Squash Comparison

Last evening I invited guests for dinner.  In addition to a roast pork loin with blackberry sage sauce, each variety of winter squash grown in the potager this season was roasted as well.  I wanted to do a taste test, and my guests were more than willing to taste and evaluate.   The squash were cut into serving-size pieces, skin left on, seeds removed, drizzled with a bit of oil and maple syrup, and a very light sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper.  They roasted for about 40 minutes at 325 degrees (the desired temp for roasting the pork) until fork tender.  Here’s what they looked like when they were ready to serve:    Winter squash roasted  All four of the varieties selected for the potager were chosen because they were listed as “compact,” “single serving” size, and good storage quality.  Beyond that, four different types were chosen to provide a variety of shapes and colors.

The least popular in taste and texture was “Carnival.” (Bottom row, pieces 2 & 3) While one of the prettiest squashes, the texture although not really “stringy” was still more “stringy” than any of the others.  The flesh was pale yellow and of good thickness.   However, my diners felt it was a bit dry, and lacked in flavor.   Apparently, according to the catalog, the flavor improves with longer storage, so it will get another try later this winter.

A bit more moist and flavorful was “Honey Bear,” (Bottom row, far left piece) an acorn type that grows on a very compact plant.  The “meat” of the squash was pale gold, not very thick, but the texture was good.  The flavor was fairly bland.

Everyone enjoyed the “Butterscotch” butternut squash (Bottom row, fourth piece from left) for its deep orange color, smooth texture and excellent sweet, nutty flavor.  The edible flesh is much more abundant per squash for this variety.

But far and away, everyone picked “Orange Magic,” a mini hubbard squash (Top row, far left piece….where are all the other pieces?  Well, when I remembered to take a photo, all of the Orange Magic had been eaten except for one piece!!!)  It was definitely best-flavored with a smooth, buttery texture.  The flesh was deep orange, and while not as abundant as “Butterscotch” it was acceptable.

Squash Butterscotch  In terms of production, “Butterscotch” is the big winner, producing 6.5 pounds per plant in a year when all the potager’s cucurbits struggled.   Most of them are about 6″ long and 3″ across at the base.  Only part of the harvest is shown above.   Although the catalog describes it as “compact, space saving vines” it definitely overran its 6′ x 6′ bed.  It was an All-American selection in 2015 and resists powdery mildew.  Squash orange magic  The second most productive was “Orange Magic,” which was tied to a trellis to save space, but would have been happier on the ground, I think.  It’s 3-4′ tall, thick stems were sometimes broken over by heavy winds.  Despite this, it produced 4.75 pounds per plant, and its brilliant orange fruits were very decorative in the potager.  Squash Carnival  Both “Carnival”(shown left) and “Honey Bear” produced 2.5 pounds per nicely compact bush plant.  The flowers on “Carnival” were huge!  Since there wasn’t much difference in production or flavor, I’d choose to grow “Carnival” again just for its delightful decorative use in autumn decorating. Squash Honey Bear “Honey Bear” is a solid, deep, dark green but to me the fruits are almost too small for a single serving.

Now that the productivity and taste results are in, it’s just a matter of waiting to see which varieties store best.  Since space in the potager is limited, only the very best performers will go into the ground next summer!  Hopefully, it will be a better growing year for members of the squash family, but even this year’s small crop will provide several delicious meals.  What squash did best in your garden this year?



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Owls this for an idea?

owl  Thinking ahead for the Thanksgiving table decor, I keep remembering this adorable edible owl that graced the buffet table at a 2012 Master Gardeners’ conference here in Indiana.  Some creative gardener was very inventive.  I finally found the photo I took for my farm’s October newsletter that year to share with you.  Wouldn’t it be a fun project for the children at the family gathering?  Bring out the pumpkin carving tools, toothpicks and wooden skewers for attaching parts, and a variety of fruits and veggies.  This owl used a watermelon body, patty pan squash carved into feet, various kale leaves for the neck ruff and wings, a carved cantaloupe head, and black olive eyes.  Personally, I think he could use a cashew beak as well, or maybe a small, curved hot pepper?  Corn husk wings?  Children can be so creative, and might end up with an entire family of owls, using a variety of produce.  And, after they leave, you can make fruit salad!

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First Seed Order!

As the 2018 growing season slides to an end here in central Indiana, (there’s SNOW forecast for tomorrow!) anticipation is already beginning for the 2019 garden!  The first seed order was placed before Oct. 31 in order to qualify for a 20% discount.  Most of the items are the “must-have” plants that are the staples of the flower borders each and every season:  “Durango” and “Hot Pak” marigolds, “Fresh Look” celosia, “Profusion” zinnias, “Penny Orange” violas and other annuals that you’ve often seen touted here in past posts.  However, each year there are a few new items that catch my eye.  Here are some of the flowers that have my blood trickling just a bit faster as my mind pictures next year’s flower borders.

Marigold Triploid  Most interesting are the “Triploid” Marigolds.  Maybe you’ve already grown them, or at least heard about them, but they are new to me.  Why are they different from ordinary marigolds?  First of all they are day-neutral, so they don’t require those long sun-lit hours before they come into bloom.  Second, they have 2-3″ flowers that are held above the compact foliage.  Third, and best of all in my opinion, is that they do not go to seed!  That means the plants do not spend massive amounts of energy producing seed, so they’ll produce more flowers instead.  It also means that I won’t have to spend hours deadheading those plants in order to get more flowers, or to remove those browning seed capsules for appearance.  It seems to be a win-win!  Colors available are Deep Orange, Golden Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Red, Red & Gold, or Mixed.  I’m excited to see how they perform, and if there is any downside.

I adore snapdragons, the stately “Liberty Bronze” that are actually gorgeous shades of orange and apricot tones are a staple both in borders and in the edible flower interior potager border.  However, I especially love the “azalea” type open flowers so I’ve grown 8″ “Twinny” Peach and will again, but in addition I’m trialing a new one, “Antiquity Orange Bi-Color.” Snap Antiquity  If orange isn’t your color, the “Antiquity” series is also available in yellow, red, purple and mixed.  Slightly taller than the “Twinny” series at 10″, the open “bell” flowers are reportedly longer-lasting with better branching than “Twinny,” (which has been my complaint, along with floppy stems) thus also producing more flowers. Snaptini For a shorter snapdragon, along edges and used in containers, the “Montego” snaps used in past seasons are being replaced by a new “Snaptini” hybrid series.  These are day-neutral and hopefully more heat-tolerant than the “Montego”, and form slightly larger 7″ x 7″ mounds.  The color I’ve selected is called “Sunglow,” which is reportedly a right orange, but you can find them in burgundy, red, violet, yellow, white and mixed.  These have the traditional “dragon mouth” which provide entertainment as the bumbles muscle their way inside.
Zinnias are always a must-have.  This year’s weather had many looking wretched, with spotted leaves and few flowers.  Two new ones will be trialed:  “Zinnita” is a compact 6-8″ variety with double flowers and good branching.  Zinnia Zinnita  Hopefully it will be as cute as the photo, and won’t succumb to disease as it fills various container plantings and along high-traffic edges at the sidewalk both in the Front Garden and the Deck Garden.  “Zinnitas” also come in rose, scarlet, white, yellow or mixed.  Cresto “Cresto Orange” is 30″ and hopefully it will be orange and not red, like the “Cupcake Deep Orange” trialed in 2017.  Its bold domes, surrounded by a ring of broad petals “Like a ballerina’s tutu” is the description given, are on strong stems.  These are replacing the insipid “Zinderella Peach,” which  wasn’t peach and the great majority weren’t the powderpuff form at all.  “Cresto Red” and “Cresto Yellow” are also available.

Aster Matsumoto  For the cutting garden, with a possible move to the back of the borders next year if they perform well, is Aster “Matsumoto Apricot.”  At 30″ these Japanese-bred beauties are tall plants but supposedly have strong stems to remain upright.  In our winds, this could be an issue, but since they are an annual and intended for cutting, it’s not a deterrent.  The flowers are abundant, mid-size for asters with a yellow center.  Several blogs have praised them as a cut flower, so I’m giving them a try.  Heat and disease resistant, and available in a really wide range of colors:  blue, blue-tipped white, crimson, light blue, pink, red striped, rose, scarlet, violet striped, white, yellow, pink tipped white as well as the apricot shown.

Making an encore performance after an absence of many, many years is Emilia “Irish Poet.”  Emilia  This sweet little annual is also called “tassel flower.”  Tiny clusters of fluffy orange flowers atop wiry 16″ stems are perfect as filler in bouquets and add interesting, airy spots of color to containers.  For years they self-seeded (not rampantly) in the gardens at the farm, but for some reason I’d forgotten about them after the sale.  They’ll go in containers in sunny spots, and also here and there in the Deck Garden.  A few seeds will assuredly go to my daughter’s young niece, Emilia, who has recently become a gardener.

So, these are the new items I’m trialing from the first seed catalog to arrive!  I can’t wait till the mailbox is filled with others.  Have you found anything that excites you for the coming season?  Are you varying your color scheme at all next time?  Do you try new things, or stick with the “tried and true”?


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Bulbs are Planted!

Finally, the last of the bulbs are in the ground.  Recent thunderstorms have made it a challenge to complete, but it’s finished and can be marked off the “TO DO” list.  The crocus “Cream Beauty” are always included.  Although they are good at  repeat Crocus 2-26-18 compressed  performance, each year I add 100 to be able to plant additional spots and to replace those eaten by critters or that rot over winter in our cold clay soils.  The perky Tulip batalinii “Bright Gem” are a staple for the potager’s two central paths’ edges.  They are just so darned cute,Tulip edging close 5-8-18  with their big flowers on tiny plants.  I smile every time I see them.  Barring extreme weather, they are long-lasting as well, and it’s certain that the fairies love them.

Otherwise, this year’s selections were a bit different from past years.  After careful observation of the past three year’s show, it was decided that more color was needed later in May rather than early May when some daffodils are in full force.  To remedy that, a collection of 300 late May tulips was ordered, and the number of earlier tulips was reduced to only two very choice varieties.  Foxy Foxtrot  The big winner last year was a new one, “Foxy Foxtrot,” a double-flowered early beauty in my favorite color, marmalade orange with shading to lemon yellow and apricot.  It edged out the previous favorite “Charming Beauty” because it seemed to last a bit longer and was just a tad brighter.  Only 12-14″ tall, Foxy Foxtrot is a standout in the front edges so, this year their number was doubled so they could be planted in the Front Garden, in the conspicuous part of the Deck Garden, and in the potager’s interior border.  “Foxy” bloomed in late April last year into early May, just as the early daffodils were disappearing.  In those same areas groups of Triumph (a cross between Darwin and Early tulips) “Annie Schilder” went in.  Isn’t she gorgeous!  Just luminous! Tulip Annie Schilder “Annie” is a luscious warm orange with a deeper orange interior and a yellow base.  At 18″ she goes behind the “Foxy” plantings and struts her stuff from the very end of April into the second week of May.

So, now we come to the newcomers to the gardens here, the “Late May” collection from Van Engelen which is made of 6 tall (28-30″) tulips (50 of each) that will go in the back of borders.  By the time they are fading the perennials will nicely hide their browning foliage, but the flowers will easily float above any emerging perennials.  The two shortest of the group (28″) are Tulip “El Nino” and Tulip “Hocus Pocus.” Tulip El Nino “El Nino” is a luscious apricot amber so it will go behind the groupings of “Annie Schilder” due to its height.  It should be perfect against the paler apricot brick of the house.  A few will also go into the potager interior border, to add some late color before the alliums bloom.  Tulip Hocus Pocus  Because of its bright yellow petals with red streaks, “Hocus Pocus” is a departure from the normal palette of apricots and oranges, so they will go into the Front Island, and a few in the potager exterior border.  Tulip Blushing Lady  Tulip “Blushing Lady” is one I’ve had before, and a few of them actually returned for an encore performance the following year, something that does not usually happen here with any but the species tulips. It’s going into the back of the potager’s exterior border, where its pale yellow petals with pale rose shading will stand out against the fence.  And a few of them went into the Front Island along with “Hocus Pocus” since they are similar.

Three 30″ varieties were mixed together before planting in the potager’s interior border, largely where the tallest dahlias came out.  Tulip Big BrotherTulip “Big Brother” is listed as apricot-salmon.  I’m hoping it’s not too pink! Tulip Temple of Beauty “Tulip “Temple of Beauty” is salmon-rose, although in this photo from Van Englelen’s website it appears more orange, and I’m hoping that will be the case.  However,  I suspect it will be too pink for my tastes, but it was part of the collection ordered, so it gets a chance.  “Tulip “Temple’s Favorite” (sorry, no photo) is nasturtium orange, so I expect to love it!  hyacinthoide excelsior  Also in the Front Island, because it is lightly shaded on the north side went 12-15″ Hyacinthoides “Excelsior” with it’s purple-blue spikes.  It’s deer and rodent repellent, and I’m hoping the squirrels that visit the black walnut trees there will avoid not only them but the tulips as well!  Wishful thinking?  They are listed as blooming in May, so we’ll just have to wait to see exactly when in May that happens.  And, hopefully they will naturalize a bit.  I received 2 huge (the size of duck eggs) hyacinthoid bulbs “Blue Arrow” as a gift from Simple Pleasures Bulbs & Perennials.  Hyacinthoide Blue Arrow  Unfortunately the packaging doesn’t say how tall they will be but judging from the bulb size, I’m guessing 2′ or more so they are also in the Front Island.

Also in the potager’s interior border went 10 white allium “Ping Pong.”  The majority of allium bulbs planted there in the past two years have rotted, so I’ve raised the soil level a bit and will try them again.  Wish them luck!  That’s 837 bulbs, and I ran out before any were planted in the North or South Islands, the Cutting Garden, or under the Lady Cottage’s window box area!  I guess I should have ordered more!  Maybe I’ll just check to see if there are any “end of the season” sales going on….


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My first LEEK!

Leek French Baby  While it may not impress many of you who grow leeks successfully, and probably have for years, I’m elated!  I finally grew and harvested a leek!  This was not my first attempt.  Last year, I seeded some “American Flag” leeks, and a few germinated, grew terribly slow, were transplanted into the potager, and never became much bigger than pencils.

After studying seed catalogs over the winter, I selected this variety for another try.  Leek French  I’ve always had good luck with Renee Shepherd’s seeds, and this smaller, quicker leek seemed the best option.  Only a pinch of seed was sown last March, because we don’t use a lot of leeks and this was just a test.  However, I think every seed germinated and quickly grew into a sturdy transplant.  Over the winter, I had watched an episode of “Lavender and Leeks” showing Katie planting leeks into her allotment.   (It’s my favorite You-Tube view, so check it out if you haven’t before.)  I’d always thought you had to dig a big trench, plant the leeks in the bottom and slowly fill it as they grew, rather like celery.  I’m sure that’s a standard method, but Katie just makes a deep dibble hole and sticks the transplant in.   So, that’s what I did, except I filled the hole around each transplant with good compost to offer more food.  There was more rain this year, and I think that helped as well.

The result was a patch of lovely, large leeks.  The leeks are actually larger than I expected, growing a good 2′ tall and 2″ in diameter.  Some are slightly larger, some are slightly smaller, but I’m happy with them all.  The first one harvested (shown above) provided 10″ of usable, deliciousness and was turned into a tasty traditional leek-potato soup.  Leek soup  We had eaten all but this last little bit before I remember to take a photo!  There are still several leeks left, so I’m open to ideas for other ways to use my wonderful crop.   Next, I’m making the “Leek and Cod Gratin” from Georgeanne Brennan’s book “Potager, Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style.”  Any other recipe suggestions?

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October Monthly Review

October began with adding pumpkins and the wooden pumpkins along the potager fence, as you can see above.  Orange is my happy color, so adding more of it to all the gardens is always a fun task.  Fall front door pot  For the first time, there were even some “Baby Bear” pumpkins from the potager to use in the decorations, along with some colorful winter squash.  The rest of the month flew past quickly, mainly because a chunk in the middle was used for traveling.  Not much happens in the potager when the gardener is away!  However, there was some work early in the month such as garlic planting and the normal harvesting.  After travel there was clean-up from frosts, dahlia digging, bulb planting, and summer furniture storage in addition to more harvests.

The only preserving was the basil freezing mentioned in an earlier post, carrying baskets of winter squash to the garage, drying a few herbs, and pickling a lot of beets.

The harvest total for October was only 71 pounds, compared to 103.5 pounds in 2017.  The main poundage this year came from winter squash, and beets, with some peas, beans, spinach, lettuce and a few carrots.  Various herbs harvested for teas and the kitchen jars were not weighed as the amounts were small. There was only one lonely pot of sweet potatoes (Will definitely do more next year! The difference?  There was no massive tomato harvest just before frost this year.  I planted fewer tomatoes on purpose, but I should have put in at least a plant or two for late harvests.  That will certainly be put in the notes for next year.  The potager’s first year I had it right, but didn’t realize it, so I “improved” last year and had way, way too many at the end of the season.  So this year I “fixed” it, and got it completely wrong!  One would think it would be perfected by now!  Hopefully it will be next year (next year’s garden is always perfect…all winter long!)    Jalapenas dead  And, because I was away, pounds and pounds of peppers and beans succumbed to the frosts so they could not be added to the harvest total.  Just look at all those jalapenos wasted!

Overall, I’m satisfied with October’s results, especially when I think ahead to the bleak upcoming months of little, and then no harvest.  Then my satisfaction must come from the well-stocked pantry and freezer, the garlic, shallot, and onion braids hanging from the allium rack, the baskets of squash, potatoes, and pumpkins, and the jam-packed shelves of dried herbs, jams and jellies.  And just think…next month the new seed catalogs begin to arrive in droves!

If you’d like to read about a wonderful garden in Georgia, or get my new recipe for apple mint bread pudding, go to my October newsletter at Carolee’s Herb Farm.

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Six on Saturday-Oct. 27

It’s the FINAL Saturday in October!  What a blink this month was, with a transition from the heat of summer at the first of the month to definite autumnal cool temperatures with frost from mid-month to these final days.  Here’s my “Six”, and I hope you will visit The Propagator to see everyone else’s picks.  Mum Sheffield 1) Mum “Sheffield Hills” is my favorite, adding lots of color outdoors and in bouquets for indoors.  It’s a soft apricot-pink with loads of 2″ daisies.  Extremely hardy and easy to grow.  It blooms now, when all the annuals are browned by frost, so it’s especially appreciated.  2)  Frost brings an end to the annuals, but also for the most part, an end to the insects that have plagued the potager this summer.  Rose  Finally, there are roses without Japanese beetles.  And, 3) solid kale leaves growing without dozens of lacy holes.Kale  Exciting things have happened while I was away painting. Blackberry cuttings 4)  The blackberry cuttings I took to finish the row have all rooted in the former potato pots.  If I get a nice day, I’ll plant them out yet this fall.  The Folk School served a delicious Blackberry French Toast casserole that I hope to duplicate!   Garlic emerging  5) Yesterday’s rain brought up the recently planted garlic, so the 2019 harvest is off to a great start! Bulb space And lastly, the bulb order arrived while I was away, so I’ve been digging the dahlias from the potager’s interior border and planting a variety of bulbs in their space.  Doesn’t look like much now, but just wait until next Spring!

So, that’s my “Six” for the end of October.  It’s going to be harder to come up with interesting items in the coming months, as the gardening season winds down and out, but I’m sure everyone will do their best to be innovative.  And, thankfully, there are folks who are just coming into spring gardens on the other side of the world to keep our spirits up!

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