Getting Squashed in July

It happens every year about this time, sometimes a bit earlier. Suddenly, we are up to our ears in squash! That’s not a bad thing though. In addition to eating them fresh, I freeze a lot for use later in the year in soups, stocks and other dishes. I am pleased with how they are growing this year, and thought I would give a quick tour.

area with vining squashes

I’ve got the vining types growing up trellises made of remesh panels attached to metal t-posts with zip ties. I train the vines to go up the trellises, and if necessary prune any growth that is too vigorous. Usually that’s only necessary on something like the tromboncinos, which are rampant growers. Some of the less vigorous growers haven’t yet started to climb the poles, including Jester and Tetra. Both of these have started setting on fruits though, and currently they are resting on the mulch of straw.

Jester squash plant

young Jester squash

Others like the Korean squash Meot Jaeng I Ae are vining right on up. I am growing this variety and another Korean one called Teot Bat Put (avocado squash) for the first time, and they both promise to be prolific as well as vigorous growers. They are C. moschata types, and should be resistant to squash vine borers, though I am rarely bothered by that pest. More common here is the squash bug, which usually arrives right about now. I have seen eggs on the underside of one leaf, so I know that they have come out of hiding.

Korean zucchini Meot Jaeng I Ae squash vines

Meot Jaeng I Ae squash almost ready to harvest

Teot Bat Put squash

I’m not surprised the Tromba d’Albenga was first to make it to the top of the trellis. It always does well here for me. It has just now started setting on squash too. Even though technically it is a winter squash, I harvest these at the green stage. They are tasty when roasted in the oven, grilled, or spiralized for use like pasta. The long slender neck is solid flesh, and has a much drier texture than zucchini. I also have the Centercut squash growing, which is a smaller version of the tromboncino. I have this one growing up next to the garden fencing and I’m training it to vine there.

Tromba d’Albenga vines

Tromba d’Albenga setting on

This is my second year growing Celebration, which is a brightly colored acorn type that looks more like a sweet dumpling to me. It was prolific last year, and we enjoyed them cut in half and baked or cut into slices and roasted.

Celebration squash

The heirloom Thelma Sanders acorn squash is a long-time favorite here. The mature squash have a tan skin and a sweet, nutty flavor after baking. It has started setting on too.

Thelma Sanders squash setting on

The bush squashes are in another area, and growing lushly like the vining types. They have filled in the space between their neighbors, tomatoes on one side and a cover crop of field peas on the other side. They are sharing a row with the spring planted brassicas. When the squash are done for I typically sow turnips and radishes in their spot for a fall harvest.

bush squash plants

And joy of joys – I heard a honeybee buzzing around the blossoms this morning! I managed to get a pic of her going in the flower to get the pollen.

honeybee in squash bloom

We are getting our fill of squash at the moment, and the freezer is starting to fill with what I am putting up. I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the many squashes here in July, and I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!

 

 

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Harvest Monday June 29, 2020

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. We got some much needed rain this weekend, and I’m sure the garden will appreciate it. After getting off to a wet start this year, it dried up in May. That was good for getting things planted, but not for them growing. Still, we are getting lots of harvests, and that now includes blueberries. My wife is in charge of those harvests, and she has picked 6 pounds of them so far. They are so tasty, and we have been enjoying them for breakfast and for snacking, then she freezes what’s left. I’ve been using some of the ones we froze last year in my fruit smoothies too.

blueberries

homemade toasted muesli topped with blueberries

The heat has brought on the eggplants I have growing in containers. Fairy Tale and Patio Baby are my two favorites for containers, and they always give us the first taste of eggplant before the plants in the main garden start producing. The small fruits are perfect for grilling, stir fries or for roasting in the oven, which is how we prepared this first batch. The plants are loaded so there will be more to come soon.

Fairy Tale and Patio Baby eggplant

The squashes are loving the heat too, and I have an assortment of them coming on. I’m freezing a lot of them for use later on in soups. I also use the frozen zucchini in my smoothies. The smoothie is a good place to put a lot of different fruits and veggies.

Dunja and Safari zucchinis

Zephyr squash

Tempest squash

The first Centercut squash were eagerly awaited. We love these roasted or grilled. More are setting on the two vines I planted this year, so I am hoping for plenty of these to eat. Last year they were so productive we were giving them away!

Centercut squash

Cucumbers are not minding the heat in the greenhouse either. The 7082 variety is from Row 7 Seeds (like the Centercut squash) and was bred to have a little bitter flavor to it and stand up to cooking. I plan to grill these two and see how they taste prepared that way. We’ve been enjoying the others pickled and fresh for salads, and a spiralized cucumber salad is on the menu for this week. Itachi is a mild flavored white skinned one I grew last year for the first time, and Corinto is my long time favorite for slicing cucumbers.

7082 cucumbers

Itachi and Corinto cucumbers

It’s been a good year for kohlrabi here too. The hybrid Kossak variety is delivering big ones I use for fermenting plus fresh use. They have been weighing between 1 and 1.5 pounds each, and even at that size they are tender with no woody spots or pithiness. I’ve harvested 26 pounds of kohlrabi so far this year, which is more than all of last year’s spring and fall crop combined. I am quite happy about that since it is one of our favorite veggies, so versatile raw, cooked or fermented.

Kossak kohlrabi

It hasn’t been a great year for napa cabbage though. I had one head rot on me before it was ready to cut, and the two I did get have a lot of insect damage. I usually put daikon radish in with my cabbage kimchi, but I didn’t plant any this spring so I will substitute kohlrabi. I also plan to make kohlrabi kimchi without any cabbage in it which is a favorite of mine when we have plenty of kohlrabi.

ingredients for kimchi

napa cabbage

The lettuce is not happy with the heat, but I’m still cutting it in the cool of the morning before the heat makes the leaves wilt. There was a little tip burn on the Garden Babies in the below photo, but the Sea Of Red is holding up well. It is truly my new favorite red lettuce, which is a good thing because I planted quite a bit of it!

Garden Babies and Sea Of Red lettuce

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 


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Hand-Pollinating Squash

Most gardeners don’t worry much about how their vegetables get pollinated. For one thing, almost all of the popular vegetables people grow do just fine without any help from the gardener. But squashes can sometime be an exception to that. They depend on bees and other pollinators to do the job and without that happening, you’re not likely to get edible fruit. We have plenty of bees around our place, but they don’t always find the squash plants early in the season, so I step in and do the job myself. It’s easy to do if you know how! If you’re having problems getting your squash to set on, you might consider hand pollinating too. Today I want to show you how I go about it, but first we need to consider a bit of botany.

summer squashes

There are four species of squash commonly planted in home gardens. Some can cross pollinate with each other, but it’s best to stay within the same species for reliable results. Cucurbita pepo species includes most of the summer squash varieties like zucchini, yellow squash and pattypan plus winter types like acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash. Cucurbita moschata includes the butternuts, cheese pumpkins, neck pumpkins and tromboncino types. Cucurbita maxima includes kabocha, buttercup, hubbard and most pumpkins. Cucurbita argyrosperma is the species for cushaws. I pollinate moschatas with moschatas, pepos with pepos, and so on.

assortment of squashes

Vegetables like beans, peppers and tomatoes have ‘perfect’ flowers, with the male and female parts present in the same flower. Members of the squash family though have ‘imperfect’ flowers, which is to say some flowers are male and some are female. The female ones are what become the squashes, while the male ones supply the pollen. The two types of flowers are pretty easy to distinguish from each other once you know what to look for. There are a few varieties of squash that are parthenocarpic and don’t need pollination, but most all need to be pollinated to get good fruit set.

male blossom on zucchini

The male blossoms are on long thin stems, and the center of each open bloom has a pollen covered anther. The pollen sometimes begins falling off inside the blossom after it opens in the morning, and the bloom only remains open for a few hours before closing up. In the below photo I have torn away part of the flower to show the anther in the center of the bloom.

male squash blossom showing pollen on anther

The female blossoms have an enlarged ovary just behind the bloom, which looks like a baby squash. That is the part that will develop into the mature squash. It’s easy to spot on this yellow squash because of the color.

female blossom of yellow squash

On a green zucchini the ovary is green, and looks much thicker than the stem on the male blossom. If you look closely you can even see it has flecks like the bigger one next to it that was pollinated a couple of days ago.

female blossom of green zucchini squash

The center of the female blossom contains the stigma, which will receive the pollen. In the below photo, ants have made their way into the bloom before I could get to it. There’s no sign they are hurting anything though so I don’t worry about them.

female squash blossom showing stigma

Since the blossoms open early in the morning, and close later in the day, I try and do the hand pollination early each morning. To pollinate the squash, I first find a male blossom that’s opened up. There are usually more of them than the female blossoms, so it’s not hard to do most of the time. I pluck or cut the blossom stem from the plant, then I carefully strip away the petals from all around the flower. This makes it easier to get the pollen from the anther on the stigma.

male squash blossom with petals stripped away

Once the petals are removed, you find a female blossom that needs pollinating and use the male blossom like a brush to gently “paint” the pollen onto the stigma. There’s plenty of pollen on one male bloom to pollinate at least one if not two female blossoms. Try and get some of the pollen all around the stigma. You’ll know if it worked in a day or two when the ovary starts to grow and develop into a squash. And that’s all there is to it!

pollinating a female zucchini blossom

For more information on hand pollinating squash, check out these sources:

Hand Pollinating Squash – Texas A&M University

Hand Pollination of Squash and Pumpkins – Missouri Botanical Garden

Hand Pollination of Squash and Corn in Small Gardens – University of Florida

If you are trying to save seed from your squashes, you need to do things a bit differently. For a good reference book I highly recommend reading Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. The book contains a wealth of information for saving all kinds of vegetable seeds, plus a few herbs like basil and parsley. Information is also available at the Seed Savers Exchange – Hand Pollination:Squash.

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Harvest Monday June 22, 2020

It’s time once again for Harvest Monday, where we celebrate all things harvest related. It’s now officially summer, and the harvests show it. The summer squashes are bearing almost daily now. Safari is a striped zucchini I’m trialing here this year, and so far it’s looking promising. It’s making long slender fruits, and this one weighed in at 13 ounces.

Safari zucchini

Tempest is a my favorite yellow squash, and we have been enjoying it lightly sauteed in a little butter. Bred by Johnny’s for flavor and for drier flesh, it is truly my favorite yellow squash. We also enjoy them cut in half lengthwise and grilled. Here they are hanging out with the large Kossak kohlrabi and an Astia zucchini.

Tempest squash with Kossak kohlrabi

Kossak is a variety that makes large kohlrabi that I like to use for fermenting into kraut or pickled sticks. The one in my hand weighed in at 1.5 pounds, which is the size I like to harvest them. They are good for other uses too, like cutting into slices or chunks and roasting in the oven.

Kossak kohlrabi

We’ve been enjoying the smaller sized kohlrabi either raw, or stir fried. This is one I’m growing for the first time called Korist. It’s done well, though I’m not sure it is an improvement over Terek or Konan. All of the kohlrabi from this bed have quite a lot of slug damage, but it doesn’t hurt the end product since the skin gets peeled anyway.

Korist kohlrabi

The greenhouse lettuce is struggling with the heat but we’re still eating it. I’m growing Starfighter for the first time and I’m impressed so far. It reminds me of Simpson Elite, and handles the hot weather quite well. By hot, I mean the greenhouse regularly gets over 100°F in the afternoons, so this is a tough lettuce indeed!

Starfighter lettuce

Sea of Red lettuce is also holding up well. It keeps its red color in the greenhouse better than many I have grown, since the color tends to lessen somewhat when grown in there. I’m cutting it before it is full sized, but still large enough to give us lots of tender leaves.

Sea of Red lettuce

The cucumbers are not minding the heat in the greenhouse so far. We’ve been getting a steady supply of slicing and snacking types like Corinto and Mini Munch.

Corinto and Mini Munch cucumbers

The broccolini plants have made all of their main heads now, and we’re moving on to the side shoots. Artwork and Atlantis were the last to head up this year, Happy Rich and Apollo the first. I think I may have finally found a mix of varieties that don’t all come on at once. The Burgundy side shoots are nice sized, and Artwork’s main heads were bigger than usual. We have been well supplied with broccoli lately, though I can’t imagine it will linger long if the heat wave continues.

Burgundy broccoli

Artwork broccoli

In the future harvests department, the first of the Center Cut squash are setting on. I’m still hand pollinating all the squashes, not hard to do as long as I remember to do it. There are usually plenty of male blossoms to use for a pollen source.

Centercut squash on the vine

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to share, add your name and blog link to Mr Linky below. And be sure and check out what everyone is harvesting!

 


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June Garden Update

Today I want to give a tour of our vegetable garden. I never got around to doing any garden updates in May, so this one is long overdue! I have been busy clearing, planting, weeding and mulching though. I planted sweet potatoes yesterday, and that is the last of the summer veggies to go in. The main vegetable garden area is about 45 feet by 45 feet and fenced in to keep deer and other critters out. There’s about 1700 feet of usable space in there after allowing for walkways and paths. This year I decided to cut back my planting somewhat, and came up with a plan that idled 30% of the area. Gone are things like garlic and onions, and I cut back on everything else.

entering the garden through the gate

Just inside the door, I have a zucchini planted in a grow bag. I continue to experiment with container plantings, and this was a spare plant I had left after I set out all the squash plants. This is my first time growing Green Machine, and we will see how it does in the ground as well as in the grow bag. If I get even a few fruits from this plant it will have been worth my minimal effort, since I reused the existing soil and added a bit of fertilizer and compost to it before planting.

Green Machine zucchini in grow bag

Next to the grow bag is where I set out four rhubarb plants this spring. I have two each of Crimson Red and Green Victoria. They are doing well so far, and I look forward to harvests in a couple of years. Our climate is a bit hot for rhubarb, but it is grown successfully here in our area and I am hopeful it will give us something for my efforts.

rhubarb plants

The first bed is devoted to vining squashes. For support I am using remesh panels attached to metal t-posts with zip ties, an idea I got from Michelle at From Seed To Table. It is a good way to make use of vertical space, and the squash vines climb right up the remesh material.  I have eight different varieties of squash growing there, and two more planted in the corners of the garden and vining along the fencing. Not surprisingly the tromboncino types are growing vigorously and were the first to start showing blooms.

vining squash

Tromba d’Albenga squash

At one end of this first bed, I have set out Natchez blackberries in between the squash trellises. Our blackberry planting is getting old, and we have to cover it with netting to keep the deer from eating the plants and the berries. This way the plants will be inside the garden fencing, and the six plants should be more than enough to keep us supplied. My plan is to have the blackberries and the vining squashes occupy the same area, though I will likely have to orient the trellises 90° in the other direction than they are now. I set out the blackberries last year, and by next year we should begin to get our first harvests from them.

Natchez blackberry plant

I have one long row of pole beans planted that generally keeps us well supplied with beans for fresh eating all summer long plus plenty for the freezer. But I also plant a short row of bush beans to give us an early taste of them before the vining types start setting on. This spring I am trying a variety called Orient, which is supposed to make straight pods that should be good for roasting whole. For fall I plan to grow a filet type bean called Tavera, and another called Cosmos. The rest of that row has eggplants and the sweet potatoes planted there. The beans are just now beginning to show blossoms, so we should be getting our first taste of fresh beans in a couple of weeks. So far the bean beetles have left the leaves alone.

Orient beans

bean blossoms

One of the things I cut back on planting was tomatoes, though I still have plenty of them set out this year. I am using folding cages for the short vine types, and my homemade remesh cages for the indeterminate ones. The first fruits are beginning to set on some of the small fruited varieties, and in general the vines are green and growing vigorously. You can see by the photos, I still have lots of them planted, perhaps too many, but it’s hard for me to say no to tomatoes! The mulch I am using is mostly sheets of newspaper covered with straw, though in some spots I have used cardboard covered with straw.

short vine tomatoes

indeterminate tomatoes

The peppers and eggplants are still quite small, but the spring brassicas are quite big and we are enjoying broccolini and kohlrabi harvests now with cabbage hopefully soon to follow. It’s hard to believe but it won’t be long before I start the fall brassicas, and indeed I have already started seeds for collards so I can hopefully get them out sometime next month. My usual rotation has kale or collards following the broccoli and cabbage, with those two following something else like the summer squashes.

young pepper plant

broccolini plant

And speaking of them, the bush squashes are yielding now and starting to give us plenty of squash to eat plus some to freeze. The bees have yet to find the blooms, so I am still hand pollinating every morning. We have plenty of honeybees and bumblebees here, they just haven’t found the squash blooms yet! We have a lot of white clover in our yard, and they are working that daily for nectar, so it’s only a matter of time before they find the squash blooms as a source for pollen to take back to the hive.

bush squashes

The pole beans are just now sprouting, and it will be a while before we harvest anything from them. I will mulch them with paper and straw soon, and guide any strays to the trellis I have setup for them. I’m using Trellinet material, which is a polypropylene netting that lasts for several seasons, and have it tied to metal t-posts and tall bamboo poles which also last for several years.

pole beans

For the 30% of the garden that is idled this year, my plan was to plant cover crops and use mulch to keep the weeds down. When I started researching cover crop seeds, I noticed field peas were listed along with things like daikon radishes, forage turnips, buckwheat and other traditional green manures. So I figured, why not plant an edible field pea (aka blackeyed pea) and harvest it! Cowpeas are an easy to grow crop here in summer, and the edible peas will be an added bonus. As a legume they will fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, and the vines will add organic material to the compost bins after they are pulled up in fall. I have a row of them coming up already, and with any luck we will have a few fresh peas to eat this summer. They are in between rows of peppers and bush squashes, and I have them mulched with straw over paper.

blackeyed peas

I still have plenty of garden chores to do, including finding a storage spot for all the unused tomato and pepper cages. I have given a few away, and plan to hang on to the rest to use as replacements in the future. I still have more mulching and weeding to do, and before long it will be time to get ready for fall plantings. I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the garden here in June, and I’ll be back soon with more happenings from Happy Acres!

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