My home kitchen garden is quite modest in size, yet I squeeze an enormous amount of produce from it. This season, I planted way too many tomato plants in way too little space, and harvested at least 300 pounds of tomatoes (I wish I’d kept a tally… in peak season I harvested 15 pounds of tomatoes per day).
When I grow too much produce, I muse a lot about selling some of it at a farm stand or a farmers’ market. I give a lot away, and I preserve what I think we’ll use in a year. And, despite the hassles of dealing with so much produce, every fall I develop winter squash envy, feeling a great urge to add more varieties of winter squash to next year’s garden.
This year I planted four types of squash: Butternut, Neck Pumpkin, Blue Hubbard, and Kobocha. Sadly, vine borers decimated the kobocha and the blue hubbard; I got no viable fruit of either type. On the other hand, the butternut and neck pumpkin plants were healthy and prolific.
I gave away one neck pumpkin, and have three on my dining room floor. They weight about 10 pounds apiece. I also have a quickly-diminishing heap of butternut squashes; we’ve eaten it grilled several times, and I stir-fried a wok-full of sweet & sour squash that went nicely alongside beef & broccoli. With Thanksgiving just a month away, I anticipate cooking up some “pumpkin” pies (using squash instead of pumpkin), and I’ve been on a soup-making kick lately, so I expect to be making squash soup in the near future.
Baileys Farm Market, about eight miles south of here, sets out an impressive selection of winter squash each fall. I took my camera and visited this past weekend, hoping to capture some of the magnificence of their squash display.
Wading through the field pumpkins at Baileys is entertaining in its own right, but even a very experienced kitchen gardener is likely to discover new things. My photos reveal only some of the winter squash treasures I saw this weekend. It was so hard not to bring home five or six samples of squashes I’ve not tasted. There’s a reasonable chance I’ll visit Baileys again before winter and pick up a few squashes to taste and to seed next spring’s home kitchen garden.
My favorite item at Baileys was a rather uninteresting squash: it was more or less round, mostly orange, and warty. The squash itself wouldn’t have held my attention, but according to the sign, the variety was simply, Orange Warty Thing. Apparently, this is a very eatable squash, but people tend to use it more as a decoration than as a food.
As spring slowly gets rolling in my home kitchen garden, I’m doing a few gardening tasks that I particularly enjoy. I’ve finished pruning my fruit trees, and have made about three dozen grafts (here, in reverse order, are posts in which I wrote about pruning and grafting apple trees). I love pruning and grafting because it gets me outdoors in trees while most people are still indoors awaiting warmer weather. There are few times when unadulterated sounds of nature are so audible in my yard.
To pollinate squash or pumpkins, I pick a male flower, tear off its petals, and rub the stamen/anther structure around on the pistols of any open fruiting flowers. Since I started doing this, my squash and pumpkins in my home kitchen garden have been reliably prolific.
With the temperature finally climbing, I plan to lay out some rows in my garden, and start peas, spinach, lettuce, and, perhaps, cilantro during the weekend. The prospect of working in the garden has me a little jazzed, but I admit that I don’t care for some spring gardening chores. I don’t till the whole garden; I turn soil directly where I’m planting. However, I also dig out every weed that I ignored through last year’s growing season. I don’t enjoy weeding, so I reserve the job for early spring when I have greatest enthusiasm for gardening.
As I’ve completed my cherished late-winter tasks, and I anticipate the early spring weeding and planting, I realize I’m looking forward to some specific gardening moments that won’t come until later in the season. Harvesting just about anything is right up there on my list of favorites. Even better is cooking with the harvested produce. I especially love to make new potatoes and peas (I meant to share this mid-winter, but now it’ll have to wait until I’m picking peas), and nothing beats this awesome tomato salad.
Still, there’s one gardening chore that I anticipate more than any other: pollinating squash and pumpkins.
A pumpkin surrounded by squash and (shudder) gourds from my home kitchen garden. In a moment of weakness, I planted gourds one season and they came back on their own for two more years. My attitude now: if I’m not going to eat it, I’m not planting it.
In my first year growing squash and pumpkins, I felt some despair when I’d notice a female flower blossom and then, a few days later, fall off the plant along with the fruit. Eventually, I guessed that only pollinated squash and pumpkin flowers grow into fruit, so I initiated the morning pollination patrol.
In the cool of each summer morning, I pluck a male squash flower and strip away its petals. Then I wade among the squash plants, and use the stamen/anther of the flower I hold to paint the pistols of any female flowers I find in bloom.
I listen to birds sing, I watch bees work, I enjoy textures and aromas of the vegetable plants, and I bask in the cool that will soon wilt under the rising sun. It takes about three minutes to spot all the squash flowers and pollinate the ones that fruit. Still, it takes about a half-hour for me to return from this gardening chore that I most enjoy.
Please share! Leave a comment describing the one garden chore that you enjoy above all others.