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Winter squash

Well, not too many vegetables compare to vine ripened tomatoes in the summer but summer is over and the winter veggies rule now! Winter squash, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, yummy root crops like carrots, beets, and parsnips …

Potato harvest

Potato harvest

I just dug the last of the potatoes in our vegetable garden this past weekend. I got a pretty good haul but one of the rows suffered from the excessive rains we had in June. It was the lowest row which stayed pretty soggy for a while. Most of the potatoes in that row seem to have rotted over the summer.

The white Kennebec potatoes did especially well – the Yukon Gold’s not so well. At least we got lots of Kennebec’s which are my favorites!

While I was digging the potatoes, Eric picked the rattlesnake beans that he had left on the vines to dry.

Rattlesnake beans are a delicious heirloom pole bean - my favorite.

Rattlesnake beans are a delicious
heirloom pole bean.

We will use some of the dried beans in soup and save some to plant next spring. That’s the nice thing about the heirloom varieties; you can save the seed from year to year which saves having to buy new seed every spring. Check out my blog post about heirloom vegetables vs. hybrids. There are loads of delicious heirloom veggies and we have started growing more of them in our garden – especially tomatoes. ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’ is my new favorite for Swiss cheese and tomato sandwiches – my stock lunch during tomato season! Yum!

Winter squash harvest

Our winter squash harvest

While he was rummaging around the garden picking beans, Eric discovered a few butternut squash that he had missed when he harvested the winter squash back in early October. We got a whole cart full of winter squash back then. Most were butternuts but we also harvested some acorn squash, ‘Delicata’, and small hubbard squash. Normally we would have left them in the garden a few weeks longer, but the woodchuck was showing signs of activity in the vicinity of the garden and we didn’t want to share our squash with that crazy varmint!

While I had the digging fork in hand, I also decided to harvest my carrots and beets. The beets were pulled up without digging but the carrots pull up much easier if you loosen the soil around them slightly with the fork. I could have left them in the ground for a while longer but decided I didn’t want to risk having them chewed on by some critter.

Lynne's carrots covered with shredded leaves

Lynne’s carrots covered with
shredded leaves

Many of the root crops like carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips can remain in the ground through the fall and into winter as long as they are protected from freezing temperatures. The benefit of leaving them is that when these vegetables are kept growing during the cool nights of fall, they begin to accumulate more sugar in the roots. This results in crisp, sweet carrots, yummy “snips” (as Grampa would call parsnips), and delicious rutabagas and turnips.

The important thing is to cover them with straw, leaves, blankets, or anything that keeps the roots and soil from freezing while leaving just the green tops exposed. Since beets often push up above the ground as they grow, it is important to cover them with soil before covering with the mulch. If the “shoulders” of your carrots or other root crops are exposed, be sure to cover them with soil, too, before mulching them.

Even after temps dipped down to 16, the soil was still nice and workable.

Even after temps dipped down to 16, the
soil was still nice and workable.

My sister Lynne is doing this with her carrots in her vegetable garden in Vermont. Just before the first hard freeze, she piled about 6″-8″ of chopped leaves on top of her carrots leaving just top of the greens exposed to the sunlight. Chopped or shredded leaves are less likely to blow off with fall and winter winds. Another trick is to simply  surround your root crops with bagged leaves to keep them from blowing away. Be sure to leave the green tops exposed so they can continue to photosynthesize and produce sugar which will be stored in the roots making them nice and sweet.

So far it has gotten down into the mid-teens up there and her carrots are still nice and cozy under their leafy blanket. The ground has remained loose and unfrozen and her carrots are becoming sweeter by the day! As it gets colder, she will increase her leaf covering to about 12″ to keep the ground from freezing. Here’s what she wrote me yesterday:

The difference in taste from the ones I just dug and the ones still in the fridge from before we had these really cold days is marked – these are so much sweeter. And they are so crisp and nice!

She is planning to leave some of them in the ground for a Thanksgiving and maybe even a Christmas treat. I can’t wait to enjoy some at Thanksgiving in a few weeks! Better save me some Lynne!

Until next time – Happy Gardening

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