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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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.

Bell Peppers

90320The weather here is excellent for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but is not exactly ideal for bell peppers. Cool nights between warm days are comfortable for us, but limit production of even the healthiest and most robust of plants. Although they like warm nights, the fruit can be sensitive to hot days, and can even get scalded. Bell pepper plants like rich soil and regular watering.

Bell peppers lack capsaicin, which causes other peppers (‘chiles’) to be distinctively ‘hot.’ The fruits of the more popular varieties of green bell pepper are generally harvested while immature, but would otherwise ripen to red. However, most popular red bell peppers are different varieties that produce somewhat elongated fruits with milder flavor. Other varieties produce orange or yellow fruits. Uncommon purple, lavender, brown and white bell peppers are just . . . weird.90320thumb

Vegetables Get Harvested At Their Prime

90327’Zucchini’ is Italian for ‘little squash.’ They certainly can grow to become big squash, but by then, they do not taste so good. They are best before they get to about six inches long. As they mature, they get bitter and tough, and the seedy pulp within develop an unappealing texture. Maturing zucchini also waste resources that would otherwise go to the development of more younger zucchini.

Other summer squash, as well as cucumbers, should likewise be harvested while young and tender, not only because the juvenile fruits are best, but also because the plants are more productive if regularly deprived of developing fruit. Patty pan squash should be only about three inches wide. Except for lemon cucumbers, most cucumbers should be uniformly deep green, before yellowing.

Green beans, even if they are purple or yellow or some other unnaturally weird color, should be harvested while still lean and smooth, before they get lumpy from the developing seeds within. Lumpy beans, although preferred for some types of cuisine, are a bit starchier, and a bit firmer. Just like squash and cucumber, bean vines are more productive if the fruits are harvested regularly.

Shelling beans that remain on the vines until they mature completely are of course completely different. They should probably be harvested faster than birds and rodents take them, but need not be rushed otherwise. The same applies to black-eyed peas, sunflower seeds and popcorn, or any other dried corn. However, these sorts of vegetables are uncommon in local vegetable gardens.

Fresh corn is ready when the formerly light green silk protruding from the end of each ear is brownish tan. By the time the silk dries out, or the husks start to yellow, the corn within will be starchy. Blunt ears are better developed than more tapered ears. Because it wants so much water, fertilizer and space, corn should not be as popular as it is; but some of us like it fresh from the garden.

Although, it last a good while, corn really should be eaten as soon as possible after harvest. Flavor and texture start to deteriorate as soon as the ears are separated from the stalks. Likewise, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are best straight from the garden as soon as they ripen and get to their best color. Refrigeration slows decay, but accelerates deterioration of flavor and texture.60824+

Rhubarb

60810+It is not easy to get a pretty picture of rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum. The big and sometimes flabby leaves are only impressive to those who know about the succulent petioles (leaf stalks) below. The petioles do not look like much either, until they are cooked into pies or garnet colored preserves. Shabby stalks of tiny flowers rarely bloom, and should get cut out to favor more foliar growth.

Traditional rhubarb stalks are mostly green with a red blush, and a distinctively tart flavor. Some modern varieties with richer red color are not quite as vigorous, and have milder flavor. Varieties with light green petioles are probably the most productive, but are not so richly colored when cooked. Tender young stalks are preferred to firmer mature stalks. Leaves are toxic, so they are not eaten.

Petioles can be harvested as soon as they are big enough in late spring, and as late as autumn. The outer leaves get plucked first, which leaves smaller inner leaves to continue growing. Plucking most of the leaves gets more of the tender inner stalks, but also slows growth so that new stalks may not be ready for a few months. Rhubarb likes rich soil, sunny exposure, and plenty of water.

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.

Good Weeds

P90714We don’t put much effort into our compost piles. In the first pile, we dump horse manure, green waste from two cafeteria type kitchens, and a bit of the finer textured green waste from the landscapes. It eventually gets turned over into the second pile. By the time the second pile gets turned over into the third pile, it is almost ready for use. The third pile really does not last long. Neighbors take it as fast as we can.
We turn the piles when it is convenient for us and the tractor. There is no schedule. We incorporate the material as it becomes available. There is no recipe. Somehow, we get remarkably good compost from the process.
Besides the usual weeds that grow around the compost piles, there are all sort of vegetable plants that grow in the compost, from vegetable scraps and seed that were in the green waste from the kitchens. There are onions, potatoes, carrot tops and celery bottoms. For a while, there was even a pineapple top. Melons, cucumbers, peppers and squash sometimes grow from seed. Tomatoes are the most common vegetable plants out there.
All this random mix of vegetable plants started growing like weeds after all the rain last winter, but then slowed down after the rain stopped. That is why the tomatoes have not been ripening for long. Of course, we get no tomatoes. The raccoons an whatever other wildlife wants them tends to get them first. I am not so sure that I want tomatoes that seem to grow directly from horse manure anyway.
They sure look impressive though. It would be nice if tomato plants that were intentionally planted into vegetable gardens looked this good. There are actually a few just like this one scattered about where the compost gets turned. They sprawl over the ground, but are able to stand up enough to hold their developing fruit above the compost.

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.

Tomato

60406Actually, it is a fruit. It contains seeds. Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, is one of the most popular vegetables in American gardens. Most are red. Some are yellow or orange. A few weird varieties are pink, green, dark purple, brownish or creamy white. The largest tomatoes can get more than four inches wide. Tiny clustered ‘grape’ tomatoes are less than a quarter inch wide. There are literally thousands of varieties!

Most garden varieties are ‘indeterminate’, which means that they are productive throughout the season until frost. ‘Determinate’ agricultural varieties produce all their fruit within a limited season to facilitate harvest. This also works nicely for home canning. (Determinate varieties seem to be more productive only because all the fruit ripens at once.) Although technically perennial, plants are grown as annuals. They get about three to six feet tall. Most garden varieties need support.

Spring Fashions For Vegetable Gardens

60406thumbCompared to replacing cool season annuals with warm season annuals, the replacement of cool season or ‘winter’ vegetables with warm season or ‘summer’ vegetables is not quite as traumatic. Most of the cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants finish in time to make room for new vegetable plants anyway. Unlike flowering annuals, they make it obvious that they are done for the season.

If left too late into warming spring weather, the juvenile floral buds of broccoli and cauliflower will bloom, and become tougher and somewhat bitter. Cabbage does the same, but only after bolting first. (‘Bolting’ is the emergence of tall floral stalks from formerly basal foliage.) By the time beet, carrot, turnip and radish bolt, their plump roots are more like fibrous wood than tender vegetables.

Once space is relinquished, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants might be the first vegetable plants to go back into the garden. Even if the weather gets cool for a while, it will not get cool enough for frost. Roots disperse as soon as they get into the ground. Warming weather accelerates growth above ground. Fruit develops through summer. (Fruits contain seed. True vegetables do not.)

Tomato, eggplant and pepper are popularly planted as seedlings because only a few plants of each are needed. Each plant probably costs more than a single package of seed (which contains enough seed to grow many more plants than are necessary), but are still not too expensive collectively. Seedlings get established and start growing more efficiently than germinating seed does.

Various melons and squash, including zucchini, can either be planted as seedlings or sown as seed. Their seeds germinate and grow so efficiently that seedlings probably do not have much advantage. However, their seedlings are relatively fragile to handle, so might be at a disadvantage. Seedlings might be practical for one or two plants; but seed might be best for several plants.

Bean and cucumber grow most efficiently from seed mainly because several or many of each plants are grown, and also because seedlings are somewhat sensitive to transplant. Onion and potato are popularly grown from onion or potato ‘sets’, or ‘seed’ onions or potatoes, which are merely juvenile vegetables that grow into productive plants. Onion can also be grown from seed.