By Anna Lear
Welcome, gardeners, and many thanks for the kind comments and letters recently! I apologize for missing last month’s deadline; it’s just as well because the organic, low-cost powdery mildew control experiments I was writing about have failed.
This month I’ll focus on two better bets: putting up summer vegetables and harvesting and storing winter squash.
Freezing, canning, and drying are great ways to store garden bounty for the winter. This summer I’ve canned pickles and relish (using summer squash in place of the cucumbers I didn’t get this year), salsa, and tomato sauce, and I plan to dry my smaller roma tomatoes at the end of the season.
Freezing works well for squash, beans, corn (off the cob), and other fairly solid vegetables; these will unfreeze and cook up much better than tomatoes, tomatillos, and other soft types. Peppers and onions freeze well if you chop before freezing and plan to thaw them and cook them until soft. Spinach, chard, and herbs also freeze well for later cooking, packaged either as whole leaves whole or chopped.
If you’re not totally tired of summer squash, you can pick and prepare a bushel for freezing in just an hour or two. A food processor with a slicer/grater blade slices them quickly; layer two cups of slices into sandwich-sized plastic zip bags to freeze for winter calabacitas, goulash, and soups. I also grate my larger zucchini (a food processor zips through even the 7-pounders) and freeze it in 2-cup portions for zucchini bread and fritters throughout the winter. As inundated as I’ve been with summer squash lately, I know I’ll miss it in a few months… probably.
Harvesting and storing winter squash correctly can take your crop (or those farmers market goodies) well into winter. Pick squash when a good thump makes a hollow sound and the skin is fully colored: grey for Hubbard, greenish-black for acorn, bright orange for most pumpkins, yellow for spaghetti squash, tan with no green stripes for butternut, and yellow-orange with dark green stripes for Delicatas. The stem should be hard; cut it with scissors or a sharp knife and leave four inches to prevent later rotting. Before storing, wash gently in slightly soapy water, then wipe with a weak (10%) bleach solution to kill remaining mold or bacteria.
If the squash does not appear or sound ripe but the plant has died, bring it in (leaving 4+ inches of stem on), wash and rinse as described above, and set it in a sunny window, turning the green sides to the sun as needed, until it appears ripe. Store winter squash without stacking (if possible), slightly spaced to permit air circulation, in a cool, dark, dry, ventilated place, preferably where the temperature is stable. Check regularly for decay or freezing. The squash should last at least a few months, certainly long enough for lots of holiday cooking.
In the meantime, we still have two or so months before the ground freezes to plant garlic, a fall crop of greens, perennials, bulbs, and trees. Next month I’ll write more about fall planting and maintenance for perennials and trees, including ways to protect new and established plantings from extreme cold and drought. Our sunny autumn days are perfect for gardening, and planting trees and shrubs now helps them grow strong roots before next year’s spring winds and summer heat, so get out there and enjoy!
Anna Lear lives and gardens in Magdalena and is currently a family therapy intern at Southwest Family Guidance Center in Albuquerque. She blogs about gardening, photography, jewelry, and life in Magdalena at http://thelaughingraven.blogspot.com/.