Archives for posts with tag: yellow squash

We had a relatively warm and bright morning today, something that we will not have many more of (the warm part, anyway) until spring.  So, after breakfast, we performed another round of fall clean-up in the garden.

It is not as if everything is dead or dying—there has been no killing frost so far—and yet, nothing is developing very quickly.  The growth of the squashes, in particular, has slowed to a near stop.  There are plenty of zucchini and crooknecks and even a few large yellow blossoms—all beaming like it was still August—but none of the squashes has gotten any bigger than a few inches in length.

I have to keep in mind that the squashes are summer vegetables and we are now squarely in fall.  The zucchini and crooknecks are past their season and it is time to let them go.

Pulling out the vines was relatively easy.  The only difficult part was finding where they were rooted to the ground.  Summer squashes grow from one central stem along which the leaves and fruit radiate.  After the squashes ripen and are harvested, the leaves wither and die, leaving their section of stem barren.

At the same time, the leading tip of the stem continues to grow outward and new leaves, blossoms and fruit are created.  As a result, after four months of bounteous growth, the vines reach a length of several feet.  The active end gets separated from its starting point and the intervening stem gets buried by fallen trees leaves.  At a casual glance, it looks as though the vines have moved around the garden.

The winter squashes we grew this year develop in a similar manner.  But instead of letting the Naguri squash (a Kabocha-like variety) trail spread out on the ground, we trained it up and around a tripod of garden stakes.  When we removed the vine last week (see October 13, 2013 for photos), it had reached the top of the tripod, within striking distance of the temple bell that hangs there.

The Zeppelin Delicata squash looked as though it would follow the same path as the summer squashes.  Sadly, though, it got no farther than the perimeter of its mound of soil.  It produced only a few fruit, none of which got any bigger than an inch or so in length.  For us, their name was something of a misnomer.  I wouldn’t even characterize them as weather balloons.

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We are still experiencing blossom end rot of the crookneck squash.  It is not affecting every fruit, however, and despite losing two or three potential squash, we were able to harvest two healthy ones.

At the same time, we also picked two of the Cavili zucchini.  These turn out to be a pale green variety (as opposed to the more typical dark green type) and are best picked small (about four inches in length).

Blossom end rot is caused by a deficiency of Calcium in the soil.  The soil in which our squash plants are growing should be rich in minerals but it is new, by which I mean it has not been tested; we do not know its balance of macro- and micronutrients.  It could easily be short on Calcium or perhaps overly acidic.

We have a friend who swears by bone meal.  Whenever she plants a squash or tomato plant, she sprinkles a handful of it into the bottom of the hole.  That way, she knows that the plant will have a ready source of Calcium.  We have rarely done this (based on the results of soil analysis and, admittedly, laziness).

We’ll keep an eye on the squash plants and if the end rot persists, will consider adding Calcium in some form (bone meal is slow so a liquid form may be more efficacious).

The squash seedlings have practically jumped out of their seed tray.  They are quite tall (about four inches) and about as wide, elbowing their neighbors for space like commuters on a rush-hour subway train.

The cucumber seedlings are almost as big, in girth if not height, as are most of the tomato seedlings whose branches are spreading out even while their stems are still spindly.  The leaves are becoming intertwined and are forming a dense canopy over the seed tray.

It is time to pot up.

We had prepared for this by procuring some larger plastic pots.  We thought we would find them for sale at our local garden centers but neither the Home Depot nor the Plant Depot carries them.  The kind people at the Plant Depot did give us the few they had in their potting shed—seven 4-inch square pots—and it’s a start but not nearly enough.

I next tried the family-run nursery and market a couple of miles down the road from us.  They don’t sell them either but had many on hand (they use them in the nursery).  Theirs plastic pots are smaller (about 3 1/2 inches high) and round and I was able to cadge a stack of 65 of them from the friendly proprietress (actually, she offered them and I thankfully accepted).

Before starting, I washed the pots with diluted bleach.  After all, the containers were not new and who knows where they had been?  All joking aside, young plants are very susceptible to diseases and insects.  It would only take a small clod of soil to infect the seedlings.

We had also purchased a bag of compost which we added in equal parts to the seed starting mix that was left over from the sowing operation.  Seed mix does not provide much organic material which the seedlings need to continue their growth (they will have used up the energy in their endosperm by now).  Cutting the dense, claylike compost into the granular seed starting mix reminded me of making the topping for a fruit crisp.  I used a trowel (as opposed to two table knives or a pastry cutter) and when the soil achieved the appearance of coarse meal, I knew it was done (just like the dessert).

The squash seedlings are the largest and we reserved the larger pots for them.  We filled each with soil and I formed holes for the seedlings by pressing two fingers into the soil.  The pots were ready to receive squash plants but how to get them out of the seed tray?

My first temptation would be to grab a seedling by its stem and yank it out.  However, there is a danger of pulling the seedling’s roots out of the soil.  Also, we had read that the stems of young plants are delicate and that handling them, even gently, should be avoided.  Fortuitously, I had also read (I don’t remember where but it was online) that using a fork was a convenient way to get the seedlings out.  This made sense to me so I grabbed one from the kitchen drawer.

I carefully jabbed it into the soil of the first squash plant, a Supersett Yellow Crookneck, near the edge of its compartment.  With a firm lateral and upward motion, I lifted the fork and the entire plug of soil, bound by the seedling’s roots, came free.  It was like pulling an escargot from its shell.

With the seedling still impaled on the fork, I pressed it into one of the pots.  Rachel added another handful of soil and I packed it around the stem at the same time pulling out the fork.  By varying the pressure, I was able to align the stem roughly perpendicular to the soil surface without touching it.  Transplant accomplished.

We repeated the process for three more Crookneck seedlings and then potted up four Cavili Zucchini.  We gave them all a splash of water, recompacted the soil and topped off each pot with another trowelful of potting mix.  After the excess water had drained out, we put the pots back into the catchment tray (the same one the seed tray had been in), put them back under the fluorescent lights, and moved on to the cucumbers.

Potting up seven of the Alibi Pickling Cornichons and an equal number of Alibi Pickling cucumbers both refilled the drainage tray and depleted the potting soil.  I mixed up another batch and we repeated the entire process with the tomato seedlings.  We transplanted three of each of the six varieties, resulting in 18 pots with room to grow.

The eggplant, bell peppers and basil do not look ready to move up just yet so we will let them go for another week.  The basil seedlings are moving particularly slow and they may be able to go directly outdoors.

The seed planting calendar shows that today is the day for sowing the cucumbers and squashes.  Rachel is laid up with a nasty head cold (get well soon!) so I am answering the garden’s call by myself.

After our first round of indoor seed sowing (see March 24, 2013), I know the drill:  moisten the soil mix; fill a tray with it; label the rows, drop in the seeds; cover with more soil mix; water; put the lid on the tray and place it on a shelf.

Cucumber and squash seeds are large and flat, similar in appearance but not as big as pumpkin seeds (their cousins in the cucurbit family) with which most people are familiar.  (I find it odd that I do not usually consider cucumber or zucchini seeds to be related and have thrown away thousands of them without any thought.)  The seeds are planted at a greater depth—one inch—and I used a pencil as a dibble to form holes for them.

After watering the tray, which holds eight seeds each or two types of squash and twelve seeds each of two kinds of cucumber, I placed it at the top of the seed growing apparatus (I moved the basil to the bottom).  As the youngest and only seeds not yet germinated, the cucurbits will get exclusive use of the heating pad until their seedlings emerge.

This weekend is the first time this spring that is has been both warm and free of snow.  Finally, we can start our outdoor planting.

But first, a little planning.  I mean, it’s not like we can just throw some seeds in the ground, right?  Well, I suppose we could (and many people do, successfully) but then there would be less to write about.

Our main consideration is crop rotation and making sure that we do not plant anything in the same place we grew it last year.  Because we are doing the same vegetables again this year and have two raised beds, this simply means swapping everything from west to east and vice versa.

Our secondary consideration is expansion.  At the end of last season (see September 25, 2012 and January 16, 2013), we concluded that the zucchini and the cucumbers need more space than the raised beds can provide while still accommodating other vegetables.  Therefore, we will move them elsewhere (posts will follow).

So, without further ado, here are the planting layouts for the raised beds:

East planter:  Tomatoes in the north half; lettuces in the southwest sextant; eggplant and bell peppers in the south central sextant; and basil in the southeast sextant.  We have already started the tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and basil from seed indoors (see March 24, 2013) and will direct sow the lettuces in a week or two.

West planter:  Sugar Snap peas in the north half; turnips and carrots in the southwest quadrant; and radishes and beets in the southeast quadrant.  Starting all of these from seed—sowing them directly into the soil—was today’s activity.

The Sugar Snap Peas will expand to a row the full width of the planter which will, hopefully, increase our yield proportionally.  The duration of the harvest should not change—we planted the entire row today—but each day’s crop should be greater.

Last year, we alternated rows of radishes and beets and this year we did the same.  Unlike last year, however, we planted the seeds in longitudinal rows.  It might not be the most efficient use of the available space (we could fit a slightly larger total length of rows if arranged transversely) but it will be much easier to water.  We took the same approach with the carrots and turnips, sowing their seeds in parallel rows.

By moving the peas farther back in the planter (and strictly speaking, they will occupy less than half of the bed), we can fit five rows of the root crops.  We planted one row of carrots and radishes (half of each) and one row of turnips and beets (again, half of each).  We will follow this in a week or two with another row of carrots and radishes and of turnips and beets and wrap up with a final row of carrots and radishes a week or two after that.  Our harvest will be staggered and should last well into summer.

We measured the rows and marked them by removing the mulch.  The seeds went in quickly—even the teeny-tiny carrot seeds—and we brushed a thin layer of soil onto them for cover.  Rain is expected later today so we will let Mother Nature do the watering.

With a big snowstorm approaching, we sat down with the seed catalogs today to continue—in a much more concrete way—our planning for the upcoming growing season.  We intend to start just about everything from seed this year and having made that decision, our options are much, much wider than they were last year.

Instead of being limited to the seedlings at our farmers’ market or garden center, we can choose from scores of different varieties of each type of plant.  And given the number of seed catalogs out there, the possibilities are practically unlimited (or let’s just say that they are only limited by our time and patience).

We wiled away an hour or two flipping through the pages of the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog, trying to keep in mind what vegetables we actually eat (as opposed to what sounds interesting) and what our experience was last year.  When we had gone through every page, here is what we picked:

  • Sugar Ann Snap Peas
  • Amethyst Purple Filet Bean
  • Roma II Bush Beans
  • Black Opal Eggplant
  • Rainbow Carrot Mixture (Atomic Red, Purple Dragon, Red Samurai, Royal Chantenay, Snow White and Yellowstone varieties)
  • Tanja Slicing Cucumbers
  • Alibi Pickling Cucumbers
  • Gourmet Rainbow Radish Mixture (Flamboyant French Breakfast, Feugo, Hailstone, Helios Yellow, Pink Celebration, Plum Purple, Roodkapje and White Icicle)
  • Jericho Romaine Lettuce
  • Red Salad Bowl Loose-Leaf Lettuce
  • Chioggia Beets
  • Touchstone Gold Beets
  • White Lady Turnips
  • Cavili Zucchini
  • Supersett Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash
  • Country Taste Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomatoes
  • Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
  • Black Cherry Tomatoes
  • Naguri Kabocha-Type Squash
  • Zeppelin Delicata Squash
  • Quadrato d’Asti Rosso Bell Peppers
  • Orange Sun Bell Peppers

Listed longhand like that, it seems like a lot of different vegetables.  However, there are only two more different types of vegetable than we had last year (the carrots and turnips).  Of these, the tomato, cucumber, eggplant and bell pepper seeds should be started indoors (and soon!).  Seeds for the rest can be sown directly in the garden, starting in early April.

We are also considering a few vegetables that we have never grown before but think might be manageable (and that we would actually eat):  Asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Bean Sprouts.  We can wait to start broccoli and cauliflower until mid-summer while beans can be sprouted indoors, anytime.

Asparagus would be a lot of fun to grow (and it will grow here; we have seen it at Stonecrop Gardens).  And yet, it would be a long-term commitment as it must be grown in a protected spot its first year and then given several seasons to reach harvestable production.  But it would be worth it to have this harbinger of spring growing in our own garden.

Our goal is to get the seed trays, lighting, heat (if needed), etc., prepared by the end of the month so that we can start sowing—and watering and lighting—at the beginning of March.  This will give us at least two months of indoor growing before transplanting the seedlings outdoors in May.

We ended up with a few pounds of green tomatoes this year, fruit that started to develop in the early days of September but which languished on the vine as the daylight dwindled.  They are beautiful in their varied—and variegated—shades of green and still good to eat.

We contemplated breading and frying them in the classic southern style or perhaps pickling them (I prefer pickled tomatoes to pickled cucumbers and consider them a delectable deli treat).  But then Rachel found a recipe for Cherry Tomato and Yellow Squash Crumble in the July/August issue of Vegetarian Times magazine.  The dish looked tasty.

Of course, we have neither cherry tomatoes nor yellow squash but I liked the idea of a savory crumble (fruit crumbles are among my favorite dessert dishes).  So we substituted our green tomatoes and upsized to a medium onion (to account for the missing squash).  And I confess that we probably used more than a half-cup of grated Swiss cheese (okay, we used at least twice as much).

Despite our modifications (or perhaps because of them), the crumble was absolutely delicious.  I highly recommend it to anyone who still has green tomatoes to dispose of (and I suspect that the original dish is good, too, for those lucky enough to have ripe cherry tomatoes and squash of any color this late in the year).