Posts Tagged ‘winter squash’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To pollinate a squash, find and pick a male flower. Then peel the petals away from the stamen. Discard the petals.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Let’s start with “Post Produce.” Inspired by Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, Your Small Kitchen Garden blog sponsors Post Produce on the 22nd of every month. I encourage bloggers everywhere to tell the world what they’re consuming from their kitchen gardens. Do you have fresh produce? Are you using preserves?
Post your Produce and then return here and link to your blog so other Post Produce participants can see. I hope you’ll join me this month. (Here’s more about Post Produce.)
And My Produce Is…
This isn’t all the squash I’ve harvested, and there’s still more in the garden. Notice the two rather small squashes on the left side of the stack. One of those cooked down into exactly a cup of mashed squash that went into a pear and pumpkin pie.
For this, the second ever Post Produce, I present pumpkin! Well… it’s actually butternut squash, but I use winter squashes and pumpkins interchangeably in my baking. I have quite a heap of butternut squashes and neck pumpkins, and there are still four decent-looking but very small blue hubbard squashes on the vines.
But the story actually begins with pears. Pears have teased me for more than a decade as I’ve experimented to find compelling ways to incorporate them into baked goods. I’ve learned that concentrating pear juice by boiling away a lot of water barely intensifies the flavor, and by the time even very thick pear syrup combines within cake or bread, it might just as well have been raw sugar.
I’ve also made many custards that contained pear juice, but they’ve all tasted pretty much like regular old custard. In fact, this year I thought I’d finished with my whole “baking with pears” period. And then it struck me: I’ve had pumple pie a few times, and was always unimpressed (pumple is pumpkin pie with embedded apple chunks). But it seemed to me that combining pears with pumpkin would result in a much more compelling pie filling.
Ready for pie? Pears and raisins add texture and visual appeal to a slice of pumpkin pie. Please let me know what you think if you bake one of these beauties.
Experimenting with Pears and Pumpkin
I’ve made a few pear and pumpkin pies in the past few weeks. The first was poached pears baked into pumpkin custard, and it was fine. However, I felt it could use a bit more texture, so I made another that included homemade raisins. Along with texture, these provide flavor bursts that make the pie complex and unique.
I hope you’ll try my pear and pumpkin pie. If you do, please let me know what you think of it. I’ll be serving this at Thanksgiving, but I’ll probably bake a few others as long as there are fresh pears available at the local farmers’ market.
I put the recipe for pear and pumpkin pie on another page so it wouldn’t slow the loading of my blog. It contains a list of ingredients along with step-by-step instructions and many photos. Find them on the page titled Cooking Pear and Pumpkin Pie from Your Small Kitchen Garden.
Now You Post Produce!
Show off your garden produce in your blog. Then, return here and create a link to your Post Produce post. After you link, leave a comment so other participants can find you!
Sorry. I had to lead with sad apples. It rained nearly every day from apple blossom time until June. To grow pretty apples in such conditions, you need to apply anti-insect treatment constantly, and that gets really expensive. I can buy a bushel of apples for around $12 at the farmers’ market and I might have spent $40 or more to keep ahead of the rain. I gave up very early in the season, and this is typical of what’s on my trees now.
September 22, 2011 is the first Post Produce day. Because my Small Kitchen Garden has experienced its worst growing season in 16 years, I’m tempted to share scenes of sickly vegetables and rotting plants. But the whole point of this day is to Post Produce in celebration of kitchen gardening.
There have been some bright spots, despite the crazy weather, and I’ve captured many of them in photos. Captions accompanying the photos provide details. I hope you’ll join me in this monthly celebration of home kitchen gardening and post about your own produce. Find instructions for how to participate by scrolling to the bottom of this blog entry.
If any kitchen garden plant likes rain, it’s tarragon! I set three tarragon plants in a new bed last fall and they have grown into a forest. In fact, I cut them back aggressively about a month ago and already they are overwhelming the shorter thyme plants in front of them. Until this season, I’d grown tarragon only in containers, and I had no idea how massive these plants could become.
Another standout rain-lover in my small kitchen garden is sage. I moved several plants from a wooden barrel planter last fall, and they have exploded with new, lush growth. Those pretty flowers are invaders from my wife’s nearby ornamental bed. If I ever plant a show garden, I may pair these two much as they look in this photo.
I planted a 14 foot row of chili pepper plants in a repeating sequence of jalapeno, banana, and poblano. Apparently, that row ran above an underground lake and the plants’ roots were waterlogged most of the season; I harvested about a pint of tiny, shriveled peppers. Happily, I also set some bell pepper plants in containers on my deck. In a few more weeks, I expect nearly a dozen large fruits to be red or orange and ready to harvest. They all will end up in a pot of red pepper relish.
While my main garden bed spent two-thirds of the season as a swamp, my garden annex drained quite well (it used to be a sandbox), and bell peppers and poblanos I set there produced a modest number of fruits. It’s not a typical abundant haul, but we’ll enjoy a few meals that feature these smoky delights.
Cucumbers disappointed me this year. They grew vigorously in containers on my deck, but none of the fruits they produced were quite appealing enough to pickle whole. Still, I have used these little morsels in salad, and I’ll probably mix up some pickle relish with the dozen or so that are ready to harvest.
Yippee: green beans! This is my first significant harvest and I collected them today. I planted Kentucky Wonders to climb on my tomato trellises and all the plants died as a result of heavy rains in August. But I’d planted a short row in one of our ornamental beds, and they have grown into a nearly impenetrable clump of intertwined vines. This first picking could serve a family of four if three family members despised green beans. There are green bean babies on the vines, so I’m hoping our first frost is still a month away (though, given the way the season has gone, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got frost at noon today).
This year’s big winner is winter squash. Sure, there are water stains on some of them, but these neck pumpkins and butternut squashes look spectacular considering the season. The biggest neck pumpkin weighs about 12 pounds, and the heap weighs more than 50 pounds. There are several more fruits ripening on the vines (even as the vines drown from recent storms), and there are even a few Blue Hubbards in the garden showing some promise.
Join in and Post Produce!
Join the celebration and show the world what you’re eating from your garden. To participate, Post Produce on your own blog. You don’t have to post photos. List what you’re harvesting, write a poem about it, record a song… create whatever post celebrates your food-growing successes.
Then, return here and create a link to your Post Produce post. Also, leave a comment to entice other participants to visit your blog. That’s all there is to it!
For a few more details about Post Produce, follow this link. There you’ll find a bit about why I started Post Produce along with further suggestions for types of things you might post. I’ll watch for your Post Produce posts and visit every one.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your Small Kitchen Garden catches up with a series of posts about what went on in the garden this season while the kitchen gardener (Daniel) was busy writing his book Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry it, Too.
On February 12th of this year, the butternut squash from my small kitchen garden looked a little scary. Fortunately, just one fruit had gone soft; the others were in decent shape and we continued to eat them into March. I chucked the mushy one onto the compost heap.
I harvest a lot of winter squash from my small kitchen garden. Near the end of the season, squash vines cover nearly half of my planting bed. I love the flavor of squash, and I love its versatility: it works in both sweet and savory dishes, and you can cook it into many appealing textures.
But while squash’s culinary versatility is impressive, it has another terrific quality: it keeps well. I’d guess we call winter squash winter squash because of its durability: you harvest it in late autumn, and it keeps well into winter.
Proper Kitchen Garden Squash Stores
Most winter squashes keep best where it’s cool, dark, and dry… and by cool, I mean no colder than about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally, store your winter squash in a single layer with no pieces touching other pieces. Relative humidity should be 60 to 80 percent and the temperature should be 50 to 55 degrees.
By March 24th of the year, we were down to our last butternut squash, and it was in reasonably good shape. Consider: harvested in October, and lying on the dining room floor for five months until March. Awesome!
Look closely at this five-month-old squash and you can see wrinkling and a touch of blotchiness; I’d never pay for this in a grocery store. However, the deterioration is (mostly) skin deep. With such minor surface blemishes, the squash meat inside is likely to be in decent shape.
Fortunately, air tends to be dry in winter, so low humidity shouldn’t be hard to achieve. Unfortunately, you might figure your basement for the ideal temperature, but many basements remain damp year-round.
Here’s the good news: if you keep the temperature in your house around 68 degrees, there are probably places on the floor that, in winter, are very close to 55 degrees. For example, you might have a rarely-used guest room that you don’t heat except when you have company. Or, the floor along an outside wall or under a picture window could be significantly colder than the air at chest level.
My Small Kitchen Garden Squash Store
Much to my wife’s consternation, I’ve left a heap of butternut squash on our dining room floor each fall for the past several years. The dining room has a double-wide sliding glass door onto our porch, so the floor is naturally cool in winter. My mistake, of course (besides annoying my wife), is that I heap the squash. However, I’ve had very satisfactory results. The photos tell the story.
Peeled, my well-aged squash looks as good as a freshly-harvested squash. There are differences, however…
Halved down the center, this well-aged squash from my small kitchen garden reveals evidence of aging. The fibers that hold the seeds have dried a bit and shrunk, and the squash meat, itself has dried giving rise to air pockets. Still, there are no soft spots; no rot. Cooked, the only apparent difference between this and freshly-harvested squash will be sweetness; the older squash may sweeter than a young squash.
I encourage you to keep your own winter squash into the winter. Here’s a simple strategy to employ: Estimate how many whole squash you’ll eat by March, and store that many along with a few extra (in case some spoil). If you have any more than you expect to eat by March, freeze them or can them and they’ll last until your next harvest. I explain how to freeze winter squash in Freeze Winter Squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden, and how to can it in Can Squash or Pumpkin from Your Home Kitchen Garden.
Share Your Squash Stories!
I’m very enthusiastic about winter squash, and would love hear your squash stories: Which varieties do you grow? How do you store them? Do you have unusual ways to prepare them? Please leave your story in a comment.