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!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Wading through jelly

 On Sunday we spent a few hours with my sister and brother in law. We live only twenty minutes' drive away from her home which means that we can see other much more often than we used to. If my sister wasn't related to me, I'd choose her as a friend as we get on so well, share the same sense of silliness and have a similar outlook on life.

I took a box of fresh vegetables from the garden, a few frozen runner beans (because they are amongst her favourite vegetables), some duck eggs, hen eggs, a jar of blackberry and apple jam, a jar of apple sauce and one of the smaller pumpkins that are still ripening.

After we'd caught up with each other's latest news, we gathered some rose hips from a rose that had originally been a hybrid tea type, but over the years suckers had grown up from the root stock and now it is a wild rose with no sign of the grafted rose bush. I'm going to use these to make some rose hip syrup and add a few to some hedgerow wine. While we were picking fruits we found a few elderberries, which I will add to the berries in the freezer ready to make into some wine.

We also came home with some wooden battens (that had been on their roof, but have since been replaced), some other wood off-cuts that may have ended up rotting in a corner of their field, wire mesh, a bale of bedding for the ducks.

I felt that we had a much better deal from our swap until I remembered that, except for the bale of bedding, we had taken away items that they considered to be rubbish and would need taking to the local tip eventually, so we have saved them the trip. 

The wood battens and off-cuts will get stored away until we are ready to use them, but to have some spare bits of wood around is very useful for those days that I say 'can we just...?'.

By late afternoon I had started to feel a bit wobbly and irritatingly I have now spent two days on the sofa feeling somewhat worse for wear. I have booked an appointment with my GP to have my blood tests done again to check the level of hormones for my thyroid, unfortunately the first set of appointments that I can have aren't for another two weeks. My hope is that I will be feeling better long before then and the appointments will just be a routine check-up.

Being knocked sideways gives me little to write about in terms of activity on the smallholding as I haven't been up to walking outside, which means that nothing has progressed in the garden or in the kitchen. I've put all the picked fruits straight into the freezer and will deal with them at a later date when every step feels less like I am wading through jelly.

Mr J has been looking after the birds and of course, this is the week that the smallest chickens have worked out how to break out of their field and head straight for the 'all you can eat buffet' that is the vegetable garden. We have foiled their fun by confining them to their house and large run until we have completed putting up more chicken wire netting to prevent the small birds slipping through the flexible netting that surrounds the chickens' fields. Hopefully Mr J will feel up to doing this when he returns from work today.

I did manage to get outside for a short time this morning, but it didn't last long before I needed to come back in and lie down again. However, I got to enjoy the late summer sunrise for a few minutes. I wish my camera could pick up the intense orangey-red of the sun, but suffice to say that the sun and the pumpkins looked beautiful together.