growing, eating, sharing

The rainy season begins; build compost and bake squash.

The rainy season begins; build compost and bake squash.

The rains stayed late and started early this year. A blessing in some ways, but very challenging for farmers and gardeners. We’re back to the warnings about not compacting the soil by working it or even being in the garden when it is too wet. No rain is predicted for the next week, so it will be a good time to clean up the finished summer crops. If you’re not going to mow and till in the crop residues, (which it probably will be too wet to do), you can cut off the old plants just below ground level, (leaving the roots to decompose), and make some big compost piles. This is a great activity for this time of year; it’s good to be out in the crisp fresh air getting some exercise and feeding the miraculous process that will turn waste into the best fertilizer for your garden. You will be very happy to have this wonderful compost next spring. If you need some help with your composting techniques, check out the Master Gardener’s compost document on the iGROW website now. Once the old crops are cleaned out you can either plant cover crop, (last call right now, as the soil is starting to get cold), put down organic mulch, or plant garlic. See Sara’s last blog for more on garlic planting.

 Another challenge of this year has been the on-going pest issues. Last month I mentioned that cabbage worms were eating my young brassica plants. I said that they would only be a problem for a short time. Well, one of our big lessons from this year is that there is no such thing as “usual” any more. I’ve been picking off these voracious green caterpillars daily (when I can) and more keep coming! But this level of control is working, as the plants are growing much more than being eaten. It took weekly applications of soap spray to get the black aphids on my chard under control, but this situation seems to be better now. However, there are both voles and a gopher in my garden, so I need to stay vigilant!

 This is the first year that I started cooking winter squash while I still have summer squash in the garden. The cool rainy days called for turning on the oven and baking a squash. I’m a squash-a-holic and could eat one form or another of this yummy, satisfying alkaline vegetable every day. Winter squash has much more nutrients and calories than summer squash, good for keeping us warm and healthy in fall and winter. They are so versatile in use – literally from soup through dessert, from breakfast through dinner – and there are so many varieties of winter squash that the possibilities are endless. If you get to know the squash families – identified by their stems – this will give you an idea of their cooking and eating qualities.

 The Pepo family includes the acorns, delicatas and sugar pumpkins. These have hard angled stems, are the earliest to ripen, and generally have a mild, nutty sweetness. They are at their peak in the fall and lose sugars after the first of the year. Maximas have corky stems that can be pierced by your fingernail. They include kabochas, hubbards, buttercups, kuri, etc. These are dense with rich, drier, dark orange flesh. Their skins are thinner and often can be eaten too. If you see “barnacles” on the skins of these squash they are from the sugars breaking through the skins during growth! These will be best if “cured”, (ie. let sit), for a month or so, but check often to make sure you use any that start to develop soft spots right away. Moschatas are the butternuts, cheese pumpkins and Tahitian squash, arguably the most versatile and definitely the longest storing of the squashes, sometimes into April! These also have hard stems but a small “foot” where they attach to the squash as well. Are you already figuring out where you can fit in more winter squash next year?

 The easiest way to prepare any squash is to just wash and bake whole on a pie tin until soft. If you don’t eat it all at once, the rest can be used in soup, casseroles… just glancing through a couple of cookbooks should give you lots of delicious ideas.

 One of the blessings the beginning of the rainy season brings is the time for gardeners to take a break. It’s a time to shift our focus to the home, the holidays ahead, and giving thanks for what our garden has taught us this year, as well as what it fed us. So after building that compost pile, put a squash in the oven, thank your garden and relax!