Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An article from my St. Pete Times column some years back


   Baked, mashed, raw in salads, whipped into sweet pies, or pureed as savory ethnic soups, the wildly diverse winter squashes thrive in summer here. Paradoxically named since they will store indoors all winter once picked in the fall, they thrive in our muggy summers and provide tons of tasty and nutritious cuisine long before that final harvest.

   Last year I tested over 30 kinds for flavor and growth; and those that did best were: Jarradale, Taiwan Pumpkin, Orange Cushaw, Kabocha, La Primera, Tahitian Butternut, Seminole Pumpkin (native to the Everglades), Tennessee Sweet Potato, and Neck Pumpkin. Me and my friends were treated to a wild assortment of shapes and sizes, all offering dark orange tasty flesh loaded with beta carotene borne by easy-to-grow sprawling vines. This year I am testing several new kinds, making sure I water deeply weekly since we are off to another bone dry spring.

   They are hungry plants, so dig a pit about 20 inches across and deep and fill it half way with fresh compost or horse manure from a stable,  mixed 50/50 with dry dog food and a handful of dolomite. Toss the mixture like a salad, water deeply, cover it with the soil you dug out, water again, then plant 5-6 seeds of the variety you have chosen. Cover the mound with 2 inches of oak leaves or wood mulch and hand water daily for 2 weeks to keep the soil moist. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, pull out the two weakest ones. If you wish, sprinkle the mound with manure tea,  a soluble blue fertilizer or even a LIGHT sprinkling of a 16-4-8 herbicide free lawn fertilizer like Lesco for a boost. When their roots hit that buried compost zone the vines will take off! Plan on a minimum of fifteen feet across.

   At first the cheery yellow male blooms will appear atop long pencil-like stalks near the base of the vines; they can be harvested as buds or opened flowers and served as an edible plate garnish, or as in Japan, dipped in batter and deep fried. Later, near the tips of the vines, the female blooms will form; notice the cute little baby squash right behind the blossom! Very soon these will enlarge to the size of a cantelope and can be picked and eaten immature, used just as you would a zucchini. Asian and African cuisine cherishes the young tender vine tips and newly opened leaves in stir fry. Thus the “winter squash” provide a steady bounty all summer. I’ve grown some of these types since 1984 here and find very few bug or disease problems IF I enrich the soil first....that buried treasure beneath each plant insures sound nutrition to support all that rampant growth in the hot rainy season they glory in.

    In the fall, when the vines begin to die and whither, harvest your ripe winter squash with the stem attached, cure them in the sun a few days to harden the skin, then store  indoors in a cool room where they will keep for months. Just don’t let them touch as that can induce a decay spot. Be sure to save and rinse and dry the seeds from one to keep in an envelope in your produce drawer till the following spring planting season.

  Bored with the normal squash you see in the stores? Branch out this spring and grow something bold!

sources: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed 417-924-8917


No comments:

Post a Comment