Pumpkins Exemplify Ripening Winter Squash

41001thumbZucchini is probably the most reliable of warm season vegetable through summer, even when tomatoes are having a bad year. A single zucchini plant produces enough for a household. Two plants produce enough to share with neighbors. Pattypan, crookneck and other varieties of summer squash may not be quite as reliably productive individually, but can be assembled as a delightfully variable team that produces early in summer, and is just now finishing.

The fruit of summer squash is best when immature and tender. It gets tougher and loses flavor as it matures. Because development of seed within maturing fruit exhausts resources, plants are actually more productive if the fruit gets harvested while immature. In other words, they can either make many small fruits, or a few large fruits. The plants have coarse foliage on big but relatively confined annual plants.

Winter squash is very closely related to summer squash. The shabby annual vines sprawl over much larger areas, and can even climb fences and shrubbery. The main difference though, is that each plant produces only a single fruit or only a few individual fruits that are allowed to mature completely through summer. Their ripening fruit is just now becoming available as summer squash are running out. The fruit is supposed to be best after frost has killed the foliage, which could take a while here.

Hubbard, acorn, turban, spaghetti, kabocha and butternut squash, as well as the many varieties of pumpkin, are the more popular types of winter squash. Unlike summer squash, winter squash can be stored for quite a while, and need to be cooked to be eaten. While winter squash do not produce as many fruiting female flowers as summer squash produce, they seem to make at least as many male flowers that can be harvested while still fresh.

Male flowers can be stuffed, battered and fried, or simply fried. After they have been pollinated and set fruit, female flowers are typically too wilted to be eaten. All squash produce more male flowers than female flowers. Even the most fruitful of summer squash produce about three times as many male flowers as female flowers.

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Carrot

91002Bugs Bunny was an expert. He was always chewing on a carrot, Daucus carota, and rudely talking with his mouth full. Because carrots can be stored in refrigeration for a few months, Bugs Bunny could get one whenever he wanted to. However, in home gardens, they are cool season vegetables that are grown through spring and autumn, but not through summer or the middle part of winter.

Carrots are biennial. They complete their life cycle in two seasons. They are vegetative during their first season, as they produce their edible and elongated conical taproot. If not harvested, they bloom and go to seed in their second season. By then, their fat roots are tough and useless. Carrots are ready for harvest in three to four months after their seed are sown, depending on variety.

Carrots are famously bright orange. Yellow, white, red, purple and black varieties have been gaining popularity in the past many years. The longest carrots might be a foot and a half long, but most are less than half as long. Many are only about four inches long, or less. They may be as narrow as half an inch, or wider than two inches! Some carrots are more uniformly cylindrical than conical.

Get Cool Season Vegetables Going

91002thumbThe difficult part will be removing the aging warm season vegetable plants while they are still trying to produce. That is one of the disadvantages of gardening in such an excellently mild climate. It would be easier if frost or cooling weather caused them to start deteriorating by now. Perhaps some are already getting tired. Regardless, their space is needed for new cool season vegetables.

Some of us like to amend the soil in between some of the lingering warm season vegetable plants, and add seedlings of cool season vegetable plants. Then, there is less of a rush to remove the warm season vegetables as they succumb to autumn weather. Some of us just wait for the warm season vegetables to finish, which is a delaying compromise for the new cool season vegetables.

Whatever the preferred technique is, it is now getting to be time to plug in seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Kale seedlings may be added as much as a month later. Seedlings can be purchased from nurseries. Those of us who want particular varieties that are unavailable in nurseries might have sown preferred seed in flats a month or so ago, to be ready for planting now.

Beets, carrots and turnips, like all root vegetables, should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Roots get disfigured if grown in flats or cell packs, and then transplanted. Besides, so many individual plants are needed, that such quantities of cell packs would be expensive. Seed for turnip greens, although not grown for their roots, likewise gets sown out directly, and about now.

Seed for leafy lettuces, spinach and peas should have been sown already, but it is not too late. Kale can alternatively be grown from seed sown directly now, rather than from seedlings plugged in later. If preferred, larger heading lettuces can be grown from seedlings plugged within the next month or so. Cucumbers can be risky. If seed has not yet been sown, seedlings can still be plugged.

Whether grown from seedlings or seed, this is only the first phase of cool season vegetables. For some, later phases will prolong harvest.

Cool Season Vegetables Are Coming

40910thumbWhat happened with the tomatoes?! In past years, they were inhibited by mild summer weather. This year, they had plenty of warmth, but did not seem to perform much better. Perhaps they wanted more humidity. Now that those that started slowly are starting to produce better, they do not have much time left before warm summer weather gets cooler towards autumn.

Eventually, cool season vegetables will move into the garden. Seed for the earliest beets and chard may have already been sown directly into the garden. Subsequent phases of beet seed can be sown every three weeks or so until about a month prior to the return of warm season vegetables at the end of winter. Each subsequent phase should begin to produce at about the time that the previous phase gets depleted.

Unlike beet roots that get pulled up completely when harvested, chard produces foliage for quite a while, so is often planted only once. A second phase added sometime in winter may prolong production into late spring. However, by the time the first phase actually finishes, there will be plenty of warm season greens to grow. Because only a few chard plants are enough, they do not need to be grown from directly sown seed, but can alternatively be grown from cell-pack seedlings purchased from a nursery.

Cell-pack seedlings are actually often more practical than seed is for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and some heading lettuces. Seedlings get growing faster, so are less likely to get eaten by pests as they germinate. A cell-pack of seedlings does not cost much more than an envelop of seed, but contains about as many plants as one garden needs.

Carrots, radishes, peas, spinach and leafy lettuces should be grown from directly sown seed because so many individual plants of each variety are needed for adequate production. Besides, carrots and radishes are roots that get disfigured if initially confined to cell-packs; and peas have very sensitive roots that do not like to be transplanted. Seed for leafy lettuces grown for ‘baby greens’ can be sown densely because leaves get plucked through the season, without getting very large.

There are three options for growing onions. Seed is practical, but takes a while, and can be the riskiest option for large bulbing onions. Onion sets are tiny onions that grew from seed last year, and only need to be grown another year for plump mature bulbs. They will grow as green onions if planted deeply and harvested early. Crowded cell-pack seedlings grow into tight clumps of disfigured onions, but can be separated and grown into well formed individual onions.

Vegetables Change With The Seasons

90814thumbRight smack in the middle of the warm part of summer, it is already time to be getting ready for autumn gardening. This involves more than just ordering our autumn planted spring bulbs while the selection is still optimal. Most of us purchase bulbs from what is available in nurseries when they are in season anyway. Seed that gets sown in the next few weeks is a more immediate concern.

The majority of cool season vegetables will get planted later, when the seasons actually start to change to become . . . well, cool. Seed for beets and carrots gets sown directly in about a month, followed by pea seed even a bit later. At about that same time, many of us will plant small seedlings of other cool season vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale.

For many of us though, it is not that simple. If we want varieties of these cool season vegetables that are not likely to be available as seedlings in nurseries later, we must grow our own from seed. Whether they get sown directly into the garden, or into flats to be grown as seedlings to be planted later, broccoli seed should be sown about now. By the time it gets to growing, it will be autumn.

Seed purchased online or from mail order catalog should be ordered by now. It is not too late for broccoli if the seed arrives and gets sown soon. Cauliflower and cabbage seed gets sown within a month or so, as late August becomes early September. Lettuce and spinach seed should wait half way through September, like beet and carrot seed. Kale seed can wait until after September.

Seed for secondary phases of most of these cool season vegetables can be sown early next year.

In the meantime, warm season vegetables must continue to be harvested very regularly. If they stay in the garden long enough to get tough and bland, they also interfere with continued production. Foliar herbs can be harvested for drying just about any time they are fresh and not blooming. Regular harvesting inhibits bloom, and therefore promotes more of the desirable foliar herbal growth.

Wild Radish

P90623This is why I do not bother growing greens in the garden just yet. Wild radish grows here wild; and there is way too much of it. Most but not all of it gets mown in meadows or cut down with weed whackers on the edges of roadways. There is no need to cut down that which is out of the way. Besides, we could not cut it all even if we wanted to. There is wild turnip and mustard too. All are prolifically naturalized and invasive exotic species.
These radishes do not make the distended roots that garden varieties of radishes are grown for. Nor to the wild turnips make distended turnip roots. They, as well as the mustard, do make good greens though. They may not be quite as good as fancier garden varieties, but I can’t beat the price, or get any other type of vegetable for such minimal effort. I only need to go grab what I want when I want it. There really is no cultivation involved.
Even though their seed is not sown in phases to extend their season, they remain productive for a long time, and only stop producing if they get too dry in summer. If I were to grow a garden variety of turnip green, I would sow a few phases a few weeks apart so that, as an earlier phase finishes, a later phase begins producing. Unlike other types of greens that must be gathered prior to bloom, wild greens can be taken from blooming plants.
Wild greens can be canned like collards, but are better if simply frozen. Unbloomed floral trusses are like tiny bits of broccoli. If gathered while still young and tender, thicker stems can be chopped and cooked like broccoli stalks, and can even be pickled.

Cabbage

61012There are those of us who can grow cabbage well, and there are the majority of us who wish we could. Mild winters allow cabbage to be grown in autumn as well as in spring; but warm weather can also compromise flavor and promote premature bolting (blooming), which ruins the heads. Cabbage demands rich soil and regular watering. If the weather is evenly mild, they dig that too.

Spring grown cabbage was planted last winter, about a month prior to the last frost. Now it is time for autumn cabbage, about a month or two before frost. New plants can be planted a bit deeper than they were originally grown, so that the wiry and fragile sections of stem below the lowest leaves can be buried. Plants should be at least a foot apart and might get larger with more space. It takes at least two months for dense round heads of common green or red cabbage to mature. Slower varieties are worth growing for their unique flavors.

Vegetables Come And Vegetables Go

61012thumbVegetables are annuals too, just like the flowering bedding plants that get replaced seasonally. Some are technically biennials, and a few might even have the potential to be short term perennials if they ever got the chance. Yet, for the purposes of home vegetable gardens, the warm season vegetables that produced through summer should now get replaced with cool season vegetables.

Yes, pulling up tomato plants to make room for cabbage is the same dilemma as pulling up petunias to make room for pansies. No one wants to do it while the plants are still productive. Tomato plants might continue to make a few more tomatoes until frost. Yet, planting cool season vegetables should not be delayed for too long. They want to disperse their roots while the soil is still warm.

Just like warm season vegetables, many of the cool season vegetables are more efficiently grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Root vegetables like beet, carrot, radish and turnip do not recover well from transplanting. Besides, cell packs do not contain many seedlings, even if multiple seedlings within individual cells are divided. It is more practical to sow seed evenly in rows.

Baby greens can also be grown from seed because so many small plants are wanted. Unlike heading lettuce that get harvested as individual mature plants, baby greens get plucked as they develop, from plants that may never reach maturity. Chard, kale and collard greens grow well from seed, or can optionally be grown from cell pack seedlings if fewer larger leaves are preferred.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprout are more typically grown from cell pack seedlings because only a few individual plants are desired. One or two six packs of cabbage might be more than one garden needs, and do not cost much more than a packet of seed. They mature at different rates, so larger ones can be harvested first, while smaller ones get more time to mature.

The root vegetables work the same way, maturing somewhat variably through a few weeks. However, secondary phases planted a few weeks after primary phases can start to mature as the primary phases get depleted. ‘Cole’ crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, consume the same resources, so perform best in small groups with a bit of separation.

Cool Season Vegetables Are Coming

80926thumbIt is getting close to one of those two unpleasant times of year for the vegetable garden. It happened last spring, and it will happen again this autumn. Plants that so dutifully produced vegetables through the last season must relinquish their space for plants that will produce vegetables for the next season. In autumn, it will be cool season vegetables that replace warm season vegetables.

They are all on their own distinct schedule. Pulling up corn stalks is not so distressing because we know when they are finished. Pole beans, bell peppers and summer squash might make it easy as well, if they start to look shabby as their season ends. Tomatoes are the more unpleasant ones to pull up, since they can continue to produce right up to the end, even as the nights get cooler.

If they were planted on the edge of the vegetable garden, and allowed to grow outside of the space needed for incoming cool season vegetables, winter squash can stay until their vines succumb to frost. Fruits that get harvested just prior to frost last better in the cellar. Those exposed to a bit of frost attain better flavor. Winter squash really are summer vegetables. They just finish in autumn.

Seed for beets, carrots and various root vegetables that are grown this time of year should be sown directly into the garden. Root vegetables do not transplant well. Besides, too many relatively expensive seedlings would be needed to grow a substantial quantity of such vegetables. Seed should be sown in phases every few weeks so all the vegetables do not mature at the same time.

Peas, spinach and leafy (non-heading) lettuces should likewise be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. However, it is more practical to grow broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage from seedlings rather than seed. Because only a few plants of each are needed, they are not terribly more expensive than seed. One or two six packs might suffice. Another option that is useful for those who grow varieties that are unavailable in nurseries, is to grow seedlings from seed in small pots or flats, to plant out later.

Trout and Cabbage

61012No; this is not a recipe. It is two brief stories about my first fishing trip and the first vegetables I ever grew.
My first fishing trip was at Silver Lake, past my grandparents summer house in Pioneer. I was just a little tyke. I think I had just a small cane with a hook on a string tied to it. I doubt that I was expected to catch anything with it. I sat on a bare granite shore with my Uncle Bill behind me to keep me from falling in, and my hook on a string in the water.
‘Fishy’ took the hook almost immediately. He was a slippery and shiny trout who startled everyone around with his eagerness to grab onto the hook in order to come home with us. I pulled him up so that my Uncle Bill could take him off of the hook. However, to my surprise, my Uncle Bill explained that Fishy had to go back into the lake because he was too small! I was baffled. I told my Uncle Bill that Fishy could not bee too small because he was bigger than any other fish in my grandfather’s aquarium!
Of course, Uncle Bill then explained that the objective of fishing was not to relocate fish from the uncomfortably cold lake to the cozy warm aquarium. As he continued to explain what the real objective of fishing was, it became very obvious that the lake was the best option for Fishy! Uncle Bill put Fishy back in the water, where he happily swam away. I am pleased to say that I never saw Fishy again.
Shortly afterward, my grandmother gave me a six-pack of cabbage seedlings that I planted in a neat row below my mother’s kitchen window. I was so pleased with them. I watered them and talked to them and sometimes just petted their waxy leaves. They grew quite large, and started to crowd each other.
Then, one day while I was out playing with my pine cones and favorite dirt on the patio, my mother came out with a paring knife and walked by without saying anything. To my HORROR, she returned with a severed cabbage! I totally freaked out! Of course, my mother explained to me that the objective of growing the cabbages was to eat them, and that they were the same vegetable that I liked so much in a cooked form. That was not much consolation. If I had known that, I would have planted them up at Silver Lake so that they could live happily ever after with Fishy.
Well, I did not eat any cabbage with supper that evening. By the time the second cabbage was murdered, I was able to eat it. I did not want it to die in vain; and it really was quite good. So were the third, fourth and fifth cabbage.
The last cabbage was the runt of the litter, so my mother allowed me to care for it all through winter. When it got muddy from splattering rain water falling from the eave, I washed it with soap, which is how I learned that plants do not like soap. As the weather warmed in spring, it bolted. The outer leaves got rather crispy, and a floral stalk stretched upward from the center. It bloomed with small yellow flowers and even made little seed capsules. I do not know if it ever made viable seed, because I did not collect any. By the time it deteriorated and died, I knew that it had lived a full life, so was not too sad about it. The funeral was brief before it was interred behind the apricot tree.
In the end, I ate neither the first fish I ever caught, nor the first vegetable I ever grew.