Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Growing Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Zucchini and yellow squash are some of the simplest and most rewarding vegetables to grow in your garden. Zucchini and yellow squash are summer squash varieties. They grow into bushlike plants that stand almost 3 feet tall and several feet wide.

Planting Zucchini and Yellow Squash:

Planting Squash Seeds in a Mound
 Plant summer squash in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. That is usually after the vernal equinox around March 21st. Plant it in humus rich, well drained soil. I prefer to plant my summer squash in a mounds of humus rich soil that measure 1’ tall and are spaced at least 2 feet apart with 3’ between rows.  The mound supports the growing habit of the squash plant and provides a warmer environment to sprout the seeds.

Pat the soil of the mound with your hand to give it some structure and scoop out a little bowl formation at the top of the mound and fill it with rich potting soil. 

Plant the squash seeds about ½” deep.  I plant 2 or 3 of seeds in the mound in case an insect gets one of them.

Gently mist the mound to help it keep its shape and avoid erosion. Water the squash seeds too. Squash seedlings will sprout in 5-8 days.

Squash Flowers and How to Harvest the Squash:

Squash Flowers (male)
Squash will bloom in as little as 6 weeks. Zucchini and Yellow squash make male and female blooms on the same plant.  Bees visit the male flowers and then the female flowers and so pollinate or fertilize the squash.

Male flowers are usually on a longer stem and have a fairly straight base. The flower I am touching in the picture is a male flower. Female flowers have a ½ “round bulge at the base of the flower (at the location where my finger is touching the bloom.  This round bulge is the ovary and indicates a female flower.  Only female flowers will turn into a squash. Many beginning gardeners think something is wrong when they begin to notice that not all of the squash flowers are turning into squash. But don’t worry, that is just nature taking place.

Picking and Cooking Squash Blooms:

At this time, I have a lot of male squash flowers on my plants. This is pretty common in the beginning of the season.  If you have too many male squash flowers you can cook them.  Pick the male flowers while they are closed.  Squash blossoms are open in the morning and then close during the afternoon or evening. The way to prepare squash blossoms is to fry them. Fried squash blossoms are a delicious treat.  To fry squash blooms, dip them into a thin milk and flour batter and then fry them like you would fry potatoes.

Harvesting Squash:

Harvest your squash when it is between 6-8” long. Don’t let it get any longer than that or the outer skin will become harder and the inside seedier.  Harvest your squash frequently so that the plant can put more of its energy into making more new squash.

To harvest your squash, cut the green stem above the squash. Turn your knife so that you cut away from the central stalk (so you don’t slip and cut into the plant. Don’t pull on the squash.

Squash Dishes:

Zucchini and yellow squash is great sautéed with rosemary, thyme and basil. Zucchini squash is also used in zucchini bread. Southerners love fried yellow squash. They slice it into thin round slices and roll it in cornmeal and fry it like potatoes.

Squash Pests: 

Squash Bug

Watch for pests on your squash. The most common pest is the squash bug (also commonly called a stink bug because it emits a stinky smell when it is squished).  Check your squash frequently for squash bugs by gently parting the leaves and looking toward the central stalk of the plant. If you see a squash bug, hand remove them (don’t smash them on your hand).

If you are having trouble catching the squash bug, use the board trick. Lay a small board on the ground near the central stalk of the plant.  Make sure there is a little dugout of space under the board. Then come out the next morning and pick up the board and the squash bug(s) will be gathered under the board. Then you can get them all in one place.

Squash Bug Eggs:

Squash Bug Eggs
Also check your plants periodically for squash bug eggs by looking on the underside of the leaves. If you find bright brownish red eggs, remove them at once. To remove the squash bug eggs, put a bowl under the eggs and scrape the squash bug eggs off with your fingernail, catching them in the bowl.

Watch the Video for more information:

May you have a bountiful squash harvest. Good luck to you. Rebecca

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Saving Your Tomatoes from the Birds

Birds like tomatoes as much as we do. There are different methods that you can use to outsmart the birds so that you get to enjoy your tomato crop instead of losing it to the birds. Three methods are discussed in this blog and more detail is given in the video below.

Method 1:

The first method involves the use of bird netting. Bird netting is available at nurseries and home and garden stores. It is very economical and comes in a variety of sizes.
Gently drape the center of the netting over the top of the tomato plants and tuck in the ends of the netting around the base of the plants.

Method 2:

The second method involves the use of cd's connected with yarn to rings that slide back and forth along a wire. The cd's blow in the wind and as they turn they reflect blinding flashes of light from the sun. To connect the cd's to the wire, I used jewelry slip rings (available at hobby stores). You can use any rings you have, including shower rings. This allows the cd's to be moved wherever and whenever you need. I hung some cd's on shorter strands of yarn so that they dangle over the top of the plant and other cd's are on longer strands of yarn so that they hang near the center of the plant. These places are the most strategic places where ripening tomatoes will be located. *If the wind is really high, you might want to put clips or just a piece of tape on either side of a ring to keep the cd's from being moved and bunched together along the wire.

Method 3:

The third method is to pick the tomatoes while they are light orange in color and then ripen them on your windowsill inside the house. This method allows you to pick the tomatoes before they turn red (ripen). Once the tomatoes become red and ripe is when the birds become interested in eating them.

Video on Saving Your Tomatoes from the Birds

Monday, June 4, 2012

Growing Cherokee Blue Mustard for Food and Seeds

Plant Cherokee Blue Mustard seeds 1/8" deep in a sunny location in well-drained soil in the fall or spring. The Cherokee Blue Mustard in this blog and video was planted in late September and the seeds were harvested the last week of May. Cherokee Blue Mustard grows through the winter here in Texas.
Seeds were obtained from the Southern Seed Legacy

Here is a pic of Cherokee Blue Mustard when it was about 2 weeks old.

When the Cherokee Blue Mustard is over a month old, it starts to lose some of its blue color and becomes more deep emerald green. Harvest the young leaves to eat before it begins to flower. Instead of harvesting the entire plant, you may pick the outer leaves as needed for salads and cooking. This practice gives you more of a harvest for a longer period of time because the plant keeps growing more leaves from the center outward and you don't have to wait for a new plant to grow.

Once the plant begins to flower and make seeds, the leaves will begin to get tough and taste more acrid. At this stage the plant will make less and less leaves and will put all of its energy into making seeds. If you want to grow Cherokee Blue Mustard for seeds, let the flowers bloom and become pollinated by honey bees and butterflies. It is quite a beautiful plant when it is flowering and will grow 6' tall.


The flowers will then turn into individual seed pods that contain 8 to 12 small round black/brown seeds each. When the seed pods are golden brown and the seeds inside are ripe (dark brown), the seeds can be harvested.

To harvest, snip off the stems filled with seed pods and put them in a large sack. Let the seed pods dry for one week in the sacks. Many of the seeds will fall out of the seed pods and be captured in the bags while they are drying. To remove the remaining seeds from the pods, gently rub the stems with seed pods together between gloved hands over a sack or newspaper.

Now use a collander over a large bowl to sift and separate the seeds apart from the husks. You may need to sift several times to finally remove the husks.

See the video to find out more about growing Cherokee Blue Mustard and the process of harvesting the seeds: