Yellow Squash Because I am a Really Slow Learner

Yellow squash: Before. Way way before.

Yellow squash: Before.
Way way before.
And turtle.

I planted yellow squash this afternoon because (a) it’s August, (b) I’m a slow learner, (c) tomorrow’s my birthday, and (d) I was in the mood to plant something edible and happened to have some yellow squash seeds and not much else except scary climbing spinach (or poison ivy).

I’ve sworn off planting yellow squash twice before – yes, twice. Maybe three times.

The last few times I’ve planted yellow squash, the results have ranged from ‘meh’ to a resounding ‘wow, those plants are HUGE! – where’s the squash?’

Since I don’t allow bees in the house, any blossoms that do show up have to be pollinated by hand with q-tips. I figured that out after the first time planting yellow squash, and getting plenty of flowers —and no squash. Shortly thereafter, I learned how to tell which blossoms are female, which saved a lot of time and frustration.

By the time I did figure everything out, there were no more blossoms to pollinate, I’d wasted 10% of a box of q-tips, and I’d ditched the whole mess onto the patio (and from there to the compost heap) and sworn I would never ever EVER again plant yellow squash. That swearing lasted a whole four months or so.

Not that we’re starving, but the garden is (Mostly) inedible

However, since there’s nothing edible growing in my dining room besides ginger root, basil, peppers I won’t eat because they taste like bell peppers (ew), and that stuff that might be spinach or poison ivy, I hereby take back my swearing never ever again to plant yellow squash, and am giving it another try – again.

This time I followed the planting instructions to the letter. The package says to plant one to two seeds per hole, one inch down, 36 inches apart, and water well. Ok, not to the letter then… to get them 36 inches apart, I’d have to plant them in the hallway or kitchen or garage or someone else’s garden.

One thing I’m learning about this gardening stuff is that it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but the plant.

So I invoked the rules of New-Gardener Creativity, folded time-space slightly, and planted one seed one inch down on at 3:00 and 9:00 along the side of a 12″ pot. Then planted two more at 12:00 and 6:00 respectively, just for good measure.

I suppose, if I can bring myself to do so, I can always yank out the extras and put them in the infamous spinning compost monster on the patio.

At least I watered well.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

R.I.P. Bunny Buffet Summer Squash

lizard onlooker

“Sad state of things,” Lizard McSkitter commented from the safety of his home tree.

The brief but eventful life of Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3, a high-yield summer squash hybrid known for its robust and daring lifestyle, came to an end at (approx.) 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time, 16 July 2012.

This transplanted desert denizen of barely two months found itself on the receiving end of a passing bunny rabbit’s breakfast appetite and, being already rather low on the regional food chain, lost its battle for survival.

Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3, who had chosen to venture out on its own after a territorial clash with a belligerent mint, had shown early signs of success on the outstretches of Bunny Buffet, deftly fending off approaches by the neighborhood jack and visiting bunnies for several weeks. However, the effects of last week’s protracted heat wave left Hybrid #3 in a weakened state.

“Sad state of things,” pondered evergreen dweller Lizard McSkitter. “Tweren’t nothin’ anyone could do. When that larger bunny attacked, whewsh. All she wrote.”

Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3 is survived by two older indoor-dwelling cousins, Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrids #1 and #2, late of sunroom fame for producing three female blossoms simultaneously.

At the request of the Squash family, no services will be held. Calabacin Pic-N-Pic Hybrid #3 will be buried on Layer #9 of the compost bin.

Heat Wave Break Means Catching Up

ginger plant loves high heat

The ginger plant is thrilled with our heat wave.

The staggering heat wave broke a bit yesterday, which gave us enough of a break that one swamp cooler got fixed and back in service. When temperatures reach 85F inside of this big house, there’s not a lot of places to hide and stay cool.

Today is expected to hit 101F again but I don’t see 112F on the forecast through the rest of this month. This is the sort of heat we expect in August and into September.

A Few Plants Love the Sudden Heat

That was ok with many of the plants, however. The boost in ambient temperature was enough to send the ginger into giddy waves of growth – about three inches and four good-sized leaves in three days. Nothing like a good heat wave to make ginger feel right at home.

Heat Unfriendly to Some Indoor Plants

Those plants that aren’t wild about the high heat didn’t fare quite so well, although everyone survived thanks to an hourly dose of mist from my spray bottle and a few ice cubes. The yellow squash was complaining and shooting out more flowers in response to this insult. More flowers equals more chance of survival for the species.

Bottom Line

Don’t go nuts with the watering can and fluttering around trying to save every single plant from sudden heat. A gentle mist from a spray bottle helps keep the air from becoming too dry, and ice cubes around the perimeter of a planter can provide a steady but light flow of water.

Remember, your own heat wave survival must come first. Drink plenty of water – add a dash of lemon or lime juice to spark it up a bit. Keep your head and arms covered to avoid sunburn and dehydration. Don’t overdo, even indoors.

How to Putter in the Garden for Maximum Results

putter in the garden outfit

Proper putter prep: the outfit must be particular defines “putter” as: 

  1. to busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner: to putter in the garden.
  2. to move or go in a specified manner with ineffective action or little energy or purpose: to putter about the houseon a rainy day.
  3. to move or go slowly or aimlessly; loiter.

Some of us don’t have time to putter in the complete sense of the word – too much to do! In order to get all our puttering done in time to get to work, we have to charge at the task with all the energy of a 4AM call from a drill sergeant.

A typical morning putter goes something like this:

  • 6:45 AM – grab gear and first water source, a gallon milk jug with fertilizer
  • 6:45 AM – grab coffee cup; juggle cane, jug, coffee cup, set down coffee cup and immediately forget where
  • 6:46 AM – open patio door soundlessly so as not to wake husband or cats (who would escape) (cats, not husband)
  • 6:46 AM – water topsy turvy tomato; look for tomatoes (hah!); glare at bunny bait soon to be compost
  • 6:47 AM – close patio doors quietly; water starting mason jar potatoes and garlics; spray tops and sumac
Roma tomato plant

More tomatoes on the label than on the plant – still

  • 6:48 AM – grab second water source, one quart juice bottles, make mental note to throw out bottle with broken handle
  • 6:48 AM – water bonsai in kitchen, bonsai on nook table, last remaining indoor tomato seedlings now bigger than cat
  • 6:50 AM – grab third water source, one quart juice bottle with Miracle Gro
  • 6:51 AM – check water in fireplace room plants; water sparingly
Ginger root has sprouted in the dark dank garage humidity

Ginger root has several sprouts and what might be a spider

  • 6:52 AM – open small garage door; wince at high pitched squeal
  • 6:52 AM – water starter pot of ginger plant; kick spiders out door while not screaming. Oh wait, that’s a beetle.
  • 6:53 AM – grab fourth water source, two big DeliCat cat food jugs
  • 6:54 AM – check on lone stray squash plant in Bunny Buffet Field; water if it still has more than two leaves
  • 6:55 AM – water tomato, tomato, cauliflower, potato on front porch
Echeveria shaviana about to bloom

Puttering past Cousin Bob; wave happily

  • 6:55 AM – wave ‘hi’ to Echevieria Shaviana and Cousin Bob
  • 6:56 AM – refill DeliCat jugs in garage sink; drench left leg, swear under breath
  • 6:57 AM – walk down and water two rose bushes; consider inventing thornless rose or thorn-proof housecoat
  • 6:58 AM – refill DeliCat jugs and place on front porch; make mental note to throw out leaky DeliCat jug and invest in -decent- watering cans
  • 7:00 AM – grab fifth and final water source(s), three juice jugs and spray bottle

(the following steps are performed under the careful supervision of two cats)

  • 7:01 AM – water yellow squash – one full quart. It will have drunk all the water from last night and produced two more leaves the size of your old VW bug.
  • 7:03 AM – stare at cardboard palm peat pots; wonder yet again why they haven’t sprouted
  • 7:03 AM – water tamarind #1, water tamarind #2
  • 7:04 AM – water spinach, spinach, jalapeno and green onions, putter around for 30 seconds while wondering where the other green onion pot is
yellow squash

every morning yellow squash is out of water

  • 7:06 AM – consider watering orange mint if you could see the pot but with all that mint, who knows where it is
  • 7:08 AM – carefully remove wilted squash blossoms, broken leaves; swear at nearest cat (who is blameless)
  • 7:10 AM – try to find coffee cup

And that, dear reader, is how you putter in the garden at break-neck speed for maximum results.

Just think how relaxing it’ll be when we finally add on the space to the north of the shed at the bottom of the hill…

The end of Squash formerly known as Lunch

Lunch, aka our very first yellow squash harvest of one squash, was delicious — for dinner. This brings us to the very first recipe chosen for its healthy approach and use of our own garden results.

(… which has been deleted. What made me think I would be publishing a cookbook full of recipes?)

Now I’m watching for more girl blossoms so we can do this again soon – and I saw three this morning, hovering within leaves the size of carports. Soon soon!

First squash harvest crucial to Friday lunch plans

Yellow squash is slightly smaller than a Michener paperback

Our first yellow squash is slightly smaller than a Michener paperback

It is difficult to refer to this morning’s actions as a “harvest.” I picked the one and only yellow squash off the overachieving plant in the sunny former dining room and carried it with way too much pride to the kitchen, where it posed for its last portrait — last because it’s going to turn into lunch shortly.

That’s it, reclining in front of “Mexico” by James A. Michener, a sprawling, complex historical fiction relating the growth of a na— whups, sorry. Seems my Inner Book Critic wants to come out to play.

You may remember my mention of a lack of bees in the house. In their stead, I’ve been watching patiently for “girl” squashes, q-tip in hand, to emulate Gregor Mendel and a whole host of bees, dabbing pollen from the dozens of male fruits onto the rare female blossom. So far, only one has taken. We’re calling her “Baked Squash Lunch”  — or “Lunch” for short.

The half-life of a squash blossom appears to be about five hours. They begin to open just before I wake up… about 5:45 AM.

By the time the sun is hitting the dining room window, they’re fully open and waiting for the bees that never show up. Instead it’s me — groggy, half-awake and suffering from a lack of caffeine.

In about five minutes I check all the open blossoms, q-tip in hand, searching a crop of brilliant yellow for the telltale bulb beneath. One plant can produce both male and female blossoms at the same time, depending on several variables including humidity, sunshine, temperature, and its mood in general.

Female yellow squash blossom

One lone girl, “Yeah, baby!”

Ok, kidding about the mood (maybe), but these are on a macho trend this week – all guys for days, then FINALLY a lone girl, to the tune of wolf whistles and shouts of “Yeah, baby! Let’s see them petals!”

By noon they’ve begun to retire, each furling to form a wilty looking cone. By afternoon, they’ve closed up shop — and by nightfall, they’re history.

If one “takes,” then we’ll have squash for lunch again someday. If not, then there’s always the supermarket less than a mile away.

Edible Exodus Part 3: Squash to the bunny-wolves

Underperforming yellow squash goes outdoors

Four or five leaves and a lot of courage on this squash

It was with very little hope that I transplanted an under-performing yellow squash into a soggy dirt patch next to the sprinkler puddle near the only evergreen in our front yard.

From 4:00 to 6:00 each morning, the sprinkler leaves a watering hole at the base of the pine. What better place, I thought, for an indoor squash to get its outdoor legs?

It’ll either grow like mad and develop leaves the size of yoga mats like its big brother in the dining room, or get eaten by the bunnies who stop in for lunch.

So I hardened my heart and planted the listless thing. It languished, one thin frond draped into the puddle, sighing softly as it awaited its doom. Note: Time of demise 07:55 a.m. Tuesday June 12, 2012. I wished it a safe trip to the big Garden in the Sky, and went on with my morning rounds.

Surprise! When noon came around, the bunnies kept their distance, feeding on a patch of tall something on the other side of the pine, and ignoring the squash.

This morning it looks even happier, even perky – if that term could be applied to a yellow squash. Maybe there is compassion in the animal kingdom. We’ll see how things look after today’s lunch rush.

Run, darling! Save yourself! Indoor gardening out of control.

yellow squash threatens neighborhood

Yellow squash leans out window and threatens neighborhood horses

When I read Sunset Magazine, it’s the shaded emerald lawns and rock-path back yards and graceful koi ponds that grab my attention. The ones with the ivy-glazed gazebos and hobbit-sized reading benches, and nary a weed in sight.

Nothing in any magazine could have prepared me for the yellow squash that has taken over the dining room.

Seed packages need information for beginning gardeners

Warning, this squash will eat your sofa

Nowhere on the seed packet did it say “When it grows up, this plant will produce leaves bigger than your average domestic cat.”

No. Nobody would buy yellow squash plant seeds if they said “This squash may inhale your dining room chairs.”

I now believe that seed packages need to have warning labels specifically designed for the new gardener: “Warning. This zucchini will hold your Pomeranian hostage until you distract it with buffalo bones and harness it with razor wire.”

Squash blossoms over long weekend

Big flowers are almost bigger than pot

This is the second sign of actual food production so far. The first was a gathering of barely visible tomato blossoms on the Roma hanging upside down on the patio.

These two showed up curled and looking like any of the leaf buds but then turned into a flower about midway through the day. By this morning (5/29) they had curled up and were looking pretty dang sad. This might have a lot to do with the fact that these very large plants are still living in peat seed starter pots about as big around as one of their leaves.

Which brings up a critical question: I had read that one should never transplant anything in bloom. Is that correct? What transplant guidelines apply to vegetables vs flowering plants?


The Edible Exodus Part 1

Topsy Turvy Zucchini (left) and yellow squash (right)

Yesterday afternoon, we pressed into service three of our seven Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters – one for a then-small-now-large Roma tomato plant that we bought at Home Depot the middle of last month; one for the zucchini bought near the same time, and one for one of the yellow squash brought up from seed that has been taking over the dining room windowsill one inch at a time.

The box hints at great success.

You may remember how I mentioned, in the Rules for the Amateur Gardening Game, not to buy out the stores of any idea in particular. Actually I said “Don’t buy two when one will do, especially if your first instinct is to buy ten!”  – and I meant it! And I forgot it immediately when I saw a big sale on these planters, even though I had yet to try out the one I already had. Addendum to the rules: Do as I say, not as I do – and I admit that I forget to re-read those rules.

Speaking of reading: The first instruction on the device was to “Read all of the instructions before proceeding.” They mean it. Read, believe, read again – and prepare stuff ahead of time, like the hook on which to hang what will be a pretty durn heavy bag of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom. When you finish reading, get out the handy hints brochure written by the inventor, and read that a couple of times, too – two pages crammed with insights!

Now there’s a good possibility that we were not doing this entirely right. It took two of us to wrestle the first plant – the Roma tomato –  into the Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planter – gently so as not to break off stems and branches and each other’s fingers.

Roma tomato

You have to put the foam collar on the plant BEFORE you put dirt in that bag. Yes, I read that instruction, too. I just managed to forget it between the time I read the instructions and found myself elbow deep in a plastic bag full of dirt with a plant sticking out its bottom.

We gently stuffed each plant into its own container and hung them up on hooks on the patio, west facing so the 6-8 hours of full sun is more likely. Once they were up in the air, it took some creative thinking to get the water up into the top of each unit to soak the soil without soaking the very short gardener (that’d be me). Since I can’t fly, we settled on building a low platform of concrete blocks, sturdy enough to step up on, wide enough that I’m not acting like a gymnast on a balance beam, and waterproof enough that it’s no biggie if the plants piddle a bit.

And piddle they did. Enough so that a few minutes after we’d finished cleaning up our workspace, the zucchini and yellow squash had attracted a family of curious robins, who sipped and feasted until chased away by a very short, still-damp gardener (that’d be me again). A few leaves didn’t make it through that encounter, but the next morning all three now-topsy-turvy-transplanted plants were still alive, and just a bit worse for wear. Despite transplant trauma, birdie visits and our persistent wind, they’ve survived the first 24 hours.

HINT: It helps to have two people and a few plastic grocery bags. Wrap a bag loosely around the exposed stems, leaves, and branches, then put the foam collar in place at the point where the rest of the plant will be buried in soil. Keep the plant upright, root ball down, while the other person lowers the bag over the plant. Guide the bag through the bottom hole until the collar is at the hole’s exit. Remove the bag carefully, bringing the leaves and branches free without tugging.

Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters is a registered trademark of Felknor Ventures, LLC. Photo of front of Topsy Turvy® Tomato Planters product box may contain portions of copyrighted images.