Vegetables

Squash - Well Worth the Effort

We always left squash in the garden as late in the fall as we could, to get the best growth possible.

While preparing for bed one night, we heard on the radio that a severe frost was expected. So we raced out to the field, using the headlights of our pickup trucks to light our way. We ran through the rows, searching for ripe squash, trying to save as much fruit as we could.

We actually managed to save most of the squash, despite stumbling over each other in the dark. Although it was fun, I generally recommend more conventional harvesting methods.

My grandchildren Kathryn and Michael never need to be forced to help us harvest squash. They love to scavenge under the leaves to discover the fruit hidden beneath—like a treasure hunt. Perhaps the many different shapes and colours of squash are what they find so appealing.
 

Ready to Harvest

Summer squash should be harvested when it's young and tender, since it tends to lose its rich flavour at maturity. Harvest summer squash regularly to keep the vines producing; I often harvest twice a week. Summer squash doesn't keep well, so eat it as soon as you harvest it.

It's easy to tell when winter squash is ready: if you can't piece the skin with a fingernail, it's time to pick the fruit. You can also harvest it when all the vines have died, or after the first light frost. Cut the vines with a butcher knife, leaving some stem on the fruit. (Without some stem, the fruit won't keep and will quickly rot.)

Winter squash can be stored on a shelf in a cool, dry place, but it should never be stored in an unheated garage or on a cement floor: storing squash here will lead to rot.

Be careful when cutting the tough-skinned winter squashes. Ted uses a cleaver to open squash, since we once broke a knife trying to cut one! After you get to the delicious inner flesh, though, you'll be glad you made the effort. I cook squash by steaming it between two layers of tin foil on a cookie sheet in the oven—it's a lovely treat. Our family eats a lot of squash—we feel it's a vastly underrated vegetable. Ted and I will even eat the skin, if it's been prepared properly. 
 

Zucchini

Zucchini is a summer squash that's finally getting its due. I say bravo! It's about time! Pick zucchini when it's small, young, and tender—it's at its best when it's no more than 20 cm long. When you can pierce the skin easily with your nail, you've got a nice, ripe zucchini.

Commercial growers harvest their zucchini every other day, since this vegetable becomes oversized and inedible quicker than any other. The best size for zucchini is about the same as a small sliving cucumer. In fact, at the wholesale level, zucchini pices plunge as the fruit gets larger—to the point where it beomes completely unsaleable. 

My daughter-in-law Valerie likes to cut zucchini lengthwise, into long, thin strips. She adds cheddar, salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped green onions, heats it in the oven, and serves. It's a simple and tasty treat that she says "even men can make."

-Lois Hole, I'll Never Marry a Farmer

Funky Potatoes and Uqa

This past month, my wife and daughter traveled to Yurac Yacu, Peru, as part of an assistance program by the Sombrilla International Development Society, based here in Edmonton.

Sombrilla’s mission is to "improve the quality of life by addressing food security, clean water, health care and education so that communities may become self-sustaining." The main focus of this particular mission was to work with the people of Yurac Yacu to build stoves from adobe bricks.
  
Since Yurac Yacu is waaay up in the Andean mountains (at an elevation of just over 3000 metres) the air was a little thin, making the job of transporting and assembling the stoves a little challenging at times. But, apparently, the friendliness and appreciation displayed by the indigenous Quechua people more than made up for the sore backs!
 
Beyond all of the stories of the wonderful people of Yurac Yacu, Sombrilla—and, of course, the spectacular scenery—I was anxious to hear about how the Quechua people cultivated potatoes at such a high altitude. Peru is the potato epicenter of potato cultivation. Most of the potato varieties that we enjoy today originated in Peru. But there is an enormous diversity of potato varieties in Peru which makes our North American selection look rather boring by comparison.
 
At the high altitude of Yurac Yacu, daytime temperatures rise into the low 20’s but nighttime lows often dip below freezing, even in the summer. The foliage of potatoes in our part of the world would die from the sub-zero temperatures, but the Yurac Yacu varieties shrug-off freezing temperatures because the parent species are well adapted to frost.
 
Besides being tough, the Peruvian potatoes are fascinating with their wide variety of shapes and colours. However, some interesting "potato" varieties that my wife and daughter noted as being particularly sweet were, in fact, not potatoes at all but a sweet tuber from the Oxalis family. They kind of look like a funky potato tuber but are really Oxalis tuberosa known as "uqa" by the Quecha. The tubers are apparently sweet (yam-like flavour) and also very colourful, ranging from yellow, orange, and red to apricot and pink. 

My daughter snapped a photo of the selection of potato and uqa tubers that the Quecha prepared for their meals (see above). Absolutely fascinating!
 
I know what you're thinking, "Jim, why can’t you guys get a hold of some of those cool tubers?"
 
Well, there are some pretty strict regulations on importation of plant material into Canada because of pest issues and, of course, sourcing a supplier is difficult. But given the rave reviews of the indigenous potato and Oxalis varieties of the Quecha people maybe—just maybe—a uqa or two might find its way into Alberta gardens in the not too distant future.
  
~Jim Hole

I'm Strong to the Finish 'Cause I Eats Me Spinach

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When I was a kid, Popeye was my hero. Granted, he wasn’t the best looking guy nor the brightest, but once he gulped down some spinach, I knew the bad guys were in for some serious butt kicking.
 
So when I was about five years old, I decided what was good enough for Popeye was certainly good enough for me. Since we always had a plentiful supply of spinach growing in our vegetable field, I would simply grab an empty stewed-tomato tin from the house, head out to the spinach patch, and stuff my "spinach" can full of leaves.
 
Now, I didn’t really expect my biceps to grow to the size of cannon balls once I swallowed the spinach, but I do remember thinking that spinach must do something for increasing ones strength. Otherwise, why would Popeye eat it?
 
I remember thinking that the raw spinach wasn’t the best tasting vegetable that I had eaten, but I was sure that I could climb trees faster, and pick up heavy rocks more easily after eating the spinach leaves.
 
I probably would have continued eating spinach for another couple of years had my mother not said to me one day, "Oh, that’s so cute".
 
 Cute? Popeye was a superman - not cute! I hated cute!
 
The next day, the spinach can found the garbage can, and while I still liked Popeye, my "salad days" were gone. Tarzan became my new hero. Tarzan was also super strong, plus he wielded a huge knife and not some cute tin can!
 
Dad kind of took pity on my fractured ego and bought me a knife with a leather sheath, "just like Tarzan’s". Mom wasn’t fussy about the idea of a kid with a knife until Dad assured her that I was only allowed to use the knife when he was around. That suited me just fine.
 
Today, I still have that have that same knife. And while I no longer eat spinach from a tin, I do love spinach salads - with a bit of Olive Oyl, of course.

~Jim Hole

Early Spring Sowing

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Early spring sowing is a topic that causes many gardeners an inordinate amount of stress and confusion. There are 2 primary concerns, as I see it. The 1st concern is that if you sow seeds too early they will die due to snow, cold, frost or all of the above. The 2nd concern is that if you sow too late the vegetables won’t mature before they are killed by…well…snow, cold and frost.
 
Having grown up in the market garden business, I’ll share what our philosophy and strategy was for early seeding in April: 
•    A few acres of frost tolerant crops were sown as soon as we could till the soil in April.
•    If the soil was too wet, we would wait until we could drive the tractor on it without leaving ruts.
•    Once the soil was dry and regardless of the air temperature (0°C or 20°C)  we would plant a few acres of cool weather crops such as: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprout, onions, parsnips, peas, Kohlrabi, rutabaga, beets, spinach, Swiss chard and even a few potatoes.
•    After that initial planting we would sow 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds of these vegetables so that we had a continuous supply throughout the year.
 
And while it may seem a little counter-intuitive, we even hoped to get a nice snowfall after sowing because—as the snow gently melted—it provided the perfect moisture levels for the vegetables, didn't compact the soil, and resulted in near perfect stands of seedlings.
 
The reason we don't wait until May 24th to sow our vegetables was simple: we wouldn't be have been in business if we adhered to that date. Early sowing means a much longer harvest season, which is exactly what our our customers wanted, so sowing many of our vegetable crops "early" was just standard practice. 


~Jim Hole

p.s. We've received a lot of calls about whether now would be an appropriate time to prune trees such as apples, maydays, or cherries. This is a perfect time to prune those types of trees! So if you've been thinking about pruning, consider this your sign.

On that same note: March 31st is the last day to prune Elm Trees in Edmonton. After this, the annual ban on Elm Tree pruning is in effect until October 1st. This ban occurs every year and helps prevent the spread of Dutch Elm disease. In the case of trees damaged by windstorms, fires, or lightning strikes, Elm Tree pruning exceptions may be granted by filling out an Elm Tree permission form with your local municipality.

 

Also Read About: Spacing Your Vegetable Seeds