Friday, 23 September 2016

Bit of a squash

Having worked out my planting plan for next year in the vegetable garden (which you can see here) I now know that we will be using a large area at the far end of the paddock as a pumpkin patch among some young fruit trees that are going into this area in November. I won't only plant pumpkins, but all of the squash, pumpkins and courgettes that I want to grow next year.

I've been surprised at how easy the pumpkins have been to grow. This year I planted them into small soil pockets on the top of a straw and spent grain compost heap (see how I made the compost hot bed here) and I've fed them twice with a nettle tea, I have watered them when I've noticed the leaves wilting badly but other than that, I've pretty much left them alone to do their thing. Of the four young plants that I put in, one was eaten by slugs very quickly so only three grew, but I've been rewarded with 9 good sized pumpkins. The smallest of these is approximately 9-10 inches across, similar in size to a football, the largest is, at a guess, 20 inches across and 18 inches high. I'm looking forward to them being ripe enough to lift from their sprawling vines and weigh them. 

The courgettes have totally failed, not a single plant survived the slugs, but I did have some success with summer squashes and have harvested a couple of dozen (or more) patty pan squashes from the four plants that have grown in compost heaps and interestingly fewer per plant from the couple of plants that have grown in the ground.

Three butternut squash plants that looked like they had been eaten by slugs managed to survive the slimy onslaught and produced some small fruits, but sadly they have come so late in the year that I doubt whether they will ripen enough to be able to store for use later in the winter. But nothing goes to waste, if they aren't quite ripe enough for us, I can cut them and give them straight to the chickens, who will happily tuck into them.

So, buoyed by this year's encouraging experience I've decided to grow more (and different) squashes next year. I will start preparing the ground this autumn by making hugelkultur beds. I will pile up logs of wood, small branches, well rotted manure, leaves, garden compost and composted wood chippings and I will cover them with a thick mulch of straw from the duck houses to protect them from leeching too many nutrients in the winter rain.

I've been sorting through the seeds that I have in my seed box and already have several packets of squash seeds that I can use next year and I think the only seeds I'll need to acquire are of some type of spaghetti squash. As my daughter has offered to give me some seeds for Christmas, I will ask her for some spaghetti squash seeds. 

These are the pumpkins, courgettes and squashes that I plan to grow next year.
Image & info at Premier Seeds Direct

Squash delicata (winter squash). 
I really like the look and description of these heirloom squashes. They are sweet like a butternut squash but the skin can also be eaten. I've found some lovely recipes using this squash including a maple glazed one which I will definitely be trying.

Image & info at Premier Seeds Direct

Jumbo pink banana squash
Another heirloom squash that has good keeping properties and as it names suggests, it's a biggie! This recipe from Firesign Farm blog is for a squash pie looks very simple to make, I would probably only use cinnamon and nutmeg as my spices as those are our favourites.

Pumpkin Howden
This is the pumpkin that I've grown this year and I've been very pleased with it. I will grow less of them next year as I don't think we need quite so many.

Image and info at Premier Seeds Direct

Butternut Waltham
This is the butternut squash that we've grown this year and as I still have seeds, I will give it another go next year. We both like butternut squash soup and I like them baked in the oven with goat's cheese and pumpkin seeds.

Image and info Premier Seeds Direct

Courgette Verde de Milano
A deep green courgette which I hope to pick when they are still quite young as I prefer baby courgettes roasted in the oven with a host of over vegetables, garlic, salt and pepper and fresh rosemary.

Image and info Mr Fothergills

Yellow courgette
I currently have seeds for courgette Soleil F1, which look fabulous, but if I can find an organic seed that looks as appealing I will swap these seeds for organic ones. I much prefer yellow courgettes to green ones as they are sweeter, with less course skin and make extremely nice cakes!
Courgette, lemon and poppyseed cake from Riverford Organic Farmers
Oven baked summer squash Sunburst stuffed with Bolognaise sauce

Summer squash Delikates and Summer squash Sunburst
I've grown both of these this year and have been enjoying them baked, friend in ghee, stuffed, shredded and have frozen quite a few of them, sliced and ready to use in meals during the winter. The photo at the top of my blog shows these squashes (and the cabbage) used in this meal. The yellow ones look like sunny pork pies and just ask to be hollowed out and filled.

There are so many other squashes that I'd like to try to grow, but I think it would be better to try a few at a time and discover which ones we most like to eat.

Wherever possible I am using heirloom varieties and organic seeds. By avoiding F1 varieties, I should be able to save some seeds from each plant for use the next year. Our aim is to reduce our living costs and saved seeds will do their part to lower our costs. There is, I guess, a risk that plants will cross pollinate and that we'll end up with some peculiar squashes, but I don't mind, that's all part of the fun of growing our vegetables!

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