A few thoughts on squash

I havent’ had the  time  energy to do a full on report on winter squash after last year’s little experiment so I thought I’d start with a few summary notes, all from a purely personal perspective based on what I like to eat and how I store my squash.  I have a hive of bees about 150′ away from the squash patch and they were all over the squash, so pollination was not an issue.  I like to eat squash simply by roasting them, splitting them in half and putting a little butter on them.  During the winter I’ll eat some with most dinners as I really enjoy them and eat them like dessert.

I have a large shop, think barn and you’ll be pretty close.  I live in the Willamette Valley where most of the winter the temperature is in the 30’s and 40’s with 100 percent humidity, so think “large outside refrigerator”.  It sometimes gets cold, like it did in December when the temps got down around zero for the first time in 40 years, and I had to scramble to move everything into a small heated room I maintain in the shop, but most years everything sits happily outside even when the outdoor temp drops into the 20’s for a while.  I put the squash on shelves and the overflow of small squash in milk crates or such and so far it’s worked well enough.  My onions and potatoes live next to them.

Last year I put in about 15 or so winter squash varieties, about 5-10 vines of each except for the Delicatas which probably had 20-25 vines.  I tried a lot of varieties that were recommended for this area and some were read more

Experiment in kale

One thing cold weather is good for is stress testing plants. We had the coldest weather in many years in December, down to zero F or below, so I went out to check on the kale. On the left is Lacianto, on the right is Pentland Brig. The Lacianto is completely wiped out, the Pentland Brig has a little life left in it and may start to grow with some warmer weather.

I had a few Siberian kale plants and they came through fine, and surprisingly the collard plants survived although they look pretty rough.

I also looked at my carrot bed that didn't have any rowcover and it's completely wiped out. The tops are dead and the roots have frozen and turned to mush, quite a striking difference to the beds that were covered.

I'm trying to start getting my seed orders together. This year I'm going to try to focus on Fedco for low cost seeds and Johnny's for some fancy hybrids for market. I've got enough carryover seeds from last year I won't have to order too many, which is good as my unemployment ran out the end of the year.

 

Winter Carrots – January 2014

Last August I planted two beds of carrots for winter, each a 4′ x 24′ raised bed with about 5 rows of carrots in each bed.  One bed was full of Scarlet Keeper from Fedco, supposed to be a great storage carrot, the other was St. Valery from Gourmetseeds.com/Growitalian.com, supposed to be a larger carrot that sounded interesting.  I got a good stand of carrots for a change and when it started to get cold I put some Agribon 19 over them to protect them from the worst of the weather.

The worst of the weather was what we had this year, with the coldest temps in 40 years.  It got down around zero F or -17C for several days (many winters it doesn’t get below 20F here).  I was worried about how the carrots would do in that kind of cold so I went out to harvest some a couple of days ago.  Much to my amazement when I pulled back the row cover the beds looked like this:

Carrot bed January 2014

Carrot Bed January 4, 2014, after cold weather

The carrot plants were strong and healthy, no signs of frost damage even with the horrible weather.  Row cover can do wonders for hardy vegetables.  I pulled some of the St. Valery and was impressed with how they were doing:

St. Valery Carrots  They were a nice size, good color and very uniform.  Almost every one was straight and a good useable / marketable carrot.  The tops aren’t too strong but strong enough to get the carrots out of soft ground if I was careful.  One nice thing was that they hadn’t pushed themselves out of the ground so the shoulders weren’t green at all.

 

 

 

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Next up were the Scarlet Keeper carrots.  Much to my amazement it seems that they’ve been busy growing for the last couple of months, despite it being winter!  They were a LOT bigger than when I last saw them in early October and had turned into sizeable carrots.  Their tops are very strong, which probably helps them grow, and again they were quite uniform.  Their color is a little paler than the St. Valery and they actually seem kind of “transparent”, as if you can see into them a little ways.

 

 

Here’s what they look like cleaned up.

St. Valery Carrots

St. Valery Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

Scarlet Keeper Carrots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cutting into them shows that the St. Valery have almost no core at all and even though you can see one in the picture of the Scarlet Keeper both varieties were very crisp and brittle with no noticeable core or toughness to them at all.

St. Valery Carrot

St. Valery Carrot

Scarlet Keeper Carrot

Scarlet Keeper Carrot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In cold weather I usually eat my carrots cooked, so I steamed a bunch of them for dinner.  All in all I preferred the St. Valery, they had a better color and a little better flavor, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Scarlet Keeper, they would have come out on top against many other competitors.  Either of them are top notch carrots, especially for the first week of January coming right out of the garden.

I’ve had a lot of disappointing carrot crops the last few years so it’s great to have a real winner, it looks like I’ll be enjoying these until the Spring crop is ready.  I think a LOT of difference was quality seed.  I switched to a couple orf different vendors for this seed and uniformity and vigor is a lot better than what I’ve been seeing.  I’m planning on picking up a couple of batches from Johnny’s this year as I suspect their quality is probably about the best.  I’m planning on growing a lot of carrots for market this year as I was amazed at how well they sold at the local market and the good price people were getting for them.

I need to get a final review of the squash trials up, but for now I’ll just say that next year I’ll be planting Delicata and Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash, don’t know if I’ll bother with much else.