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neck pumpkin

Neck Pumpkin from Your Small Kitchen Garden

The big squash is a neck pumpkin that grew in my home kitchen garden in 2010. The small squash is a homegrown butternut squash for the sake of comparison. Yes: seeds from that neck pumpkin may reach you by mail in February if you hop over to Your Small Kitchen Garden and sign up according to instructions there.

Your Home Kitchen Garden’s sister blog, Your Small Kitchen Garden is giving away food! Food? OK, it’s giving away seeds from which you can grow food. The promotion started a few days ago and runs until February 13, 2011.

Seeds for Your Home Kitchen Garden

Neck pumpkin, Pennsylvania Dutch Crook Necked Squash, Long-necked squash… get them all through the Small Kitchen Garden giveaway. Actually, these are all names for the same squash. Plants are very resistant to Squash Vine Borer and they produce fruits that resemble butternut squash only generally much larger. In fact, I’ve seen neck pumpkins that weighed more than 20 pounds!

Neck pumpkins are common in central Pennsylvania, but I’ve never seen them in other states. When you buy a neck pumpkin at a Pennsylvania farmers’ market or a farm stand, there’s a pretty good chance the farmer will ask, “Making pie?”

probably an andes tomato from Your Small Kitchen Garden

I pick tomatoes before they ripen. This one is probably an Andes Horn paste tomato. Minimally, it’s an heirloom paste tomato that tastes great raw or cooked. It’s mostly meat, nearly seed-free, and in my experience is hardier than some other popular varieties of tomatoes. Get 20 or more seeds to grow some of your own by visiting Your Small Kitchen Garden and signing up according to instructions there.

I’ve used neck pumpkin in pies, and I’ve also served it in all the ways I serve butternut squash. Butternut squash is a tad smoother and it has a richer flavor, but neck pumpkin tastes just fine.

My neck pumpkins grew to about 12 pounds this year, but the seeds I planted came from a 20 pound behemoth. The giveaway includes enough seeds from one of my neck pumpkins for you to plant at least one hill of squash.

Andes Tomatoes from Your Home Kitchen Garden

Also in this year’s giveaway are seeds from my crop of Andes paste tomatoes. I don’t know for sure that my tomatoes are of the Andes variety, but they match descriptions I’ve read and they look identical to photos of Andes. I started with seeds from some tomatoes a neighbor gave me, and the seeds I’m giving away came from my second year’s harvest.

blue hubbard squash from Your Small Kitchen Garden

Supposedly the model for the alien pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, blue hubbard squash can look quite gnarly. I’ll dissect this modest blue hubbard over the weekend so seeds have time to dry out before I mail them in February. You can get some of the seeds from this squash to plant in your kitchen garden. Visit Your Small Kitchen Garden Seed Giveaway to learn how.

I love these tomatoes. They are indeterminate and have performed extremely well in my garden… and they taste terrific.

Blue Hubbarb Squash

The blue Hubbard squash is among the most beautiful of squashes. It’s exotic, and you might even feel that a whole fruit is ugly. However, the meat of a blue Hubbard runs from blue/green toward the skin, to yellow toward the center of the fruit. It’s gorgeous.

The meat is also delicious, having a squashier flavor than butternut; I like blue Hubbard for my pumpkin pies and other baked goods, but it would be terrific mashed, grilled, or baked.

 

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basil blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Opening once again with basil blossoms! My porch basil started flowering over two months ago. This is a small habit plant intended for container gardening, and I’m done with it. The plants were tiny, the leaves ridiculously small, and I’ve had way more satisfying results planting regular old basil plants in containers. Even a standard-sized plant, stunted, provides a better yield than the container basil did. Still… pretty flowers.

Yikes! Summer blew through my home kitchen garden while I was writing a book about preserving produce. The book is on its way to the printer, and I’m still getting a grip on the blogging I failed to do.

Here it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in October, and I’ve been preparing blog posts about what went on in April and May. Despite the book-writing distraction, I did plant a kitchen garden—in fact, I expanded my garden this year. And, while we had our first frost two nights ago, even the basil survived in relatively decent shape; much still grows out there, and there are flowers… though my photos for this bloom day show little different from the past two Bloom Days.

It doesn’t matter! There are flowers in my home kitchen garden, they’re beautiful, and I shot them. Please enjoy.

 

late season broccoli in a home kitchen garden

The broccoli I started from seed indoors last February produced poorly at first, but it eventually put up side shoots and other growth that extended some plants as tall as eight feet. The floret production was too sporadic to keep my interest, so I’ll be trying a new variety of broccoli next season. Flowers from the unharvested side shoots attracted all kinds of interesting insects from July through today (notice the cluster of insects on the left side of the main stalk; I don’t know what they are, but they weren’t particularly energetic on this 48 degree day.)

 

cilantro blossoms in a home kitchen garden

A small stand of cilantro has just started flowering, so it’s not likely to produce seeds before cold stops it. I’ll be curious to see whether the plants overwinter and try to produce seeds next spring; I’ve had younger plants over winter very well, but I’ve never had mature and growing cilantro plants at the start of winter.

 

dill blossoms in a home kitchen garden

There’s dill in every stage of growth in my home kitchen garden. The stems, leaves, and flowers look exotic to me, but having such fine-textured leaves and flowers, they are challenging to capture well in photographs. Several giant dill heads already dumped thousands of seeds in the garden, so I doubt I’ll need to plant this herb in the spring.

 

neck pumpkin blossoms in a home kitchen garden

Several overly-optimistic plants simply don’t understand what all the recent cold means. The neck pumpkin plants put on a secondary growth spurt, and there have been nearly a dozen new fruiting flowers. This one almost certainly wasn’t pollinated: no insects flitted about in the cold as I was taking pictures today. It seems pointless for me to pollinate the flower manually as any fruit that sets now will just freeze and die within three weeks.

 

chili pepper blossom in a home kitchen garden

Many of my pepper plants continue to flower, and examining them reminded me that I need to harvest the ripe peppers before we get serious frost. I’ve delayed because peppers keep very well on the plants; they may be full-sized and ready to eat green in July or August, but they can continue to ripen for months until you’re ready to use them.

 

tomato blossom in a home kitchen garden

Even the tomatoes continue to try to make fruit. I’m guessing, but I believe I’ve handled over 400 pounds of tomatoes this season. At peak, I harvested an average of 15 pounds per day. Even now I’ve 30 pounds of ripe tomatoes awaiting attention on my dining room table, and there may be 15 to 20 pounds still on the vines. Thank goodness today’s flowers have no chance of producing viable fruit before a killing frost shuts them down.

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canned neck pumpkin from a Home Kitchen Garden

Having been processed in a pressure canner, this neck pumpkin could remain edible for two years, though experts recommend that you use canned vegetables in six to twelve months after processing.

Zone five denizens probably have rather barren home kitchen garden plots at this point; repeated frost and occasional deeper freezes have shut down all but the hardiest plants. This shouldn’t discourage a kitchen gardener. Fruits of winter squash still abound in local markets. If you can find them in good condition, they may last for months without special treatment; I’ve kept butternut squash on my dining room floor well into spring.

However, there are many easy ways to preserve winter squash so it lasts until next year’s harvest. Perhaps the most complicated of all preservation methods is canning… but canning really isn’t hard to do if you have the right equipment.

Pressure Canning not Optional

You can preserve high-acid and high-sugar foods such as fruits, pickles, jams, jellies, and preserves in a boiling water bath canner. To can low-acid foods such as vegetables and meats, you must use a pressure canner. Some microorganisms simply won’t die at the temperature of boiling water. However, when you increase the pressure in the cooking environment, you also increase the temperature. Generally, the increased heat is enough to kill every microorganism so low-acid foods can survive for a year or more without refrigeration.

Before you blanch the squash, wash your canning jars, fill them with very hot water, and keep them hot. I fill my jars with hot water and set them in my canner. Then I add the prescribed 3 quarts of water to the canner, and set it on the stove on medium heat so it warms slowly. If the water starts to boil, I turn off the burner… the heat will hold. I also rinse the lids and bands and set them in a pot of water on very low heat.

To do the blanching, first pare and cube the winter squash or pumpkin (the steps I followed are on Your Small Kitchen Garden blog). Blanching is simple. First, fill a very large pot with water and get it boiling. If you’re freezing the squash, you need a correspondingly large pot of very cold water. Because you’re canning, the cold water isn’t necessary.

Put all the squash in the boiling water and wait for the water to start boiling again. Let the squash boil for three minutes, and then ladle it out with a strainer, setting it in a bowl or pot to hold it until you pack it into jars. Keep the hot water in which you blanched the squash; you’ll use it in the canning jars. (If you’re freezing the squash, plunge it into cold water when you remove it from the boiling water… you need to cool it down quickly so it doesn’t get mushy.)

Squash is a low-acid food. Unless you want to pickle it before canning, you must use a pressure canner to make it safe for long-term storage (alternatively, you can freeze squash or dry it… but we’ll talk about those preservation methods in later posts).

Canned Neck Pumpkin

Neck pumpkin is a magnificent squash that’s common in central Pennsylvania. I wrote about neck pumpkin in Your Home Kitchen Garden at the end of October, and I wrote more about it in my other blog under the topic of Exploring Neck Pumpkin at Your Small Kitchen Garden. There, I explained one method of preparing winter squash for cooking—and, perhaps, the most reliable way to prepare it for blanching and canning.

To fill the canning jars, lift one at a time from the canning pot, pour the water out (save the water for other things such as watering plants or flushing toilets), and set the jar on a clean work surface. Use a measuring cup with a handle to scoop cubes of blanched squash from the holding bowl and dump them into the jar.

When the jar is nearly full, lift it and shake it up and down so the squash cubes settle in and fill spaces. Then add squash, shake the jar, and add squash until there is an inch of space between the top of the squash and the rim of the jar. At this point, fill the jar with boiling water left from blanching.

Use a chopstick or other non-metalic probe to release air bubbles trapped by the squash and top up the boiling water to cover the squash… still leave an inch between the water and the rim of the jar. Finally, wipe the rim and threads of the jar to remove any squash particles you might have gotten on them.

The photos in this post show the steps I took to can my neck pumpkin. I ended up canning all but a pint it. Of that pint, I cooked a small amount to taste, and used the rest to make pumpkin bread.

My neck pumpkin had the same consistency as butternut squash. The flesh was lighter in color and tasted sweeter than butternut. Also, my neck pumpkin’s flavor wasn’t as “squashy” as butternut… it was a little bland. Still, there’s room for slightly bland squash in my larder; most pumpkin breads and cakes have enough seasoning to make up for blandness in the pumpkin itself… I imagine my family will eat a lot of pumpkin bread and cake in the next year.

Place a heated lid on the jar, then screw a band onto it. Don’t pull a muscle tightening the band, but don’t be gentle either. When the band is tight, place the jar back into the canning pot. Repeat this procedure until all the jars are full or until you run out of squash.

Read the instructions for your pressure canner and follow them. For mine, I lock the lid on and bring the water to boil. When steam is coming out of the vent pipe (to the left of the pressure gauge), I let it cook for ten minutes. Then I set the pressure regulator on the vent pipe (right). I monitor the pressure gauge until it registers 11 pounds of pressure, then I adjust the heat of the stove to keep the pressure at 11 pounds. Once the pressure is up, I turn the heat down surprisingly low to maintain it… with a stove knob that runs from 0 (off) to 9 (hottest), a setting of about 2.5 is enough to maintain 11 pounds of pressure in the canner.

For squash, the pressure must remain at or above 11 pounds for 90 minutes. If, at any point in that 90 minutes the pressure drops below 11 pounds, you need to get it back to 11 pounds and start timing from zero.

After 90 minutes, remove the canner from the heat and leave it alone until the pressure drops to zero; this could take ten or more minutes. My canning pot has a “vent lock” to tell whether it’s under pressure. When there is pressure, a metal disk rises above the lid (right). Once that disk drops back in place (left), it’s time to open the canner’s lid. With any canner, do this cautiously. I wear oven mitts, stand back from the canner, and keep the lid between me and the steam.

Set the lid aside, and lift the jars from the canning pot. Set them on a cooling rack or on a towel on the counter. Let them sit for a day so they cool and seal. As they cool, the lids will pop with a “ping.” After the jars cool, examine the lids to confirm that they form concave surfaces—they should bulge down into the jars. If you remove the band, you should be able to lift the jar by the lid. If a lid hasn’t sealed, refrigerate the jar and use its contents within three days.

 

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home kitchen garden winter squash

I photographed my neck pumpkin next to 2/3 of the butternut squash that grew this year in my home kitchen garden (we’ve consumed a third of the butternut squash). The neck pumpkin in this photo weighs 20 pounds. The combined weight of the butternut squash in the photo is 22 pounds.

I love to grow butternut squash in my home kitchen garden. Winter squash has a rich, sweet flavor, and it’s filling. What’s more, a typical single fruit can easily feed a family of four… maybe even for two meals.

Since moving to rural Pennsylvania 14 years ago, I’ve eyed these butternut squash-like fruits that are omnipresent at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and road-side kiosks. These fruits look like butternut squash that took steroids that had taken steroids. While the fruits have fascinated me, I’ve dismissed them as impractical because of their sizes. How could I possibly use a squash of that size before it started to rot?

Neck Pumpkin Fascination

During a Twitter exchange the other night, I shared that I’d heard neck pumpkins are great for pumpkin pie. My Twitter friends weren’t familiar with neck pumpkins, and I realized that I had little to offer… so I did some research.

Neck pumpkins, it seems, are kind of a central Pennsylvania phenomenon. In fact, Cornell University’s web site acknowledges that some people call neck pumpkins Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash. I’ve photographed neck pumpkins in local gardens, and there’s clearly no trick to growing these squash goliaths: they grow as readily as butternut squash. I imagine they haven’t taken the world by storm mostly because of the crazy size of their fruits.

In any case, after researching neck pumpkins, I decided it’s time I get some first-hand experience with one of these bad boys.

The Neck Pumpkin Wow-Factor

At the farmers’ market, there were many piles of neck pumpkins from which to choose. Vendors were asking about $2.25 for the small ones, and up to $3.75 for the large ones. Actually, one vendor had neck pumpkins marked at 79 cents a pound which is a crazy price to ask when shoppers can get a 15 pound pumpkin for $2.25 from the vendor directly across the walkway.

To help put the neck pumpkin’s size in perspective: that’s me holding the pumpkin. I’m 6’1” tall. Another point of comparison: our local grocery store is advertising a sale price for winter squash of 79 cents per pound. I’d have paid $15.80 at the grocery store sale price. Their normal price is $1.49 per pound, making this $29 worth of winter squash. I paid $3.50 at the farmers’ market.

I chose a large neck pumpkin, but not an extraordinary one. On my way to the car, I stopped to buy apples and pears from a different vendor. The man who served me commented, “Making pie?” That seems to be the main purpose of neck pumpkins: to become pumpkin pie. Many times in the past month I’ve heard people comment about what great pies you can make using neck pumpkins.

So, I’m going to make pies. I estimate that I can make 12 to 16 pies from my neck pumpkin. No, I won’t make them all at once. Rather, I’ll make a few pies… and a pumpkin cheese cake. I might even serve neck pumpkin as a side dish for dinner once or twice. Maybe I’ll make a pot of pumpkin soup. Oh, and I’ve been hankering to make pumpkin ravioli.

With the ten pounds of neck pumpkin meat that remains after all that cooking, I’ll finally try out my pressure canner. It’ll be nice to have a few dozen jars of canned pumpkin so I’ll be able to make more pumpkin pies, pumpkin cake, pumpkin fritters, and a dozen loaves of pumpkin bread.

Oh, and I’m saving the seeds. Next year I’m growing neck pumpkins in my home kitchen garden.

I found a few other posts about neck pumpkins that you might find interesting. Please enjoy them:

  • Cooking Soup in a Pumpkin – Buy a neck pumpkin or two. My initial mistake was trying to use a jack-o-lantern type pumpkin (so much wasted effort!). I think we get about 4 c. of puree from one neck pumpkin. 2. Peel the neck pumpkins. Cut them into thick 1-2″ slices …

  • “Mistaken Identity” « Daily Encouragement – I prefer neck pumpkin because it is less watery than other more common types, has fewer seeds and very little stringy pulp. It is solid pumpkin until the very bottom (see photo below) so you really get your money’s worth. …

  • Brown Long Neck – Another heirloom: the Brown Long Neck pumpkin. This crook-neck pumpkin makes an excellent pumpkin bread or pie. The Brown Long Neck is the pumpkin used by our regional Amish for their markets’ baked goods. …

 

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