Squash, anyone?

Friday, May 13th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant an herb garden in a container near the kitchen door for convenient fresh spices like basil, oregano, parsley and thyme.
    • Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, look like miniature petunias and come in many unusual shades and blends. Plant them in full sun for a profusion of flowers from spring to frost.
    • Hang codling moth traps in apple trees to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Be sure to use a fresh pheromone (attractant).
    • Colorful Gerberas with their large, daisy flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now. Choose new hybrids or heirlooms for the flavors that you love.

Squash, anyone?

The squash family provides us with such a wide variety of vegetables that differ so greatly in size and shape that it is sometimes hard to believe that they are related. They are divided into two groups: summer squash and winter squash.

Summer squash are dominated by the ever popular zucchini. Available now in both green and yellow as well as black, gray and striped, they each have a slightly different flavor and each have their followers.

Other summer squashes include scalloped squash or Patty Pan or sometimes Scallopini. This easy-to-grow and prolific squash is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges, and white, yellow or green in color.

Round bush zucchini has numerous ball-shaped fruit that are perfect for stuffing. And the well-known yellow crookneck is a delicious squash. Plants will bear continuously when regularly harvested at 5 to 6 inches long.

Summer squash are wonderful picked fresh from the garden, but the fruit can only be stored for 1 to 2 weeks. So-called winter squash are types that develop a hard shell and can be stored for many months and used throughout the winter.

Winter squash include varieties such as Butternut, Buttercup, Spaghetti, Acorn, Delicata and Banana.

Acorn squash is a winter squash with distinctive ridges and sweet, yellow-orange flesh. The most common type is dark green in color and it is a handy smaller size for baking.

Banana squash is the king of squashes growing up to 4 feet long and anywhere from 10 – 70 pounds, though they average between 10 and 20. It has an elongated shape, with light pink or orange skin and bright orange flesh and will provide dozens of winter meals.

Buttercup squash has a turban-shape (a flattish top and dark green skin) and deep-orange flesh with a sweet and mild flavor.

Butternut is one of the most popular varieties. They have a smooth, long-necked bowling pin shape with tender flesh that offers a creamy flavor. This old favorite offers fine eating and consistent flavor.

Delicata, also known as the sweet potato squash, is creamy and sweet with a mild aroma. Oblong and cylindrical, it is creamy-yellow with green, sometimes orange, vertical stripes.

Hubbard squash is a large dark blue to green squash with a tear-drop shape, very hard and bumpy skin and tender yellow flesh with a rich flavor. There is also a golden-skinned variety.

Spaghetti squash have a hard rind, and unique flesh that separates into strings when cooked for a “spaghetti”-like dish. It makes a low-calorie substitute for pasta.
Make room for some new varieties of squash in your garden and enjoy their many flavors all summer and through the winter months.

Harvesting & Storing Squash

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 by Jenny Watts
    • Spray citrus and other tender plants with Cloud Cover to give them some protection from frosts. Bring houseplants indoors.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Clean up the garden by raking leaves and old flower blossoms out from under your shrubs. Roses and camellias especially appreciate this.
    • Empty birdbaths and fountains and cover them for the winter, to prevent water freezing and cracking the bowls.
    • Liquidambar and Japanese maple trees can’t be beat for fall color. Choose them now while you can see their bright colors.

Harvesting & Storing Squash

Winter squash and pumpkins are the gems of the garden. Inside their hard and sometimes unattractive shells is a bounty of delicious golden flesh. And to add to that, you can store them away without refrigeration and enjoy them all winter long.

New gardeners are sometimes confused by the name “winter squash.” In fact, winter squash grow during the summer months just as “summer” squash do. The difference is that winter squash develop a hard rind that allow them to stored for much of the winter.

Pumpkins and winter squash take a long season to mature. Planted in April or May, they will reach maturity by October. It’s best to time your squash crop so that the fruits can be harvested and put into storage before the first hard frost, at 27°F. Pumpkins and winter squash can tolerate light frosts that kill the vines only. If hard frost threatens before pumpkins or squashes are ripe, blanket the fruits and vines with a tarp or loose straw.

To grow squash for storage, wait until the vines begin to dry and the rinds have toughened before harvesting. To test for maturity, press a thumbnail against the skin; your nail shouldn’t leave a visible dent. Never rush to harvest winter squash because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Pumpkins are harvested when they are uniformly orange and the rind is hard.

Cut, don’t pull, ripe squash from the vines, leaving 3 inches of stem attached. A broken stem exposes the fruit to rot, so don’t use the stem as a “handle” for carrying. Cure harvested squash, unwashed, in a warm and sunny spot for a week or two. You can also allow them to “cure” in the garden in the warm fall weather. Take care to protect the fruits from cuts, scrapes, and dents, as all can lead to early spoilage.

Thinner-skinned types such as acorn, delicata, and spaghetti squashes should be used within two or three months of harvest. Skip the curing step and move them to a cool place immediately after harvest.

Hubbard, buttercup and kabocha squashes and pie pumpkins can be stored for 4-6 months. Butternuts keep best in storage, sometimes lasting until spring.

Store cured squashes in a room that is dry and cool – 50°-60°F is best – and make sure they have good air circulation. Humidity should be relatively low. Check your stored squash monthly to identify and use up any fruit that shows sign of decay.

During the winter months, when the weather is wet and cold, there’s something particularly satisfying about still being able to eat food from your garden. Enjoy the fruits of your harvest all winter long.