Friday, June 9, 2017

Squash family on our menu

3 different species of bee work a
Seminole pumpkin flower.

The Squash family

There are quite a few important crops in this family (Curcubitaceae), from cucumbers and melons to zucchinis and pumpkins, all members of this family have separate male and female flowers which need to be pollinated--most female flowers need to be visited by pollinators (mostly bees and wasps) 7 to 10 times before a fruit forms. The female flower sits atop a small preformed fruit, while the male flower is borne on a long stalk. If a fruit does not grow after the flower fades and it turns yellow, this usually means that it was not fertilized.

Most squash vines put out several to many male flowers first before the first female flower is formed. My guess is that this strategy attracts pollinators to the area before it spends the extra energy to form a female flower.

Up until 2 weeks ago, it's been a dry spring, so I've irrigated the squashes every other day at the minimum to keep them from stressing due to wilting. This has been hand irrigation with rain barrel water, in addition to the once a week landscape-wide irrigation. The reason for this is that squashes need a consistent and generous amount of water to produce the fastest growth of the fruit.

For more detailed information on growing the squash family crops see our book "Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida."


This year I tried a different variety, Speedy Hybrid, which was on sale from Burpee, but it's done so much better than any others I've grown, that I'll probably stick with this one. The leaves are larger and the crop much more plentiful. Plus they have a nice mild taste. It's a good thing we like them, because we have a lot!

A bountiful cucumber harvest. Female cucumber flowers

Spaghetti squash

Several spaghetti squash vines volunteered as a result of my trench composting seeds and skins from a store-bought squash last winter. Of course we were happy to see this, so I made room for them to sprawl and created a bit of a swale around them so I could irrigate more efficiently.

Trouble in paradise! When growing squash, it's important to keep an eye on them, because sometimes worms will attack, but some varieties are more susceptible than others. So I saw that 2 of these squashes had been invaded--you can tell by the holes and the frass on the outside of the squash. No time to waste, they had to be harvested and cooked right away, otherwise the worms would have continued to eat. We split them, dug out the seeds and made sure that the worms were dead before they went into the compost bucket. Then we cooked them: see below...

Uh-oh! The spaghetti squashes had been attacked. The worms were easy to remove, because they were working in the seed area.

Scooping out the squash after cooking. This squash soup was delicious!!

Squash Soup Recipe

2 spaghetti squashes
1 cucumber (Since it was fresh from the garden, it was unpeeled, but store-bought cukes need to be peeled to remove all that waxy stuff they use to keep them from wilting.)
2/3 cup plain non-fat yogurt
1 cup of chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped garlic chives
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup of white wine
Several cherry tomatoes
(Note: the squash, cucumbers, onions, parsley, garlic chives, garlic, and tomatoes are all from our garden harvest.)
-Split squashes, remove seeds (and worms) lay face down in 1/2" water in microwavable pan and cook at full power for 10 minutes or until soft.
-Scoop squash flesh from skins (We stored it in the fridge in a covered bowl for 2 days until we were ready to proceed.)
-Purée squash, yogurt, and uncooked cucumber in food processor. We did this in several steps and each time emptying the contents into our large bowl that has a locking lid. (The first batch with just the squash and yogurt was so sweet it tasted like ice cream!)
-Sauté onions, garlic, and celery in the olive oil over medium to low heat until onions start to caramelize. Reduce the heat and add the parsley and garlic chives and finally add the wine. Cool until room temperature.
-Purée the sautéed mixture as well and stir it into the mixture.
-Serve into bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt and cherry tomatoes cut into halves or quarters. Plus freshly ground pepper.

Butternuts and more...

The new bed in the foreground is covered with butternut squash volunteers. On the other side of the path are 3 Seminole pumpkin vines which have only put out male flowers at this point, the green & white crook-necked squash vines, and then several cucumber vines are growing up on 3 tomato cages, 
Quite a few butternut squashes also volunteered in our new bed next to the elevated rain barrels. Read about building this new bed in this post, but instead of building wide rows for winter vegetables, I buried kitchen scraps methodically one hole after another until the whole bed had been enriched. Obviously one or more of those deposits contained butternut squash seeds, because look at what we harvested, with many more on the way.

After the first soup, another squash family harvest, with more to come. 
Note the 2 crook-necked squashes in the upper left corner of this display. At first I thought that they were from Delicata, squash vines which has green stripes on an off-white background and no crook neck. Obviously, these don't look like that, so I looked up what else they might be and they look sorta like a Crushaw, but they don't have bumpy, thick skin. It turns out that they were from the Seminole pumpkin vines, which have a variety of shapes. They are a very edible, mild squash.

We used these two crook necks and the one spaghetti squash for our next rendition of our squash soup, using the recipe above except that we used 3 cucumbers. More cucumbery, of course, but still very nice.

Our next squash adventure was the largest butternut, cooked in the water like the others, but then fixed like our cheesy mashed potatoes using sautéd onions and garlic. With shredded cheddar cheese and plain, non-fat yogurt added. Also, quite delish. Many more squashy eating adventures are in our future.

It's times like these where it's clear why our food bills are so much less than they used to be.

Other pollinators in our non-poisoned yard
Giant swallowtails are frequent visitors to our yard even though we don't have any citrus, which is the larval food source, but many of our neighbors do. For more information, see: 

Tiger swallowtail nectaring on an eastern arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) These butterflies use sweetbay magnolias as their larval food--we have plenty of those. For more info:
I hope you are enjoying the fruits of your labor this late spring.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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