Wonderful Winter Squash

If you are anything like me, you can’t wait for fall to come.  Cozy sweaters, fire in the wood stove, shorter days…no, wait, I didn’t mean that one!  I have to say, one of my greatest fall pleasures is eating winter squash and baking with pumpkin.  This is while the masses are heading out to get their pumpkin spice lattes, that pumpkin spice lip balm and all of the rest of the limited edition pumpkin spice things.  Let’s get back to the real food and talk about using real winter squash and pumpkin!

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Winter squash and pumpkin belong to the cucurbita genus of plants.  They come in so many shapes, sizes and colors.  Just stroll through your local farm stand and you may see just a few fine specimens from a long list of varieties.  ‘Red Kuri’, ‘Butternut’, ‘Sweet Dumpling’, ‘Blue Hubbard’ and my favorite that I grew up with, ‘Buttercup’!  Ranging in size from a two serving ‘Delicata’ to those huge pumpkins that you can barely fit in your oven!

'Delicata' squash is very sweet!
‘Delicata’ squash is very sweet!

Squash and pumpkins have always been very important crops because of their nutrition and storage qualities.  In the article Celebrate the Three Sisters: Corn, Beans and Squash, the process is described about how the Iroquois tribe planted these three crops together in a highly sustainable inter-planting arrangement.  Valued the world over, they are packed with Vitamins A, B, C, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese according to Epicurious.  Also, they are low in fat and calories (that’s the real winner here!).  And then there is the flavor.  Some of the best winter squash are rich, meaty and oh so sweet in flavor!  I call it fall soul food!

Gnarled pumpkin stem!
Gnarled pumpkin stem!

In autumn, squash are abundant here in Maine.  Because winter squash and pumpkins store well, many of us stock up this time of year.  If you have a cool, dry location that won’t freeze, try storing a few for future use.  Check with some of your local growers, the price seems to go down as winter gets closer.  I have a shelf in my garage where I keep an assortment.  Just be sure to check them regularly and use any that show signs of going bad.  The stem may grow a bit of mold or the flesh can show a few dark spots.

Butternut squash.
Butternut squash.

I really have a hard time growing winter squash, let alone pumpkins.  If I had an open field I might give them more attention but they take up too much real estate for me right now.  Cooking and freezing is an easy option for anyone who has the space.  Canning or pressure canning can be used also.  This is an option if you are not a fan of eating canned food from the store.  I came upon an article One-Pie Canned Pumpkin Pur’ee|History and Recipes.  It featured our iconic Maine canned pumpkin and squash, One-Pie.  Growing up, it seemed that this was the canned pumpkin to buy and I still have a few cans on hand for convenience.  This company started out in Waldoboro, Maine, then moved to West Paris, Maine.  Now, although still distributed from West Paris, says the article, the processing is done in Illinois!  Crazy!

One Pie canned pumpkin.
One Pie canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin and squash are so versatile.  They can at times be used interchangeable in recipes.  Taking on the flavors of the seasoning that you add, the mashed squash can be sweet or savory.  Roasted squash has got to be my favorite fall side dish.  Not to mention the countless ways to serve it.  Just on it’s own with butter and pepper is fine with me!

In my grandmothers 1949 copy of The Wise Encyclopedia of Cooking, right between squab-pigeon and squirrel, is a quirky spread of recipes for squash.  It notes that “Squash soup is an epicure’s delight, and many combinations of squash and other vegetables can be made.”  True indeed!

Roasting Fall root veggies and squash!
Roasting Fall root veggies and squash!

If you have a squash with a dry texture, try steaming chunks of it.  A squash with a lot of moisture can be improved by roasting with a drizzle of olive oil and brown sugar.  Pumpkins and squash can be baked whole or in pieces.  Seeds can be cleaned and roasted with your favorite seasonings for a healthy snack.

All colors, shapes and sizes!
All colors, shapes and sizes!

I would like to share a recipe that I have adapted for a pumpkin soup that is diet friendly and so delicious!  Squash or pumpkin work in this recipe.  Great as a meal with bread and salad or try serving a mug with a sandwich for a filling lunch.  This recipe is easily made vegan.

Skinny Pumpkin Curry Soup

Heat over medium-low heat in a soup pot, 1 Tbsp. olive oil.  Add 1 medium onion, chopped.  Cook till translucent.  Saute 2 cloves of minced garlic for a few minutes but be careful not to burn.

Onions, garlic and spices!
Onions, garlic and spices!

Put 1 tsp. yellow curry powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper to taste and 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes in with the onions and cook for a quick minute.  Pour in 3 cups of chicken or veggie broth and 1 3/4 cups of mashed pumpkin or squash.  Simmer for a good 15 minutes.

Adding the squash or pumpkin.
Adding the squash or pumpkin.

Place soup in the blender with 1 cup of skim milk or almond milk.  Blend until smooth.   That’s it!  Sweet and spicy!

Soup in the blender!
Soup in the blender!

Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a piece of bread.  I hope that you give this recipe a try.  It’s thick and satisfying!

Grand finale! Pumpkin soup.
Grand finale! Pumpkin soup.

Winter squash and pumpkin can be part of your healthy diet in an endless amount of ways.  Pies, cakes, cookies, bread, side dishes and soups.  You are only limited to your imagination!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

Fall Garden Cleanup Tips

To clean up your garden beds or not to clean up?  Just ask anyone, you’ll get a different answer!  Believe it or not, fall garden cleanup can be a heated topic.  I’ve been surveying different people and there are some strong feelings out there!  Today, I’m going to lay out some practical tips for fall garden cleanup that will help you get a head start on next years garden.

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Perennial Gardens 

On both sides of the fall garden cleanup debate, there are solid pros and cons.  As a gardener for hire, I’ve always cleaned up customers gardens because it’s so hard to cut down all of the properties in the spring.  Fall cleanup does not eliminate spring cleanup.  But, it makes spring garden maintenance so much easier.  For my personal gardens, I have always done some cutting. There are just so many things to do at that time of year-getting veggie gardens planted, making customers gardens presentable and cleaning and edging my own beds.

It's a messy job!
It’s a messy job!

On the other side of the coin, leaving perennial gardens as they are through the winter can have some benefits.  Standing plants can provide food and shelter for birds.  Bees can have a continuous food supply until they are ready to go to sleep for winter.  Some tender plants are given a bit of extra protection from the debris left in the garden.  Gardens covered in plant matter are also excellent for preventing erosion.  Flower heads covered in snow or frost are gorgeous to look at and make spectacular photo ops!

Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!
Leaving flowers can provide food for the bees!

In one of my clients gardens, I left the gaillardia.  It’s still blooming and I can leave it as long as I want.  As long as the weather stays mild, the flowers will slowly continue to bloom.

Many perennials still put out blossoms.
Many perennials still put out blossoms.

You may not want to leave any flower seed heads that will overtake your flower garden.  Any plants susceptible to powdery mildew or other pests should be removed from the garden.  This can be very important for organic growers who try to prevent problems before they happen.

November blooms!
November blooms!

If you do choose to cleanup, cover any sensitive planting with mulch, leaves or boughs.  This is very worthwhile if there is little or no snow cover like last year.

Fall is also a time when you can get some weeding done that may have been overlooked in very summer months.  I was listening to a podcast from A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach and Ken Druse.  I totally enjoyed their practical approach to fall garden cleanup.  One tip that they shared about fall weeding was that caution should be used because the soil gets disturbed and weed seeds can fall in the freshly cultivated dirt.  Ken was recommending cutting the seeds off of the weeds if you couldn’t do anything else.  His blog 7 Fall Cleanup Tasks You Shouldn’t Skip was filled with some great info.

A great chance to deal with weeds!
A great chance to deal with weeds!

Vegetable Gardens

I would say that most vegetable gardeners like to cleanup spent plants as soon as they are done.  Fall cleanup is so much easier than dealing with a bunch of dead, mushy plants in the spring.  What an advantage you will have if your veggie beds are ready to be planted as soon as the ground can be worked.  Crops such as carrots, beets and the like can be put in right away.

When you remove plants, you also have the opportunity to sow seeds for fall harvest as I have outlined in Plant Your Fall Garden Now and Fall Garden Harvest.  Succession planting can add tons of food to your table.

Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!
Dead flowers covered in ice, great photo op!

Some plants should be removed to prevent further diseases and pests.  In our area we deal with tomato blight.  Since this problem is airborne and spread through plant tissue, it is vital to get rid of any parts of the diseased plant or even the fruit.  We actually put our plants in the trash. If placed in the compost, they can just make the situation worse.  So, even though it pains me to send plant matter to the local dump, it is a must in this situation.

Any plants with heavy pests should be destroyed.  Don’t think that a killing frost or winter will do away with those pests!

Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!
Seed heads left in the garden create winter interest!

Annuals

I would say that the majority of gardeners pull dead annuals out of pots and the ground in the fall.  There’s usually no hope of rejuvenating most annuals. Before I pull plants such as cosmos or calendula, I always collect or scatter seeds over the garden beds.  This way, there is a good chance of reseeding for next year.

Remove dead annuals.
Remove dead annuals.

Leaves

Most of the clients I’ve had over the years have had professional leaf removal.  I have always strictly concentrated on the flower beds.  Some say to leave the leaf litter to make a habitat for creatures.  Leaves do make a good mulch but they take years to decompose.  Since we live in the woods, it has been important to rake the leaves away from the house.  Too many ticks reside in these piles of leaves, mice too, for that matter.  We have had a bumper crop of acorns and leaves this fall.  In my opinion, if creatures need a habitat, they can live on the other 9 1/2 acres that we own!  This week, I was reading the Garden Rant blog and laughed out loud as I read their explanation of why you should get rid of leaves in your gardens.  Very realistic advice!

Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.
Coreopsis in the afternoon sun.

In the past, when I worked with a group of woman gardeners, we were taught immaculate gardening techniques.  We left nothing, not even footprints!  We worked at many public facilities and immense private properties.  Constant upkeep was vital for appearances and to keep our customers happy.  The home gardener has the choice of how far they will take their fall garden cleanup.  It is a satisfying feeling having the fall chores done, a warm fire crackling in the stove and snowflakes dropping out of the sky!

Still a few flowers left!
Still a few flowers left!

Feel free to weigh in (comment below) on the great fall cleanup debate! Remember that we all garden differently and have diverse backgrounds.  I’m so happy that you joined me this week here at Everlongardener!   You are welcome to subscribe in the sidebar for the weekly blog.  Join me on Instagram for daily gardening pictures!  Thank you for reading these fall garden cleanup tips!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Fall Garden Harvest

A few months ago I shared the post Plant Your Fall Garden Now, a call to action that would extend your garden harvest.  Taking advantage of great fall weather and several months of cooler growing.  This week at Everlongardener, I’m reviewing what I got from my fall garden harvest.  Did any of you try planting a few seeds to make a fall planted garden? Here’s what happened with mine!

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When August hit, my potatoes where ready to be pulled leaving me with an entire garden bed ready for planting.  I’ve recently been exploring new gardening techniques in the book How To Create a new Vegetable Garden by Charles Dowding.  He is an expert in the field of no dig gardening.  That is exactly what we did.  No digging, tilling or turning of the soil.  Even though some in my household are dying to get that tiller out, you know who you are, we simply planted the seeds.  By August 19 the garden was in.  We had a warm dry autumn so the young plants flourished.

Greens under a carpet of oak leaves.
Greens under a carpet of oak leaves.

As you may remember, I focused my garden plan on cool weather crops such as carrots, radishes, beets and turnip greens.  Salad greens were a top priority so I sowed out hardy lettuces, kale, senposai, peas for shoots, mustard greens and spinach.

'Ruby Streaks' mizuna.
‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

I was surprised that we had so many issues with pests in the fall garden.  These chewing insects are not usually such a problem.  Next year they will definitely need to be addressed.  The kale, senposai and mustard greens were all attacked but the lettuce was pest free.   You can see some of the leaf damage in the photo below.

The senposai has lots of insect damage.
The senposai has lots of insect damage.

This fall we have seen more acorns than we can remember.  About a month ago, they would actually be showering down like rain when the wind blew.  We have an old plow truck that my husband restored and it was sitting on the edge of the woods.  Every day the truck got pelted with acorns.  The hood is now full of dents.  I guess we should have been paying attention!  I was thinking that an over abundance of acorns means a tough winter.  We will have to wait and see!

Carrot tops!
Carrot tops!

The real goal that I had with planting carrots and beats was not necessarily to use them this fall, although the beet greens have been a huge part of my salad mix.  I really just wanted to winter them over for next spring.  This will give me a huge jump start on the season.

Beet greens.
Beet greens.
More beet greens!
More beet greens!

In October, I draped the garden with some floating row cover.  This keeps the garden bed protected from frosts.  It acts as an extra layer.  By adding a hoop and plastic, I will have a mini temporary hoop house.  Of course, you can purchase season extension items from Gardeners Supply or Johnny’s.  I prefer to use things that I have before buying stuff for the garden.  Sometimes you may find the wires from old abandoned political signs on the side of the road.  They work fantastically for suspending the floating row cover over fall garden crops.  Yet another great way to extend the fall garden harvest!

Morning in the fall garden.
Morning in the fall garden.

I plan on piling up the oak leaves (free mulch) around the beets and carrots.  Even though I have been wintering and harvesting greens for many winters, this has been my first real fall garden.

Harvest time!
Harvest time!

What Did I Get From The Fall Garden Harvest?

Since mid September, I have been able to harvest a bowl of salad greens once or twice a week depending on  the weather.  A few baby carrots and some radishes.  That’s about it.  But, I have to say that without the fall planted garden, I would have had a major gap in my homegrown salad.  The only time I had to purchase lettuce was when I was invited to a party and didn’t really have enough to make a salad to bring.  With my fall garden, I was able to add some gorgeous color to some store bought salad mix!

Baby carrots and little radishes!
Baby carrots and little radishes!

What Did I Learn?

No matter how long we have been gardening or how successful we may be at it, there is always something to learn.  Reading about new ideas and techniques keeps things challenging and you may find better ways to do things.  I realized that I have little experience with organic pest control and need to work on that.  I also learned that a fall planted garden needs to be part of my garden plan and rotation every year.  With just a handful of leftover garden seed, we were able to harvest many more pounds of food than we would have normally.  For more information on year round growing, The Winter Harvest Handbook is a must read.

I have to admit that growing the majority of of my own salad greens year round makes me a bit of a lettuce snob.  They don’t call me the ‘Salad Green Queen’ for nothing! If you start growing your own greens you will understand why.  The taste, colors, textures are all beyond compare!  Fresh is the best!

Lovely salad greens from the fall garden.
Lovely salad greens from the fall garden.

I’m excited to give you this feedback on the fall garden harvest this week.  Many of you are worried that I won’t have a thing to write about all winter.  Never fear, I plan on many blogs about microgreens, indoor lettuce culture, cooking, forcing bulbs, greenhouse updates and garden planning for next year!  I really appreciate you joining me here this week.  Scroll on over to the sidebar to subscribe for free.  No strings, just weekly gardening inspo!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

Garden Artist Showcase: Thyme At Home

This week at Everlongardener, we are so excited to showcase a garden artist who specializes in recycling and repurposing.  Old objects made new again. My featured garden artist runs Thyme At Home.

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So, what’s a mom to do when she has twin boys and finds herself with a lot of ‘thyme’ at home?  Ever the crafter, Lauren Labrie has been making things with her hands for years.  Even with a career as a National Park Service Ranger, Lauren sets aside time for making hand-crafted cards ( I’ve received a few of these gorgeous cards in the past) and many other distinctive items. She now sells her handmade products through her Etsy shop.

Garden markers!
Garden markers!

Lauren’s shop offers plant tags and markers, drink tags, gift labels, home decor and more.  Do you have an upcoming wedding or garden party?  A bridal shower or other special occasion?

Hand stamped tags!
Hand stamped tags!

Some of these tags may be just the elegant touch you are looking for!

Botanically inspired gift tags.
Botanically inspired gift tags.

I recently received my hand stamped herb marker set in the mail.  Upon arrival, I anxiously opened the mailing box.  Inside was a carefully and beautifully wrapped set of six herb markers.  This particular set is made up of vintage table knives.  I immediately went running around, placing the markers in the ground next to their namesake herbs.  I was a little sad that it’s now fall and some of my herbs are on their way out.  There’s always next year, right?

Veggie garden labels.
Veggie garden labels.

All of Lauren’s metal items are permanently stamped.  The plant names will never wear off over time.  Use them year after year!

Greens markers!
Greens markers!

These plant markers are especially great if you plant from seeds.  No more mixing things up!

Herb marker set.
Herb marker set.

You can see all of her wares at her Etsy shop at Thyme At Home, on Facebook and Pinterest.  She will also do custom orders if you have something specific in mind.  So, if you are looking for a gift for the gardener in your life or want to treat yourself, head on over to Thyme At Home!

Herb labels.
Herb labels.
Copper herb labels.
Copper herb labels.

If you are an artist and make garden related art, I would love to feature you here at Everlongardener!  Lauren, owner of Thyme the Home, happens to be my cousin and I wanted to show off her many talents.  Our mothers instilled in us a love for antiques at an early age.  Appreciating the past and making things new again.  She makes ‘thyme’ for her art and gardening even with two very busy boys.  I hope you find her garden decor as delightful as I do!

Thyme At Home!
Thyme At Home!

Fall has turned out to be very busy around here.  Garden cleanup, gardening jobs, greenhouse chores and planting bulbs!  We pick up the pace during the daylight hours because there seems to be less and less of them.  The leaves have gone from red, yellow and orange to shades of amber and copper. Hunting season has begun and blaze orange is the fall seasons hottest new color!  Thanks for reading Everlongardener this week and remember to subscribe in the sidebar for all things gardening!  It’s always free and you won’t miss a thing!

Hilary|Everlongardener