant barley on that date.

I couldn’t get motivated to take things down in the weeks leading up to the 24th. The average first frost date in this area is October 21, but forecasts were for warm days into November.

Unfortunately, I had a chemotherapy session scheduled for Monday, October 17th. The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after chemo are particularly brutal: my muscles feel as though I’ve been marching for a week without rest, I feel as though I should be sleeping, and my digestive tract is making me guess whether and when access to plumbing might be necessary.

My own squash variety destroyed by black rot

I’ve been trying to establish a new variety of winter squash using seeds I harvested from a hybrid that happened accidentally in my small kitchen garden several years ago. These are the fruits from this year’s effort. Sadly, I believe the discoloration on the skin is black rot. The flesh is still edible, but black rot is systemic meaning it can live in the cells of the plants. Seeds from these fruits are likely to carry the disease, so it would be wrong to share them with other gardeners. I’m afraid disease has made my new squash variety a dead-end.

Nope. I didn’t let chemo dictate my behavior. I’m deadline-oriented, so naturally I waited until the weekend to finish taking down my community garden plots. It was a forced march.

Back on October 10th, I had dug potatoes and harvested squash and sorghum seed heads. Much remained. Tomatoes and peppers were at various stages of ripe, sorghum stalks still stood, canna lily roots still supported leaf and flower stalks, and tomato trellises needed to come down.

My Small Kitchen Garden Falls

On Sunday morning (probably more like early afternoon), I drove to the community garden and dragged myself, painfully slowly, through the remaining tasks. The worst of it was removing tomato trellises.

With hanging string trellises, some 68 7-foot lengths of binder twine hung from a wooden support structure. At home, I’d simply cut the strings off the trellises and let them drop to the ground along with the tomato plants they supported. They’d winter under leaves and rot into the soil through the 2017 growing season (I don’t till the soil).

Sweet peppers from my small kitchen garden

I harvested about 2 gallons of sweet peppers on October 23rd. I’m afraid they’ve remained in the bag you see in this photo and have experienced many too warm days and several too cold days. I hope to feel well enough this week to work through stuff I harvested on October 23. With luck, I’ll find a few still-usable peppers to put up in the freezer.

At the community garden, it seemed risky to leave the binder’s twine wrapped around the tomato plants. A mower blade would most certainly catch the twine and wrap it around the mower’s drive shaft. I didn’t want to create extra work for someone else, so I untwisted the binder’s twine from the tomato plants… this took more than an hour.

I disassembled the wooden support structure for the hanging string trellises and loaded the wooden stakes into the bed of my pickup truck. Then I harvested the sorghum stalks and loaded them into the truck. Finally, I dug the canna lilies. It felt as though I’d worked for twentyten hours, though it was closer to three.

Tomatoes and peppers would have continued to ripen for another three weeks. It made me sad to have given up on them so early, but rules are rules, and the community garden is an awesome resource—particularly for a gardener challenged by illness. Photos tell the story of my last day of the season when I took down my vegetable garden.

Purple cayenne peppers in my community garden plot

From a package of “Festival Mix” cayenne pepper seeds, a plant produced purple peppers that turned red when fully ripe. Sadly, the plant was laden with under ripe fruits when I had to shut down my community garden plots.

Mystery paste tomatoes in my community garden plot

Some of the last tomatoes on my vines this October were the mystery paste tomatoes I acquired years ago from a local gardener. I harvested these along with Roma, Stupice, and a few varieties I couldn’t identify, and left them for three weeks in a bucket on an end table in the living room. Finally, a few days ago, I sorted the rotten tomatoes from the healthy ones. If all goes well, I’ll process the ripe ones this week and serve up the green ones as fried green tomatoes.

Stupice tomatoes produced earliest and latest in 2016

The first variety of tomato to ripen in my small kitchen garden was also one of the last to produce viable fruits. I harvested these Stupice tomatoes on October 23 just before I tore down my hanging string tomato trellises.

Sorghum still going to seed in late October

A theme of this article is that my community garden plots didn’t agree with the mid-October cease-and-desist order. This sorghum seed head makes the point: the seeds aren’t ready! I had already harvested any ripe seeds, but there were many young stalks at various stages of the reproductive cycle.

Sorghum sprouts emerge from roots of mature plants

When I cut the mature sorghum stalks, I discovered emergent shoots; more shoots from each plant than had grown to harvest. This leads me to think that in the tropics, sorghum may be a perennial. Perhaps you can harvest the seeds to make flour or porridge, cut mature stalks to extract sugar, and then wait four months and do the whole thing again.

Late season squash blossom in my kitchen garden

Another holdout against the cease and desist order: a squash blossom. I believe this flower was on one of my hybrid-derived squash plants, but there were also flowers on the zucchini I had planted back in May! In fact, on October 23, I harvested two beautiful zucchini squashes from six-month-old plants. In past years, I’d started a second planting of zucchini mid-summer after the spring-planted vines had withered.

Tomato blossom in my small kitchen garden

Despite bacterial disease, aggressive hornworms, and disgusting tomato fruit worms, many of my tomato plants were trying to remain relevant on October 23rd. There were at least a dozen blossoms through the tomato patch, and many buds about to open. Sadly, it all had to make way for the mower and seed-planter. I hope to garden the same two plots next season. I may be grumbling for having been forced off of my normal gardening methods, but it’s all for the good of the soil. I truly appreciate the quality effort with which the county manages its community garden.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Taking Down the Vegetable Garden

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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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The Bigsby Market for Produce in Ithaca

Crysanthemums at The Bigsby Market

If you’re a farm stand, produce market, or garden center in the northeast, you sell chrysanthemums in autumn… which begins, apparently, during the last month of summer.

On my many forays to Ithaca over the past three years, I noticed and grew fond of a farm market just northeast of the city. The Bigsby Market is on route 13 and 366 just beyond where the two converge on the way to Dryden.

When I’m in Ithaca, I’m not about to invest in large amounts of produce, but I still stop to enjoy the displays and I try to buy something I can use. I’ve chatted with various employees there, and learned that some of the produce they sell comes from central Pennsylvania. In fact, they often have produce purchased from the Buffalo Valley Produce Auction which is about eight miles from my house.

Canarie melons at The Bigsby Market

The bin of canary melons was quite a mix of sunny orange and deep shadows.

I was in Ithaca two weeks ago, and I stopped at Bigsby Market late in the day. The market was decked out for autumn, and the late-day/late-summer sunlight provided the kind of illumination that excites all photographers.

I bought one delicious, perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, and I captured a whole bunch of photos from which I chose a handful of favorites to include in this post. It seriously looked like autumn at Ithaca’s Bigsby Market. Please have a look.

Canary melons at The Bigsby Market

Cantaloupe snuggled against watermelons in one of the produce bins at The Bigsby Market.

Pumpkins and winter squash at The Bigsby Market

Employees at the Bigsby Market stack pumpkins and winter squashes to make small towers. Some of the squashes avoid the fate and end up in heaps or bins.

Farm stand in Autumn

Sometimes things just fall into line. The Bigsby Market had an astonishing amount of produce; this is a modest sampling.

Sweet peppers at the Bigsby Market in Ithaca

Sweet peppers at The Bigsby Market shown in the evening sunlight. It won’t be long before local growers no longer have fresh produce to offer. At least for a little while, we can enjoy the colors and textures of autumn’s harvest.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Ithaca’s Bigsby Market

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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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Thanksgiving 2012 Post Produce

Green beans for casserole

Every bean in the casserole came from my small kitchen garden! I harvested and froze several gallons of beans in 2012. Most were yellow wax beans, but I had enough green beans to make a double-sized casserole following the French’s Fried Onion recipe that my mom used when I was a kid (except I use cream of chicken soup instead of cream of mushroom soup).

Post Produce landed a few days late this month. People trying to manage link parties do well to anticipate holidays so they don’t leave participants hanging. I’m not well enough organized for that. I’d have broken several natural laws if I’d written my article early and set it to post automatically while I was baking pies.

It occurred to me: Why not make Post Produce about Thanksgiving? I hope at least some of you used homegrown produce in your Thanksgiving meals. Even more, I hope you’ll  share your stories about it! Thanksgiving gives me extra thrills when I can serve goodies that I grew myself.

Photos tell the story. I hope you’ll have a look and then write your own Thanksgiving post. Once your post is up, return here, scroll to the bottom, and add a link back to your article. What did you eat from your garden this Thanksgiving?

homegrown sweet potatoes

My homegrown sweet potatoes looked reasonable, though they hadn’t filled out completely. Sadly, many had started to rot—which you couldn’t see until you peeled and cut into them. So, we (my son, actually), cut out large sections. By the time the pot was full, it contained seven or eight commercial sweet potatoes and as many of my crummy homegrown ones. I hope next year to plant sweet potatoes early and harvest them before frost; two things I failed to do this year.

neck pumpkins in rocking chair

Not surprisingly, neck pumpkins played a role in my Thanksgiving dinner. These three grew in my garden, and I used the largest—a 17 pounder—to make pumpkin pies. I cut up the squash on Tuesday and baked it for about 90 minutes. Then I pureed the flesh in a blender, and packaged the very smooth pumpkin mash in two-cup portions, most of which I froze. I saved seeds from neck pumpkin and will include them in a giveaway on my blog(s) in January or February.

pureed neck pumpkin for pie filling

I was a machine filling sandwich bags with pureed neck pumpkin before I realized I’d filled too many. I managed to put the last portion in a reusable container which I stored with one bag of puree overnight in the refrigerator. On Wednesday, I used these four cups of neck pumpkin puree to make pies. Sandwich bags, by the way, aren’t impermeable enough to preserve food in a freezer. Each holds enough puree for one pie, and I put four or five bags in a single gallon-sized freezer bag.

pies on the day after Thanksgiving

Didn’t think to snap photos before the gang had dessert. After lunch on the day after Thanksgiving, I photographed what remained of five pies I’d baked on Wednesday. We had already finished off a sour cherry pie (frozen during cherry season), and a pumpkin pie. What remained was part of an apple pie, most of a second pumpkin pie, and about half of an apple/pear/raisin spice pie I improvised from stuff in the fridge. To be clear, only the pumpkin pie contained homegrown produce, though I made from grapes the raisins I used in the apple/pear/raisin spice pie.

Post Produce on your blog, then return here and add a link back to your post. Because Post Produce is late this month, think of it as Post Produce weekend rather than Post Produce day! Share the produce you served at Thanksgiving from your own garden:

 

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Neck Pumpkin! (Pennsylvania Crookneck Squash)

17 pound neck pumpkin from my small kitchen garden

Central Pennsylvanians call these winter squashes Neck Pumpkins. The squash also goes by the name of Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash.

Grow winter squash in your kitchen garden! These plants always delight me with their aggressive growth which leads them to overwhelm tens of square feet of garden space. These are not plants for a small garden, though you might accommodate them by providing trellises and training the vines away from your other vegetable plants.

I’ve reported on neck pumpkins several times over the years. This one grew on a vine I set in the garden in mid-July. So, in just two months the plant went from seedling to harvestable 17 pound squash. There are more in the garden.

Neck Pumpkin Characteristics

Neck Pumpkin is a distinctively central Pennsylvania winter squash. The fruit is like a giant butternut squash though lighter in color and milder in flavor. Still, the squash is nearly all meat. This fruit is enough to make, perhaps, 14 pumpkin pies—or to serve squash side dishes at dinner for more than two weeks.

I plan to do a seed giveaway this winter and seeds from this neck pumpkin will be among the offerings. Check back in January or early February for details. Here’s video I recorded when I harvested the neck pumpkin in this post:

 

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