Pumpkins After Halloween

Jack o’ lanterns and pumpkins will soon meet their gory demise now that Halloween is over.

Pumpkins are both the biggest of the common fruits, and also the most wasted. So many of us bring at least one into our homes for Halloween, only to discard them afterward. Not many of us actually bake or make pies from ‘used’ pumpkins. However, those of us who like to can or freeze fruit and vegetables can really take advantage of this tradition by politely collecting jack o’ lanterns from neighbors, or getting unsold pumpkins from markets for very minimal expense. (Pumpkins are ‘low acid’ fruits that need to be canned with a pressure cooker.)

The somewhat small brownish ‘sugar pie’ pumpkins that are sold for pies are of course the best, with the richest flavor and meatiest shells. The common bright orange pumpkins used for jack o’ lanterns are not as meaty and lack flavor, but are certainly worth the price if they are free. White pumpkins can be just plain bland; but with enough sugar and spices, can make decent pie. The deeply furrowed green or gray pumpkins might likewise taste better than they look, but who knows? I certainly have not tried one yet.

Because the jack o’ lantern pumpkins have such thin shells, my neighbor and I prefer to cut them into pieces and steam them before peeling them. It is a messy job, which is why she has me do the peeling part of it. Before steaming, she cuts out any parts with candle wax (on the bottom) or soot (on the top). Once peeled, the pulp is ready to be pureed, and then frozen, canned or baked directly into pies.

Those of us who do not indulge in freezing, canning or baking of ‘recycled’ pumpkins can either give our pumpkins to neighbors who do, or must otherwise dispose of them. On the compost pile, pumpkins should be chopped up and spread out so that they do not mold and rot as much as they would if left intact. Chopping them with a shovel should be adequate. By now, there should be plenty of fresh leaves on the compost pile to spread pumpkin parts out over.

If fireplaces or wood stoves have been used already, the resulting ash can be spread out with chopped pumpkin, to inhibit mold in compost piles. Ash also deters snails. Just be certain that only dead ash gets scattered, without any embers, and that it gets spread thinly enough so that it does not become a mucky mess that actually inhibits composting.

Cool Season Vegetables Eventually Replace Warm Season Vegetables

Peppers do not grow in cooling autumn weather.

Just as warm season annual flowers that bloomed through spring and summer get removed to relinquish their space to cool season annuals, summer vegetable plants need to vacate the garden for cool season vegetables. Fortunately, removing vegetable plants is not as unpleasant as removing the pretty flowers might have been, because most have finished producing whatever it is that they were grown to produce.

Besides, cool season vegetables are even cooler than warm season vegetables, since some have distinctive foliage that is appealing beyond the vegetable garden, in borders, pots and mixed plantings, out in the landscape. Swiss chard is a striking foliar plant, whether it gets eaten or not. The outer leaves can get eaten without compromising the appeal of the inner leaves that continue to grow and fluff outward to replace them. Arugula, kale, mache, loose lettuce (non heading) and collard, mustard and turnip greens do the same.

This ability to function in more places in the landscape is a definite advantage since cool season vegetables are not quite as productive as warm season vegetables are. They would certainly like to be as productive, but grow slower through cool weather.

Most cool season vegetables should be sown into the garden as seed. Root vegetables, like beet, carrot and radish, might be available as seedlings in cell packs, but do not recover very well from transplanting. Besides, seedlings of such plants in cell packs are either too abundant and crowded, or to sparse to produce much. Leek, loose leaf lettuce and most of the greens likewise grow best if sown as seed in rows instead of planted in tight clumps as they are grown in cell packs.

Only greens that are grown as individual big plants, like chard, kale and collard green, can be as productive from cell pack seedlings as from seed. However, each cell pack produces only six plants, maybe with some extras. A package of seed costs about the same, but contains more seed than most gardens can accommodate.

Actually, the only cool season vegetables that might be more practical to grow from cell pack seedlings than from seed are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprout. These vegetables grow as even larger plants, so minimal quantities, like one or two or perhaps three cell packs, are sufficient.

Like so many of the warm season vegetables, many cool season vegetables should be planted in phases every two to four weeks to prolong harvest. By the time the first phase finishes, the next phase will be ready. The frequency of phases depends on the growth rate and duration of production of the particular plants. For example, chard has a long duration of production, so does not need many phases.

Radish

All parts of radish are edible.

Everyone seems to be familiar with radish, Raphanus raphanistrum subspecies sativus. It has been so popular with so many cultures for so long that its origin is now impossible to identify. It likely originated in Southeastern Asia at least two thousand years ago. After so many centuries, it has become remarkably variable in regard to flavor, form and color.

Radish are generally cool season root vegetables, although their foliage and flowers are also edible. They can be red, pink, purple, yellow, green, black or white, with white flesh. Their form might be almost spherical, cylindrical or tapered like a carrot. Small types are only about an inch to three inches long. Some daikon radish can get as long as two feet!

Because radish are typically smaller than most other root vegetables, they mature faster. Therefore, their seed can get started in their garden slightly later. If they mature too soon, warmth may cause them to bolt, which ruins their flavor and texture. Subsequent phases extend production, by resuming production as previous phases exhaust their production.

Cole Vegetables Are Cool Vegetables

Mustard greens are cultivated and naturalized.

September began with the warmest weather of the year. Such weather is not uncommon for late summer here. It can happen as late as early autumn. Still, it can be disconcerting while weather should be cooling. Cool season vegetable plants that are technically now seasonable dislike such warmth. Cole vegetables are particularly responsive to weather.

Cole vegetables are within the Cruciferae family, which is alternatively the Brassicaceae family. They therefore also classify as crucifers or brassicas. They include various forms of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnip, radish, arugula, rutabaga and Brussels sprouts. As variable as they are, several are of the same species.

Broccoli and cauliflower are floral vegetables, since their primary edible parts are bloom. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard, kale, arugula, mustard greens and turnip greens are foliar. Turnip, radish and rutabaga are roots. Kohlrabi is a distended stem. Mustard seed, which is a seasoning instead of a vegetable, is the only common fruiting cole vegetable.

Therefore, unlike most warm season vegetables, cole vegetables should not fruit or go to seed. Broccoli and cauliflower only begin to bloom, but do not finish prior to harvest. This is why most cole vegetables are cool season vegetables here. Warmth stimulates bolting and bloom, which ruins flavor and palatability. Cool weather prolongs vegetative growth.

Contrary to the implications of recent weather, cool season vegetables, including several cole vegetables, are seasonable. This is the time to sow seed for turnip, radish, rutabaga and other cool season root vegetables directly into the garden. Transplant of seedlings is disfiguring to roots. Weather should be cooler by the time new seedlings start to develop.

Arugula, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard, kale and kohlrabi likewise develop most efficiently from seed. However, transplanted seedlings can be adequately productive too. Because only a few broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts plants are likely sufficient, cell pack seedlings are likely more practical than seed. Since they are already growing, they can get planted a bit later.

Mustard

‘Wild mustard’ includes a few species.

A few species of mustard came to naturalize in California, and for a few distinct reasons. Some likely grew first as greens in the gardens of the original Spanish Missions. At least one species also provided culinary and medicinal mustard seed. The more prolific types became cover crops and fodder for livestock. Later in history, mustard seed provided oil.

According to legend, Spanish Missionaries established the route of El Camino Real with mustard. After sporadically dropping seed as they traveled between Missions, they could follow the bright yellow bloom by the next winter, and find greens to eat. El Camino Real became worn enough to navigate before the mustard dispersed too extensively to assist. 

Most but not all species of mustard that are naturalized locally are of the genus Brassica. Wild turnip and wild radish provide similar greens, but are generally more likely to bloom pale pink or pale white, rather than bright yellow. Garden varieties of mustard, which are available as seed or in cell packs, provide delightfully tender new leaves with mild flavor.

Rotation Improves Vegetable Garden Production

Summer squash are consumptive vegetables.

Vegetable plants are mostly unnaturally productive. Extensive breeding compels them to yield fruits and vegetative parts that are bigger, better and more abundant that what their ancestors produced. Increased production increases their reliance on resources. Without crop rotation, some sorts of vegetable plants noticeably deplete some of what they need. 

Rotation, which is the same as crop rotation or garden rotation, is a technique of growing vegetables where different types of vegetables grew previously. In other words, one type of vegetable does not grow in any one place for too long. Some vegetables may produce well in some types of soil for a few years. More consumptive types prefer annual rotation. 

This technique disrupts the depletion of particular nutrients that particular types of plants crave. It also allows for replenishment of depleted nutrients in the absences of plants that cause such depletion. Furthermore, some soil borne pathogens find this active cycling to be disruptive. Eventually, plants that cycled out can cycle back into a particular situation.

Tomato plants are particularly consumptive, so appreciate rotation in many types of soils. Eggplant and pepper are related to tomato, so crave many of the same resources, even if they are less consumptive. Therefore, they should not cycle directly into soil relinquished by tomatoes. Unrelated vegetables, such as squash, corn or bean, are more appropriate. 

Warm season vegetables that are now returning to the garden might appreciate rotation. A bit of research to determine appropriate placement for them may significantly enhance production. It helps to know which vegetables are related, such as mustard, collard, kale, radish and turnip (of Cruciferae Family), or squash and melon (of Cucubitaceae Family).

Because corn is so high, it should grow to the north of a vegetable garden. Unfortunately, rotation may dictate that it grows to the east for a while, or only in portions of the northern edge that it avoided for a while. Pole beans that like to climb wire fences may sometimes need reassignment to different portions of their fence. Peas should follow their example since they are related.

Tomato

Tomato champions the warm season vegetables.

Like most warm season vegetables, tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, are actually seed bearing fruit. They are both the most diverse and the most popular home grown produce. Grape tomatoes are smaller than little grapes. ‘Beefsteak’ can get wider than five inches. Although mostly red, some are yellow, orange, pink, green, brown, purple or pallid white. 

The most popular varieties of tomato for home gardens are indeterminate. They produce fruit sporadically throughout the season, on irregularly sprawling stems. Tomato cages or stakes support their growth. Shrubbier determinate varieties seem to be more productive only because all of their fruit develops within a brief season. They work well for canning.

Small tomato plants in cell packs and four inch pots, which are available from nurseries, should grow efficiently in the garden as the weather warms through spring. Varieties that are unavailable as small plants can grow from seed in cold frames through late winter, to be ready for the garden after last frost. Directly sown seed can be vulnerable to mollusks.

Warm Season Vegetables For Spring

Frequent harvesting promotes continual zucchini production.

Warm season annuals for next spring and summer are already replacing the cool season annuals that bloomed so dutifully since last autumn. As this happens, it is also getting to be about time for warm season vegetables to replace cool season vegetables. Strangely continuous warm daytime weather since December accelerated this process somewhat.

Removal of cool season vegetables that are still productive is as unpleasant as removal of cool season annuals that are still blooming. Fortunately, most cool season vegetables are finished by now, or will be soon. Few linger into warm weather as some cool season annuals might. Regardless, warm season vegetables will need their garden space soon. 

Unlike most cool season vegetables, which actually are vegetative, the majority of warm season vegetables are actually fruits. The plants that produce them generally continue to bloom and produce more fruits throughout their respective seasons. Some, such as bush bean and determinate tomato, exhibit brief seasons. Many produce continually until frost. 

Therefore, indeterminate tomato, pole bean, squash, cucumber, many varieties of pepper and some varieties of eggplant need no replacement within the same season. Cucumber can get tired enough by early summer to justify replacement in midsummer though. Okra, as well as several varieties of eggplant and pepper, produce for relatively brief seasons.

Phasing prolongs production of warm season vegetables that produce only once or only for a brief season. For example, corn that matures so uniformly that it is ready for harvest simultaneously lasts only a few weeks in a garden. Phases for seeding that repeat every two weeks or so develop in two week cycles. As the first phase finishes, the next begins. 

Because so many individual plants are desired, and the seedlings do not transplant well, corn seed prefers direct sowing into the garden. So does seed for bean, root vegetables, and most greens. For tomato, pepper and eggplant, and perhaps cucumber and squash, small plants transplant well, and are not numerous enough in a garden to be expensive. Warm season vegetables grow slowly during cool weather, but accelerate as the weather warms.

Vegetable gardening is still cool.

If leafy lettuces are running out, there is still a bit of time to sow some more seed before spring.

Last autumn, it was unpleasant to remove warm season vegetable plants to relinquish space for cool season vegetables, particularly since some still seemed to be productive. Now the cool weather that the cool season vegetables crave will soon be getting warmer. It is still too early for warm season vegetables, but it is time to get ready for them.

If space allows, seed for a quick last phase of certain fast growing cool season vegetables can be sown. Radishes, carrots and beets still have time to mature before the weather gets too warm, although the beets will be the small tender sort. There probably is not enough time to grow big beets for canning. Leafy lettuces can still be sown to replace what might be running out early. Large vegetable plants like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage grow too slowly to mature before spring weather gets too warm, so will need to wait until next autumn.

Peas are odd vegetables that like to grow in autumn and spring, in between warm and cool (or cool and warm) season vegetables. The first phase of peas can be sown now, and followed by subsequent phases every two weeks or so until the weather gets too warm for them.

Even though it will soon be getting too warm for cool season vegetables, it is not yet warm enough to sow seed for warm season vegetables directly into the garden. Fast growing vegetable plants that get sown directly, such as beans, corn and most squash, will need to wait until the weather is warm enough for them to grow efficiently, and the cool season vegetables finish and get out of their way. However, seed for vegetable plants that can get planted as seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, can be sown into flats or cell packs in greenhouses or cold frames.

Tomato, pepper and eggplant seed sown directly into the garden when the weather gets warmer will be more likely to get eaten by snails or succumb to rot as they germinate than seedlings that got an early start in a greenhouse or cold frame (although snails and rot are not problems in every garden). For those who do not want to start growing seedlings at home now, seedlings will certainly be available in nurseries when it is time to put them out into the garden. However, the advantage to growing them at home is that there are many more varieties of seed available from catalogs and online than any nursery could stock with seedlings.

Vegetables Can Grow All Year

Cucumbers fill in between warm and season vegetables and cool season vegetables, so will finish prior to frost.

Tropical plants are clueless. They do not understand that autumn is just prior to winter, when the weather may get uncomfortably cool. Philodendron selloum continues to develop fresh new leaves that mature slowly in cool autumn weather, and may consequently lack resiliency to frost in winter. Vegetable plants and flowering annuals are not so ignorant, which is why so many that were productive through summer are nearly finished, and some are ready to relinquish their space to cool season counterparts.

Like the many warm season vegetables, most of the cool season vegetables should be grown from seed sown directly into the garden. Only those that produce efficiently from fewer but substantial plants, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprout and some of the heading lettuces, can be grown practically from seedlings purchased in cell packs. Because individual plants produce only once, more can be added to the garden in phases every two to four weeks through the season to prolong production.

Chard, kale and collard greens can likewise be grown from cell pack seedlings if only a few plants to harvest as intact heads or large leaf greens are desired. However, a package of seed costs about as much as a single cell pack of only six seedlings, but contains enough seed for many more mature heads, as well as for abundant production of ‘baby’ greens plucked from many juvenile plants through the entire season. Those to be harvested as heads should be planted in phases with enough space to mature. Those that will get plucked through the season can be sown or planted once early in the season, and perhaps followed by a second phase if productions starts to diminish.

Root vegetables, such as beet, carrot, turnip and radish, really do not recover well from transplanting from cell packs. Individual cells are sometimes crowded with too many seedlings that must push away from each other as they mature. Otherwise, if not crowded, each cell contains only a few seedlings that are not nearly as practical as simply sown seed would be.

Although each individual root vegetable plant produces only once, they all mature at different rates, so most types can be sown in only one or two phases instead of several phases every two to four weeks. If the biggest get pulled first, the smaller ones continue to mature. They are less perishable than other vegetables, so any abundance is not likely to be wasted.

There are three practical ways to grow onions. They are most popularly grown from seed or from ‘baby’ onions known as onion sets. The third and sneakier way to grow them is from separated cell pack seedlings. Cell packs typically contain too many onion seedlings that would develop into crowded clumps anyway. There are often as many seedlings as could be grown from a package of seed!

Peas get sown as seed early in autumn to grow and produce before winter gets too cold. Another phase can be sown as winter ends for spring production.