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Archive for November, 2011

Happy belated Thanksgiving everybody!

This year we were lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving week in Vermont visiting my family. We went by way of DC so we could pick up our daughter and ended up driving north on I-95. We had planned to drive all the way up on Tuesday but by 3:00, I-95 was basically a parking lot. This unending traffic jam, combined with heavy rain and wind made the going excruciatingly slow. By 11:30, we had only made it as far as central Jersey and our GPS estimated that we would arrive in Manchester at 4:30 in the morning, so we called it quits for the night and stayed in a motel!

Beechnuts were scattered over the ground. Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Beechnuts were scattered over the ground. Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org

Wednesday morning the roads were much more civilized! We got into Manchester around lunchtime and were welcomed by a sparkling 4″ covering of snow! So beautiful – but we were glad we didn’t try to drive through it at four in the morning!

Mom and Dad have a wonderful home which, like ours in Virginia, is surrounded by the most beautiful woods and mountains. The forest in that area of Vermont is mostly composed of beech and maple with a few oaks, pines, birches, and hemlocks sprinkled in. There was a heavy beechnut crop this year which I noticed when I walked out to the compost pile. There were beechnuts everywhere. I’d never seen so many. It reminded me of our heavy acorn crop in Virginia a few years ago except it’s not as dangerous to walk on beechnuts as it is to roll around on acorns that act like ball bearings under your feet. Like our acorns and hickory nuts, the beechnut mast provides ample food for all sorts of woodland critters.

Squirrels were everywhere in the woods hunting up beechnuts to store for the winter. Gray squirrels in Vermont are so much bigger that our Virginia squirrels – Bergmann’s rule at work!

Wild turkeys; Henry Zeman/NWTF

Wild turkeys; Henry Zeman/NWTF

Sunday morning, there were five does walking along the edge of the woods grazing on the grass that was poking through what was left of the snow. I’m sure they were also munching on some of the beechnuts that were scattered on the ground. About an hour later when I looked out, there was a flock of wild turkeys scratching around on the ground under the cover of beech and maple leaves. I’m sure they were searching out the beechnuts as well. The more I looked, the more I saw! Some were way back deep in the woods but I could see them moving around. I counted at least 20 before I got confused and lost count. They were all busy scratching around with their big clawed feet and leaves were scattering everywhere. It was fascinating to watch them. They really are not the most attractive birds, I must say!

A big tom all puffed up with tail feathers spread; Stephen Bauer/NWTF

A big tom all puffed up with tail feathers spread; Stephen Bauer/NWTF

In the midst of a large group of hens, there was one big tom that was strutting around all swelled up with his tail fanned out trying to look just as handsome as he could. The hens pretty much ignored him and went on with their scratching much to his dismay I’m sure. Then a small group of about 10 hens began milling around in a circle rather excitedly and periodically a few would jump about 4 feet straight up in the air. This went on for several minutes – their antics were quite comical to watch. I wish I’d had our telephoto lens so I could have taken a good picture. As it was, I didn’t take any because I was so fascinated watching them that I didn’t think about grabbing my camera! How I wish I had thought of it! Eventually, we startled them by opening a door and off they ran into the woods.

Well, given the massive amounts of turkey we had consumed over the previous few days, I’d say that these silly turkeys timed their arrival quite perfectly! They must have kept track of the calendar, knew we’d be tired of eating turkey, and decided it was safe to come out!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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A bountiful harvest

Last Sunday afternoon, we harvested the last of the vegetables from the garden (except for some carrots that I’m covering with straw and leaving to sweeten up for later harvest). There wasn’t much left out there but I dug the last of the potatoes and Eric harvested the last of the squash from his Three Sisters garden – and boy, were there loads of butternut squash. Yum!

Butternut squash vines grow prolifically on the edge of the Three Sisters garden.

Butternut squash vines grow prolifically on the edge of the Three Sisters garden.

As I mentioned in a couple of my summer posts, the Three Sisters garden did very well and we are definitely planning to plant it again next season but with a few modifications based on our experiences from this year. For one thing, the only squash plants that really grew well and produced were the ones on the periphery of the garden – the others just didn’t get enough light. To remedy this, Eric has decided to space the corn mounds a bit further apart next year so more sunlight can reach the plants growing between the mounds in the center of the garden. That should increase the squash yield. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, though – I don’t know how we could handle more butternut squash than we have already harvested!

What will I do with all this squash?

Our butternut harvest - and this doesn't include what we've already eaten!

Our butternut harvest - and this doesn't include what we've already eaten!

Luckily, butternut squash, like most winter squash, keeps very well and for quite a long time if it is harvested at the right time (not too early). If you are planning on storing butternut squash through the winter, harvest them in late September or October before the first heavy frost. The stems of mature squash will have turned from green to brown and the fruit will be a uniform tan color. Another sign that they are ready for long-term storage is that the skin will be tough enough that you can’t puncture it with your fingernail.

Before they're mature, butternut squash are lighter colored with tender skin and green stems.

Before they're mature, butternut squash are light colored with tender skin and green stems.

When you harvest butternut squash, cut the squash from the vine with shears leaving a short, 1-inch long stem. If a stem happens to break off, refrigerate the squash and use it first because rot can set in at the point where the stem was attached to the fruit.

Store your squash in a warm (55-60oF), dry (60-70% relative humidity) area like a basement and spread them out in a single layer so they get good air circulation. Under these conditions, properly harvested butternut squash can be stored for at least 2-3 months. Check them every so often for any signs of deterioration.

Butternut squash soup with apple and bacon from Fine Cooking

Butternut squash soup with apple and bacon from Fine Cooking

As for eating, I have discovered the most delicious butternut squash soup recipe from Fine Cooking. It incorporates bacon, apple, and fresh sage with the squash – so good and so easy to make, too. I made some that very afternoon. This hearty soup makes a perfect dinner for a crisp fall Sunday evening especially when there’s a good football game on! Soup and some Bisquick biscuits – it doesn’t get much better than that; except if you have some homemade bread to go with it!

Betty Crocker Autumn Chicken Stew

Betty Crocker Autumn Chicken Stew

One of our other favorite butternut squash recipes is Autumn Chicken Stew from Betty Crocker. The recipe actually calls for pumpkin or Hubbard squash but we’ve always used butternut squash. This stew also makes a good hearty meal for a fall or winter evening and uses lots of produce from the vegetable garden including the squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. For an added bonus, you get to make dumplings on top, yum!

Both of these are easy recipes. For me the most time consuming part of the process is peeling and cutting up the squash but the end result is stupendous!

For an even easier/quicker dish, just cut an unpeeled butternut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, brush with olive oil, and bake cut side up at 400o for 25-30 minutes until tender. If you want, sprinkle each half with some brown sugar and put a teaspoon of butter in the seed cavity before baking. When it’s done, you can scoop the cooked squash into a serving bowl or serve individual skin-on pieces. Mmmmmm – sweet and delicious!

Boy – now I’m hungry!

Oh well, until next time – Happy Gardening!

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