Three out of four ain’t bad

Now, if I had stuck to a ‘three sisters‘ planting, as is normal, I would have been able to quote Meatloaf and tell you that ‘two out of three ain’t bad‘, but since I upped the ante, I’ve had to paraphrase.

The four sisters crop

The four sisters crop

You may recall that I tried a ‘four sisters‘ planting this year, adding sunflowers to the traditional mix of beans, corn and squash. The sunflowers were self-seeded from the bird feed, so were something of a bonus, but have turned out to be remarkably prolific. We have managed quite a few squashes (not bad for about four square metres), lots of runner beans – both fresh pods and seeds for drying – but once more the corn has been a disappointment. Despite growing flint corn rather than sweetcorn, and having a really sunny summer, few of the cobs are full.

So, what do I conclude? Well, corn is too unreliable to put much effort into, but I like the combination of beans and squashes, especially since the latter are so good at suppressing weeds. The beans make use of vertical space and so the squashes don’t seem to have to be planted at a reduced density compared to planting them on their own. I’m not convinced that the sunflowers were a particularly good variety for my needs, but they were easy to grow and successful and they were an accident this year, andI can be more selective in the future

Next year my three sisters will comprise squash and courgettes, beans (var. The Czar, again) and sunflowers (probably naked ones, such as var. Lady Godiva)

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!

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