Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Goodbye, Garden 2010

Yesterday was another glorious fall day and a great day to be outside.  I'm so blessed to be home on the farm full time where I can take advantage of such days and not be confined to an office for 8 hours!  

The day started out cold, with a low temperature of 28 overnight resulting in a freeze here,  That means even row cover wouldn't save the frost-sensitive plants, so my basil and peppers are truly gone until next year, except for ones I've dried, canned or frozen.  We've also finished digging onions and potatoes.  While I hope to have beets again and the Swiss chard is still growing strong, the last major vegetable to harvest is our winter squash.  If you've been to the stand recently, you've seen baskets overflowing with them, but the vines are dead and it was time to bring in the rest for storage as they were as ripe as they will get out there.  Although the Kabocha and buttercups didn't do quite as well as they had in the past, we had a bumper crop of butternuts and great success with a new variety called sweet dumpling.  It's like an acorn with a lighter, milder flavor and a beautiful white & green mottled exterior.  There were still so many out there, I got the garden tractor and a trailer to cart them back to the stand.  Although I can drive this little tractor, it's a joke between Dan and I that I can't touch a lawn tractor without breaking it; I get it stuck in a ditch, a bolt for the steering comes loose and I shut it off and abandon it mid-field, a belt breaks, or I jackknife the trailer hopelessly trying to turn.  He's always on the lookout for where I've left the tractor around the farm after some such disaster for him to repair when he gets home.  Amazingly, it was a tractor problem-free day.  The squash looked so pretty, I just had to take a picture of it partway through collecting: you can see various gourds, acorns, buttercups, butternuts, sweet dumplings, spaghetti, and hubbard squash!


Hundreds of pounds of squash later, I was done.  After we cut some more sunflower heads and some more corn shocks, all that will remain to do will be to pull up the plastic and fabric mulches that helped to keep the weeds at bay over the growing season.

 Every year, there are successes and failures, that's why it's so important to us to have a diverse planting of vegetables.  This year, the successes far outweighed the crops that under-performed.  We keep careful track of which varieties work well for us, so each year we can learn more and take that knowledge into the next growing season.  Although it's always a bit bittersweet to see the seasons change and the plants die or go dormant in preparation for winter snow, I know when the snow really starts to pile up I'll be able to warm myself by the cozy woodstove in the living room, perusing the seed catalogs, eyeing up new varieties and old favorites, and planning for the 2011 garden.


Loading Up the Truck with Squash

We've been anticipating a frost for a few days now, but so far we've been spared. Yesterday Dan & I decided to bring in any winter squash that seemed ripe enough to be pulled from the vine. While squash will handle a light frost just fine, a hard one will cause them to begin rotting. So as it was a dry and sunny (but chilly!) day, we drove the faithful farm truck out to be loaded up with garden goodness.  

We grew several varieties of pumpkin and have some biggies, but nothing big enough to turn into a house for Wilbur as we had joked about during planting season.  We have some nice looking pumpkins but also quite a few lopsided ones...not sure exactly why, but given the much less than ideal growing season we had here, sometimes you just have to be thankful for what grows, no matter the shape.  One of the more unusual winter squash we grew this year is the kabocha...while there are green varieties of this squash, ours turn a nearly scarlet orange when ripe.  I've had more than a few questions about our "little pumpkins".   While not really a pumpkin at all, they would make fabulous fall decorations, and the larger ones might even be carve-able!  However, they are great to eat too, sweet and rich flavored. Our kabocha plants did wonderfully, I even had to follow the vines deep into the planting of ornamental corn to collect all of the beautiful orange globes.  We also picked more than a few giant pink banana squash (my new favorite) and the smaller acorn, butternut and buttercups just in case.  The bed of the truck looked like a postcard from fall! 

Squash is something my family didn't really eat when I was growing up, so I've been looking for good recipes that I can use all winter long.   I've been saving my favorites and printing them out for you to pick up when you stop by the stand on Saturdays...a recipe of the week, if you will.  I love to try cooking new things, so I intend to keep it up next year as well.  If you don't live close enough to stop by, I also post them online on the farm's website   Also for all the coupon clippers out there, I posted a coupon for a discount on delicious winter squash there as well!  It's already down to 49 degrees and the clouds are clearing off as the sun goes down, so I think we're finally in for a frost for sure.  So it's time to go cover the last of the pepper plants to try and save them just a bit longer, then a good night to enjoy the heat of the woodstove!


Homegrown Watermelon and Bananas..sort of

The leaves are rapidly changing and it's starting to smell like fall here.  So it was a bit of a surprise when Dan came in from the garden with a watermelon yesterday.  Melons usually conjure up thoughts of summer picnics, but with the short growing season here in northwestern PA, we're just seeing ripe ones in our garden now.  The one we had with lunch yesterday was small, about 8" across, and round like a ball instead of the longer ones usually found in grocery stores.  Perfect for two or three people!  It tasted like a stolen bit of summer.  Last year we didn't have any luck with watermelons, but we planted 3 varieties this year and 2 kinds of muskmelon.  If it stops raining, I just might have to go see what other surprises are lurking under all those big green leaves, but I know this was a hard summer for them and I'm not sure all my varieties did well enough to bear fruit.


I do most of the catalog shopping for the garden in late winter.  Dan knows what varieties have been successful here in years past, and we rely on that knowledge quite a bit.  However, something unusual always catches my eye, and I like to try something different every year.  We always find a little room for my experiments, and if they do well, we'll make them regulars in the garden.  Past successes have been a variety of Swiss chard with colorful stems and an open pollinated ornamental corn. This year, I stumbled across the giant pink banana squash.  The description stated that they could grow to be up to 50 lbs each, so we figured if they weren't delicious, at least it would be a lot of garden food for the pigs!  They are named because the squash is long and tapered at the ends, kind of like a banana if it were straightened out.  They turn a salmon pink color when ripe, and are called a pink banana because there is a blue variety out there too!  The banana squash did quite well for us, the ones we've picked and taken down to the stand so far have been big, but in the 12-25 lb range.  That's still a lot of squash!  I cooked one yesterday, and they have that rich, almost sweet taste of a good winter squash.  I sliced into it and was happy to find they are easy to clean out, hollow like a pumpkin but not so gooey.  They have lots of big plump seeds, and although I saved these ones to plant next year, next time I'd like to try baking them.  They look like they'd be delicious baked with a sprinkle of salt & spices, just like a pumpkin seed.  After cleaning, I sliced my squash into several pieces and baked it until it was tender.  Then I took 2 pieces and removed the skin and mashed it up, kind of like mashed potatoes, but wonderfully orange-yellow with a bit of butter, nutmeg and a pinch of brown sugar. Mmmm!!  The rest I cubed and put in the fridge...I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, I may make soup or I may freeze it for later.  I've seen recipes that say the banana squash make better "pumpkin" pies than real pumpkins,  but I' not much of a baker.  I may have to get my mother in law, who is the best baker I know, to try that out and see if it's true.  These squash are supposed to keep well also, so we'll see later this winter how that works out.  I know that they will be back in our garden next year too!

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