Squashy

Last year Patrick, from Bifurcated Carrots, was kind enough to send me some seeds that he had obtained from Carol Deppe. These included flint corn, which is now growing in my four sisters bed, and several varieties of squash.

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the 'four sisters' bed

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the ‘four sisters’ bed

I love winter squash – people keep telling me that I ought to try the variety ‘crown prince’, but somehow I have never got round to it. The most successful one I have grown here on the west coast of Wales is Boston – which I get from the Real Seed Catalogue. However, I was excited to have some different varieties to have a go with, particularly since Carol Deppe is in Oregon… another rather wet and dull part of the world with a relatively short growing season (at least as far as squash are concerned).

Anyway, I planted the seeds with great glee and was delighted that almost all of them germinated and started growing into robust plants. I had more than I needed, so passed some onto my friend Katy, who had a space in her garden and wanted some winter squash. Since then I have been watching mine grow… I was sure that I had labelled all of them when I planted them out, but one or two seem to now be anonymous; never mind, I will be able to match then to pictures on the internet, I’m sure.

Costata Romanesco - not a winter squash!

Costata Romanesco – not a winter squash!

However, I was happily inspecting the abundance the other day when it dawned on me that one of the varieties – Costata Romanesco – looked much more like a huge courgette (zucchini) than a winter squash. So, I dug out the packets and, sure enough, it’s a summer squash! I got out my copy of The resilient gardener by Carol Deppe and discovered that this variety can grow up to three or four feet long… although she recommends harvesting it before that. She claims that it’s very flavoursome (she hardly has a good word to say about courgettes on this matter) and can be dried for use over the winter in stews, soups etc. So now I’m even more excited about the prospect of a tasty and storable summer squash.

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Just to test it out, I harvested one for dinner last night – only about 9 inches long, so a mere baby. I fried it in olive oil, with a little chopped garlic, straight out of the garden and it was, indeed, delicious. Another good characteristic of this variety is that it is dense and has a relatively low water content , unlike those horrible watery marrows that some people grow. This quality means that it is good for frying and should also be great for drying.

Dinner last night... all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

Dinner last night… all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

So: thanks to Patrick for the seeds; Linda – I will need to take you up on that offer to borrow your dehydrator later in the season; and Katy – some of those winter squashes I gave you are summer ones!

My Very Own Seedy Saturdays

What a lovely time of year here in Wales. No, not the current weather… stop looking out of the window… but the fact that I can now turn my attention once more to growing things. Not only ordering seeds, but also actually planting.

The beginning of February may seem early, but with my propagator removed from the loft, yesterday I was able to make use of all those toilet roll middles I have been saving for months and get my hands dirty.

Newly sown in February 2013

Newly sown in February 2013

Those new to gardening often read the seed packets and think that you can do no better than sow everything at the earliest possible moment, but those of us with a little more experience know that it may be prudent to wait. Sow too early outdoors and seed can rot, or germinate but not grow because it’s too cold, or grow very slowly and therefore be susceptible to pests and diseases. Hanging on and planting a few weeks later can produce more vigorous plants that romp away faster than the early plantings. Sow too early indoors and your seedlings can become weak and leggy before the conditions outside are favourable for planting. It’s a bit of a balancing act.

However, there are some things that really benefit from an early start. These are usually plants that are destined to be coddled for the whole of their lives – things like peppers (sweet and hot). So, yesterday I planted Lipstick sweet pepper, Lemon drop chilli, Alberto’s Locoto chilli, Roma tomatoes and basil. The lid is on the electric propagator and conditions should be good for germination… in fact capsicums germinate much more reliably when warm.

My interaction with seeds hasn’t stopped there, though. I have been frugal with my seed-buying this year. Last weekend I inventoried my left-over seed from last year, compared notes with a friend and we have coordinated purchases… sharing our surplus and reducing waste. I was so taken by this idea, that I’ve also set up a seed swap via Facebook for people doing the diploma in applied permaculture design.

Lots of seed does go to waste each year, and lots of people have surplus saved, so seed swaps are a great idea. You can get involved either online or in person. Patrick of Bifurcate Carrots blog fame runs a seed exchange network, for example. There are also¬† lots of local events, for example, near me the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers have a Seedy Sunday coming up in March (just waiting for confirmation of the date), and there’s one at the Welsh National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre on 23 March as part of their Eco-fair. For something in your area, just search on the internet for ‘seed swap’ plus your location and you’re bound to find something. And don’t worry if you don’t have seeds to exchange – a small donation is usually fine; in addition, swaps aren’t direct, offers go into the pool of seeds available, so you don’t have to arrange a mutually beneficial one-to-one transaction.

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