Pumpkin

Brightly colored pumpkins ripen in autumn.

Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

Six on Saturday: Closeups

 

This is not how we normally look at these flowers, stems and vegetables (fruits). They might look strange out of context. That was sort of intended. ‘Six on Saturday’ allows more freedom of creativity than the simple illustrations that I use for the gardening column. The last two are closeups of the same two gladiolas that were featured last week. Perhaps they show color better.

I should try this again for next week.

1. Lily of the Nile is the ‘Fourth of July Flower’. It blooms for the Fourth of July, and the florets radiate from the center of their floral truss like fireworks. I will write more about this at noon.P00704-1

2. Epiphyllum stems, like the stems of other cacti, do all the work of foliage. Because they are flat, they actually look like big and weirdly arching leaves. New tip growth is still rather blushed.P00704-2

3. Zucchini is too productive. I neglected to go down to harvest it for two days or so, and then found that some fruits had gotten as big as bowling pins. They are fortunately not too tough yet.P00704-3

4. Red willow is a weedy tree that I should not be growing intentionally. This is special though. I brought its cuttings from Reno. It will be coppiced, and not allowed to grow as a real tree.P00704-4

5. Gladiola got enough attention last week that I got closer pictures of them this week. This one seemed to be more purple or less blue last week, with just a bit of white, like elderly Grimace.P00704-5

6. Gladiola are more fun when someone else selects bold colors that I would not consider. This flashy orange and yellow bloom is exquisite, and looks like Grimace’s friend, Ronald McDonald.P00704-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Zucchini

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Zucchini is the exemplary summer squash.

Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is the epitome of summer squash. Because it is so easy to grow, it is the primary choice for gardens that can accommodate only one set of summer squash plants. The fruits can be yellow, dark green or dark green with a lacy gray pattern, Yet, the common medium green variety is still the most popular. It is likely the most vigorous and most productive of them all.

Like all summer squash, zucchini wants good warm exposure, rich soil and regular watering. Powdery mildew can be a problem if the foliage gets wet from watering late in the day. Foliage that is ruined by powdery mildew should be removed. Plants are easiest to grow from seed sown directly where they are desired, after the last frost. Two or three plants should grow together in each set.

Fruits are best before they get longer than eight inches or so, although they are edible at any stage. They can eventually grow as big as baseball bats. However, plants that produce such big fruits produce almost nothing else. Regular harvest promotes prolific production. Male flowers are more abundant than females flowers that produce the fruits. All flowers are edible before they shrivel.

Summer Squash Excel All Summer

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Tender young summer squash are best.

Summer is for warm season vegetables like tomatoes, beans, corn, okra, and of course, summer squash. The name says it all. Summer squash are the sort of squash that develop and are ready for harvest through summertime. The season continues until the plants succumb to cooling autumn weather. The abundant squash fruits are best while young and tender, before they actually ripen.

Related winter squash grow through summer too. However, they ripen completely through the growing season before harvest in autumn. By the time they are ripe, their foliage will be succumbing to frost. They are much less perishable than summer squash are, so last for months if stored properly. Instead of producing abundant small fruits, winter squash plants produce only a few big fruits.

Summer squash plants can produce big fruits too, but at the expense of preferred tender juvenile fruits. They simply will not divert resources to new small fruits while concentrating their effort into a big fruit full of viable seed. After all, seed production is their priority. Regular harvest of juvenile fruits actually stimulates the production of more fruits. It forces the plants to redirect their resources.

There is certainly nothing wrong with summer squash fruits that have matured a bit more than they should. Stuffed zucchini is merely medium sized zucchini sliced in half lengthwise, hollowed out, stuffed and baked. Some people actually prefer to leave the last summer squash fruits of the season out in the garden to get as big as they can before frost. Such fruits are tough, but not too bad.

Common zucchini and its varieties are the most poplar of the summer squash. They are generally the most reliable and most productive. Crookneck squash are likely the second most popular of summer squash locally. They are slightly less productive, but provide variation of flavor. Pattypan squash have good flavor, and a slightly firmer texture that is an advantage for soups and freezing.

Other interesting varieties of summer squash are too numerous to list. Each exhibits its own distinct characteristics.

Horridculture – Neglected Seedling

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They are so cute when they are young.

This was not planned very well. Actually, it was not planned at all. While sorting through the seed for a vegetable garden, I found a can of seed for winter squash that was a few years old. They might be close to five years old. I really do not remember. I did not expect them to be viable, but did not want to discard them without at least trying to test them for viability.

Rather than just put them in damp rag for a few days, I plugged a few seed into a spider plant on a windowsill, and forgot about them. I really did not expect to see them again. When the first one emerged, I though it was a weed, so plucked it out. When I realized what it was, and that it came out intact, I felt badly for it, and like the original seed, could not discard it.

I do not remember why, but at the time, I did not want to go out to can it in a real pot. Nor did I want to plug it into the garden while I was still getting other seed situated. I therefore planted into an empty eggshell from those drying for coffee. I scraped a bit of medium from a potted bromeliad. It was happy on the windowsill for maybe a few weeks.

The other seed germinated too, but were more carefully removed and plugged into the garden. Since the seed was still viable, I sowed more around the junipers outside. Somehow, in the process, I neglected to put the little seedling in the eggshell out into the garden with them. It has not been happy in here, so has not grown much at all.

Now that the winter squash are already growing well outside, and the summer squash are already producing, this unfortunate seedling still needs to go out to join them.

If I were to grow seedlings inside again, I would do so in some of the cell packs that we recycle from work. They are more efficient, less wobbly, and they do not look so ridiculous.

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Now it wants out!

Pumpkin

91030It really would be nice to be able to transform a pumpkin into a chauffeured coach to ride to the ball, just by waving a magic wand over it. A Buick would be even more excellent! Over the years, as the variety of new Buicks has diminished to not much more than a few SUVs that are scarcely more stylish than pumpkins, the variety of pumpkins has grown crazily. Form is not following function.

You see, for longer than anyone can document, pumpkins were grown merely for food. They still make much better pie than other winter squash would. Many varieties produce nicely edible seeds and bloom. In fact, some types are grown specially for their hullless seeds, which are known as pepitas, or for pumpkin seed oil. Nowadays though, pumpkins are more ornamental than culinary.

Decades ago, bright orange pumpkins with relatively thin shells became more popular than the more brownish orange and thicker shelled culinary types. They are more colorful, and more easily carved into Jack-O’-lanterns, but not quite as richly flavored. Since then, white, yellow, pink, red, green and bluish gray pumpkins have become available, in all sorts of shapes, sizes and textures.

Squash For Autumn And Winter

91030thumbWinter squash are not exactly the sort of cool season vegetables that their designation implies. They grow through the summer just like summer squash do. Both winter and summer squash are warm season vegetables that get planted early in spring. The difference is that summer squash get harvested regularly through summer, and winter squash get harvested only once after summer.

Zucchini, crookneck, pattypan and other summer squash are very productive as long as the weather is warm, and their fruit gets harvested. Fruit that stays too long and continues to mature gets big and tough, and consumes resources that would otherwise be diverted to newly developing fruit. Therefore, regular harvesting of the more desirable juvenile fruit actually promotes production.

Pumpkin, acorn, butternut and other winter squash grow all summer, but each plant should be allowed to produce only a few fruits each. Some pumpkin vines produce only one fruit each. Once the desired number of fruits are developing, fruits that start to develop later should be culled to concentrate resources into the primary fruits. These fruits mature all summer to get harvested after frost.

So, by the time that summer squash stops producing, winter squash is about ready for harvest. Where autumn weather is cooler, the tender foliage shrivels after frost, exposing the richly colored but formerly obscured ripe fruit. Winter squash is supposedly best if slightly frosted prior to harvest, which might take a bit longer here. After harvest, they should be left to cure for two weeks or so.

Winter squash vines are more rampant and somewhat shabbier than those of summer squash. Those that produce smaller fruit might be able to climb trellises or onto firewood piles that are not in use through summer anyway. Female flowers tend to shrivel sooner than male flowers, but all flowers that are big and turgid enough to bother with are edible. Bloom continues through summer.

If properly stored, even without canning or freezing, intact winter squash can last for months, until summer squash start producing the following season.

Pumpkin

41001Actually, it is a fruit; a rather BIG fruit. It happens to be one of the more familiar of winter squash, but is not too commonly eaten. Although it makes excellent pie, and provides edible seeds and flowers, pumpkin is more popularly known as jack-o’-lanterns or Cinderella’s ride to the ball. Pumpkin is not for every garden, since each big and coarsely foliated annual vine needs regular watering, rich soil and considerable space to grow all through summer to produce only one or two big fruit in autumn.

Most pumpkins are big and round, and have smooth and bright orange skin. Those grown for jack-o’-lanterns are brighter orange, and not quite as meaty. Those grown for pie are often a bit smaller and meatier, with a rustier orange color. The biggest pumpkins get too huge to move easily, but lack flavor. The flavors and densities of many weird modern varieties are as variable as the green, red, pink, yellow and white hues of their skins. Some pumpkins have been developed specifically for their seeds, which are known as pepitas, or are used for production of pumpkin seed oil.

Pumpkins Need Not Be Wasted

81107thumbThere is likely no other fruit that gets wasted quite like pumpkins. Almost all get hollowed and carved into Jack o’lanterns, illuminated from within for Halloween, and then discarded or added to compost within the next few days after Halloween. If they stay too long in the yard or on the porch, they mold or get partly eaten by squirrels. They were fun while they lasted, but the party is over.

Most people who use pumpkins for Halloween décor do not consider recycling them in the kitchen. Pumpkins carved into Jack o’lanterns are considered to be as disposable as cut flowers that have started to fade. Realistically, Jack o’lanterns that were carved several days prior to Halloween are probably too far gone by now to be recycled, and some are too sooty and toasted inside.

Of course, those that are not so deteriorated can be used in the kitchen like other winter squash. Sooty or toasted portions are easily cut away and discarded. The brightest orange pumpkins that were bred to make the best Jack o’lanterns, are not as meaty or as well flavored as those that are grown for culinary use, but they are not bad either. Their thinner shells are quick to bake or roast.

It seems that most pumpkins in supermarkets this year are not quite as bright orange as those that were developed specifically for Jack o’lanterns. They also seem to be more dense with thicker shells, as if bred to be recycled in the kitchen after Halloween. The smaller and more brownish pumpkins that are heavy with thick shells are probably still the best for pies, even if no fun to carve.

White, pink, green, yellow, red and bluish gray pumpkins are as variable as their colors are. Any are worth trying in the kitchen. Although some are quite bland, others have rather distinctive flavor. Those that are deeply furrowed or very lumpy are of course awkward to work with. Like other winter squash, pumpkins are very tough, so it is important to be careful when cutting them into pieces.

White Pumpkin

71004thumbTheir creamy white exteriors do not reveal much about the flavor within. They looks like they might taste like vanilla, or coconut, . . . or maybe Swiss cheese. Below the white skins, white pumpkins (Curcubita pepo) have orange flesh that really tastes like other pumpkins, but maybe a bit milder, like ‘pumpkin-light’. They are popular because they look so cool, and make great jack-o-lanterns.

They take a while to mature, so pumpkin plants should get into the garden as soon as weather is warm enough for them in spring. They can be grown from seed sown directly, or from seedlings. They want rich soil, and need to be watered regularly in order to grow evenly through summer. The annual vines sprawl on the ground, producing only one or a few fruits each, finishing by first frost.

Popular varieties of white pumpkin, like ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Lumina’, ‘Casper’ and ‘Silver Moon’ can weight more than ten pounds. Less common ‘Full Moon’ can get to be seventy-five pounds! White pumpkins makes as many edible flowers as orange pumpkins make, but not as many seeds. ‘Baby Boo’ and ‘Gooligan’ weigh less than a pound, and are only a few inches wide, so are inedible.