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Winter Squash I Have Grown, Respect Where it’s Due

Curing Winter Squash in 2018

Winter squash (Cucurbita spp.) is an amazing food resource – prolific, nutritious and with a long shelf life requiring no electricity. We humans love it as well as our chickens and goats. Over the past few years I have branched (vined?) out to try more varieties, especially heirlooms, to honor and help preserve what the native people of this region cultivated. Those master plant breeders cared so well for this land for thousands of years, including living through climatically challenging times. We immigrants could learn a lot from them.

Here is a review of our trials so far, starting with our latest finds.

Seminole Pumpkin or Chassa Howitska (Cucurbita moschata)

I first heard of this squash in 2018, but it was cultivated by the Seminole people in the Florida Everglades since the 1500s. I came across it in the Fedco catalog’s Indigenous Royalties program. They included a disclaimer that we might be too far north to succeed with this crop, but it’s claimed pest and disease resistance tempted me to risk it.

Seminole Trying to Cross the Road

It was slow to get started in the cool spring we had, but once it got going there was no stopping it. It grew farther and wider than I’d planned for or imagined possible. It snaked out into the road, pulled small trees down in its path and sent down roots everywhere it touched the ground. I had to climb into the patch regularly to free my persimmons, jostaberries and beach plums, not an easy feat. The foliage was huge, dense and deep green all the way to our first frost. I never saw damage from vine borers, squash bugs or powdery mildew.

Seminole Squash Vines (see the blue of my shirt in the jungle?)

I also couldn’t see much fruit through the greenery, leaving me to wonder if we’d actually have a crop from it at all. But after the frost hit, I ventured into the tangle with 5 gallon buckets, trip after surprising trip eventually bringing in 414#, all from an original 6 planting spots with a couple seeds in each.

Seminole Ripening on Vines Just Hit by Frost

None of it was totally vine-ripened. The small green fruits we used like zucchini and shared with the goats. Any that had started to turn orange I brought inside hoping they would ripen. This was in October. Over the next couple of months, any that showed signs of rotting we cleaned up and ate ourselves or fed to the animals. By January a batch of 50# had totally ripened, living in buckets in our dining room. These can supposedly last for years without even being kept cool. I’ll be testing that and can report back!

Cured Seminole Pumpkin

As for taste… the immature ones weren’t sweet, but were more nutty and like summer squash. As they ripen they sweeten up. They have made lovely fluffy pies and are especially great for pumpkin bread. Their size of 3-5# each is handy for using in the home kitchen.

I’ll definitely plant these again this spring, but farther from the street!

Boston Marrow (Cucurbita maxima)

This heirloom seed came to me from The Piscataqua Seed Project in 2018. It can be traced to upstate New York where it may have been gifted from Native Americans to settlers, then documented in Salem, Massachusetts in 1831.

Boston Marrow Squash

I grew one plant in one of our young orchards. It happily climbed up a small nearby oak. As expected, it made one large fruit, an impressive deep orange 20-pounder. We cracked it open in February and it cooked up sweet and moist. I made a few delicious pies and squished squash dishes. My complaint is the size. Chopping it up and having to process it all at once is not convenient at a typical home scale. If you cook for many people at once this is a great one, which I’m sure is why it is becoming popular with chefs at farm to table restaurants.

Long Pie (Cucurbita pepo)

Long Pie Pumpkin, Ripe and Stored through April

I received seeds for Long Pie at a Seacoast Permaculture seed swap in a homemade envelope with no photo. In 2016 I planted a variety of winter squash, including these seeds, in our front garden and orchard. That turned out to be a big vine borer year. Every few years there is a surge in their population and we lose much or most of our crop. Those are the ups and downs, the boom and bust cycles of nature, which I don’t worry too much about. But one vine kept going after all the others succumbed. It formed long dark green fruits looking like a weird cross between a zucchini and maybe a butternut. I didn’t know what to do with them so left them.

Long Pie Pumpkin, Still Green on the vine

When they started turning orange in the late summer I had enough information to research and realize what they were.

 

I was already a fan after seeing them shrug off the pest pressure that year. Their long-keeping nature, handy size and shape, and how they sweeten nicely over time keeps them on our must-grow list.  Other local growers have noticed it as well.

Delicata (Cucurbita pepo)

Delicatas in Storage in April

It is my personal history with Delicatas that endears them to me. When I was a beginning grower in the early 1990s, farmer David tried these out. Small and sweet with edible skin, they were perfect for me as I was living alone, making meals for one. I love them halved, sprinkled with cinnamon and baked. They are not super pest resistant or prolific, but they keep well for many months.

It is also an heirloom. I buy the Zeppelin variety which can be traced back to 1894, before more recent breeding programs.

Butternut (Cucurbita moschata)

A Baby Butternut

Everyone knows Butternut squashes, right? I thought I did, but only recently learned that they are direct descendants of the Canada Crookneck grown by the Haudenosaunee and likely other New England, New York and Canadian tribes (see “Seven Sisters” by Dr. Fred Wiseman). More recently they have been selected for straight necks, but still maintain resistance to vine borers, a trait common to C. moschata.

I’ve grown these for years, and never intend to give them up. This year I grew both Waltham and Burpee, with the Waltham being the better producer. Butternuts have generally been my best keepers, sometimes all the way until July. This year they haven’t been lasting as well, which I expect is because none of them escaped chew

Butternut Squash

marks from rodents in the fall. Maybe the Seminole pumpkins will outdo them on shelf life, we’ll see. They are sweet and delicious and a convenient size.

 

Looking to the Past, Planning for the Future

I had thought this blog post was going to be a simple one on a simple topic. However, while writing it, I found myself struggling with conflicting feelings and thoughts. I love this food source and I have a lot of gratitude and respect for the people who developed it. But honestly, it has come to me more through theft and appropriation than gifting.

The case could be made that I shouldn’t be on this land – there are others who should be. But here I am anyway, living in the wake of histories and choices that I didn’t have a say in. And – where else could I be? I’m ½ Irish and ½ Italian with no citizenship rights in either country. There isn’t a clear way to go back.

We can learn so much from Indigenous people. In fact, permaculture specifically looks to cultures who live in good relationship to the land. Many Native Americans are urging the rest of us to learn from them before we destroy us all.

I have no answers here, only questions and struggles. But sometimes hard questions are more important than quick answers.

I plan to continue to grow Native American crops – squash, beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes and more – and try to give credit where it is due. I will also pay attention to current issues in native communities and find ways to give back for all that I receive.

Here are just a few projects and resources to look to for ways to support indigenous peoples rights.

The NH Coalition for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People

Indigenous New Hampshire

Dawnland documentary

Grand Canyon Trust (If you went to SELT‘s 2019 Wild and Scenic Film Fest in Portsmouth NH in April you’ll remember the film on this subject: Too Precious to Mine)

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

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Last Year’s Garden: Reviewing 2018

I admit it – I don’t love record keeping and have not

Summer Harvesting

always been conscientious about it, especially for garden produce. When the picking and preserving season is here, who has time to weigh and take notes?

But this year, partly inspired by this blog, I set up a scale and a notebook and tracked what came in. And now, after a few long hours of data entry, I have my final tallies from the past season of growing.

This helps me exercise the first principle of permaculture: Observe and Interact and the fourth principle: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feecback. I can see what worked, what we struggled with, how my experimenting panned out and come to my 2019 planning more informed.

Let’s start with problems and what we didn’t grow enough of.

Seedling Trouble

Last winter I played with my seed starting mix, adding homemade products to the commercial mix. I am sure there must be a way to make my own on site rather than buying it in plastic bags, but I have not found it yet. So, my eggplant and brassica starts were not as healthy as usual. Then we had the cool start to the summer, so my eggplant never took off only yielding 5 pounds from the

Beautiful Brussel Sprouts

few plants that did survive. The brassicas, who love cool weather, did better. The 10 kale and collard plants bounced back giving me 23 ½ pounds between the two of them. I got 9 pounds of broccoli from 8 plants, 4 pounds of brussel sprouts from 4, and 1 pound of cauliflower from 2.

Rodents and Other Pests

I previously discussed this year’s excessive rodent populations. We saw the results primarily in the root crops and fruits.

Bold Squirrel Tormenting the Cat

Our peaches were hardest hit, being carried off while still rock hard by huge, bold squirrels. We picked 40 pounds of peaches, but should have had at least 4 times that. I can and dry a lot of fruit so can easily use a few hundred pounds, which this year I had to buy off-farm and not organically grown.

I planted 12 ½ pounds of potatoes in the spring and we harvested 69 ½ in the fall. That’s a 5.5 to 1 ratio, which isn’t terrible, but I have done much better (up to 18 to 1). The voles taking about 25% of the crop was a factor. There were other reasons for the low yield. In an effort to outsmart the Colorado potato beetles I have been planting late – May 23 in 2018. It has worked – I didn’t see any beetles – but I think the reduced growing season is causing more loss than the beetles ever did. Also, we had a slight drought last summer which potatoes suffer from.

Roots

Root Crops

For my carrots, beets and parsnips my first problem was germination. I planted a bed of carrots which didn’t come up at all in late May. I blame the cool spring soil (ideal soil temp for carrots is 75F), and my difficulty keeping the bed moist enough for their long germination. And then, the voles took 25%, even of the parsnips. I did end up with 22 pounds of carrots, 10 pounds of parsnips and 12 pounds of beets, but planted enough to have gotten double that.

The Cold Spring

Tomatoes came to 36 pounds from 8 plants. The slow start to the season meant they stayed green much later than usual, shortening the season. And, we lost a lot to the chipmunks, believe it or not, who climbed up the cages to gnaw on and steal them.

A Disease

Our Cukes Could Have Done Better

This year, our cucumbers contracted what looked like bacterial wilt so we lost some leaves and vines on our 10 plants. We still brought in 27 pounds, which was enough to eat plenty of cucumber salads (I slice the cukes thin and use in the place of lettuce) and to make a year’s supply of lactofermented pickles.

And…

We only harvested a few heads of lettuce. Old seeds made for few plants, and the voles ate a surprising number of their roots. Anyone else see that?

Our 3 pounds of sugar snap peas were not enough for us. I only planted one 4 foot row, which I will increase this year.

Successes

Maybe we learn more from our failures, but let’s still examine what did work for more clues.

Spring started with rhubarb, and our 10 plants are starting to thrive at a couple of years old giving me 15 pounds easily.

Garlic did great for us, as usual. The big beautiful crop gave us 105 garlic scapes, and 147 heads or 23 pounds of 4 varieties.

Beans were a big producer.

Snap Bean Harvest

I planted bush snap beans 3 times over the season for continuous harvest in 5’ x 3’ beds. I also did an early planting of pole snap beans, about one 6’ row trained up a fence. The end result was 118 pounds of produce. I love fresh beans (roasted in olive oil with garlic and onions with cheese melted on top), I was happy to freeze some, and the goats were wild about the overgrown ones, so none of it went to waste. However, I did a lot of picking leaning over in the heat so might grow less this year.

Homegrown Dried Beans

As for dry beans, I planted a total of about 20’ of 5 varieties and now have 15 ½ pounds in my cupboard. I’m pleased, but think I’ll do even more this year. Protein from the garden that dries on the vine and stores for years at room temperature – awesome! Plus, when you grow from seed there are so many more options than you can buy commercially, just like with potatoes.

It was an amazing squash year, as I have marveled at in previous posts. With 161 pounds of summer squash from 10 plants we had enough to share with the animals. Then there was the winter squash. I plant these wild, vining space-hogs throughout our orchards and train them into areas we haven’t planted – paths, fields, up into trees. There were 7 varieties, something like 30 plants and we ended up with 1,010 pounds. It seemed like an overwhelming, never-ending supply, far more than I was planning on and we had to scramble to find places to store it. But, we’ve been making great use of it, especially since it makes an excellent winter food supplement for the goats and the chickens. We have started to lose some to rot. Nearly every one of them had been damaged at least a little bit by gnawing critters so we knew they wouldn’t keep as long as usual.

Leeks in the Late Summer Garden

For some reason, I struggle to grow onions on this property but leeks do extremely well here. I pulled 84 leeks, totaling 48 pounds. The harvest season began on September 24 and didn’t finish up until December 22, growing sweeter and sweeter as winter set in. Yum!

Our basil was prolific at 17 ½ pounds from about a dozen plants, making a lot of delicious pesto. I overdid it with 81 radishes or 7 pounds of them. Our currant crop was our best yet at 18 pounds which I made into jams and jellies.

All of this bounty lasts us through much of the year and accounts for at least 75% of our fruit and vegetable intake.

Winter is a perfect time to have this information to review as I plan for our next garden and start seeds.

Remembering the Summer Garden

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November at Living Land

The early winter weather that arrived in November justified my hurried working pace this fall. I’d like to claim an ability to feel the storms coming… but, to be honest, I’m pretty sure that I rush around every autumn. Some years I feel silly for it, but not this one.

The harsh month with some serious cold, very little sun, and snow and ice cut short some of the outdoor work I’d hoped to accomplish and made what had to be wrapped up challenging. Here’s the story…

Our Work in November

Outside

Our first priority this month was bringing in the wood we expect to need for the winter. There was also more splitting and stacking to be done. We didn’t quite finish that before the snow made it too tricky to continue.

Garden Under Snow

I didn’t spend much time in the garden. We did create a few new beds and refreshed some of the older ones with seaweed, manure and our moldy hay. I can pick that work up again in the spring.

In many permaculture designs and zone maps I see the garden placed close to the house with animals farther away. This time of year I give thanks that I didn’t follow that pattern. I might only enter the garden a half dozen times between November and March. On the other hand, the animals need the same care now as they did in the peak of summer. Bringing them food and water, opening and closing gates and doors, milking the goats.

In fact, we spent even more time with the goats in November since that is our targeted breeding window. I observed them carefully, attempting to discern who was in heat and pair her with the right buck at the right time. This is not so easy. My first goal was to breed Honey, who didn’t get pregnant last year despite our efforts. She spent much of this month living with Marley just in case I was missing the signs. I put Luna in with them as well when she seemed interested. All of this reshuffling of the herd agitates the girls, who complain about it often.

Stinky Buck, Riding in the Car

Later in the month, we brought home our buck named Pan, who spent a couple of years with fellow goat keepers for their breeding program. Driving around with a stinky buck in the car is not one of my favorite things, but we did it! He has caused a great sensation here. For some reason, the girls find him appealing to the point of jumping fences to reach him. He also smashed through 17 gauge fencing and broke a few gates to reach them. He is only supposed to be servicing one of my does, Cocoa, this year but he may have over-achieved. Time will tell, coupled with the detailed notes in my Goat Sex Journal. (Pan Romances Lily – November 2018)

Pan Romancing Lily

He is an impressive guy, now four years old, with a long beard, gorgeous horns, and emanating a true stench. As far as his personality, he has actually mellowed some. When he was last here at about 2 years old, I was concerned he might be interested in challenging us humans, not just the other goats. He never did anything aggressive – it was more how he was eyeing me at times. But that seems not to have developed after all and he’s quite sweet in disposition now. I was afraid that putting him and our other buck together would be potentially dangerous for them, but in one of his escapes they ended up together for most of a day and no violence ensued, to my great relief. There was a lot of snorting, peeing and flehmening, but even less horn locking than the girls do with each other as a matter of course.

Which reminds me of another job that Steve has been hard at work at, even in the snow: fencing fixes and upgrades. Thanks to Pan, he knew exactly the weak spots in the system.

Most of our animals share our lack of enthusiasm for this early winter: the goats and chickens don’t like stepping on snow and the cats have given up on going outside to hunt. Even our cold-hardy ducks spent a few of the really

Winterized Bee Hive

cold, windy days in their coop!

We also shoveled out chicken and goat bedding, hopefully for the last time until spring since we use the deep litter method. I am still harvesting leeks every few days and we did harvest and process two goats. I finished winterizing the bee hives, with help from some beekeeping students.

Inside

We have been baking and cooking more elaborately. Given our large amounts of stored pumpkins, we have made a lot of pies. Forget dessert, we think they made a fine breakfast – milk, eggs, squash, a little honey… sounds like a good start to the day to me!

I processed goat fat, and started to clean the dry beans.

I started to catch up on correspondence, get back to writing stories and plan for the new year for Seacoast Permaculture.

We also voted and have spent time reading and thinking about the results. One thing I can say I was pleased about was the increase in the diversity of people elected to office. Understanding the importance of diversity in nature leads me to believe diversity in our human-created systems is a positive step.

November’s Harvest

Leeks for Winter Harvesting

We brought in 3/43 kale, 63 (37#) leeks, 1# celery, 1# brussel sprouts, 1/8# spinach, and 1/4# broccoli from the garden. No eggs at all, 6 gallons of milk (milking just two does now), 62# of meat and 8 pints of high quality rendered lard.

I collected 6 5-gallon buckets of seaweed which the goats have been eating right up (Goats Eating Seaweed).

Not Much Sun, But a Beautiful Full Moon in November

We made 175 kwh from the PV solar panels. One of our least productive months since their installation. Wow, we miss the sun!

We found sources for more hay to re-fill the barn. We were able to bring home about two dozen bags of raked leaves from town. We usually bring in a lot more than that, but there was so little dry weather and wet leaves don’t work well for our uses.

The updated list of food from previous seasons that we continue to eat from is now very long and includes: winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, garlic, honey, canned peaches and blueberries, dried kale, beans and peaches. In the freezer we have: eggplant, broccoli, string beans, salsa, pesto, cheese, various kinds of berries, chicken, duck and goat meat.

Looking Ahead

I hope to complete a few more projects to wrap up the season, like goat breeding, bean cleaning and wood stacking. A summary of this year’s garden would help me in planning for next year. And the seed and plant catalogs have arrived so it is time to assess and choose! I especially look forward to the coming of the winter solstice to mark the growing of the light and maybe even a sunnier year ahead.

Witch Hazel – One of a very few November Blooms

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