Butternut Squash and Cold

Back in Late August I wrote:

Right now my big interplanting excitement is a single butternut squash plant. Sometime in late June, I put in some seeds on the edge of the garden right at the corner where the flowers, mint, and vegetables coexist.  I did not see the butternut squash for weeks.  But a single seed germinated and lived and one day while picking cucumbers I saw the plant.  …. Well, the cucumbers are now gone and the squash is taking over the cucumber’s space and the space of the tansy and mint.  The butternut squash has grown to twenty feet in one direction and ten in the other.  It is growing amongst and over the tansy, asters, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, and mint. It seems to grow almost a foot a day.  But not all is well with that butternut squash plant as the first leaves are starting to die off and I fear that disease may be moving fast as well.  Will the plant produce 10 – 12 beautiful butternuts or two of three that exist now and will mature even if the plant dies?  I don’t know but I am very curious to find out. I am not that hopeful about the butternuts but also not that worried as I am not dependent on those squash for survival.

My Butternut Squash, August 28 — In the picture are also mint, zinnias, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, pole beans, and tomatoes.

Well in was a battle between the butternut squash and the disease and the squash won!

My Butternut Squash, October 19th — The tomatoes are mostly over for the season. the sunflowers are brown, and only some of the zinnias survive but the mint, sorrel, and the butternut squash continue to thrive.

At the end of August I was unsure about the butternut squash’s chances and while other squash in the neighborhood in other gardens have now died off this butternut squash has thrived. It is now 75 feet in length and with six big beautiful butternuts and one or two small ones that I am fairly certain have been pollinated and are on their way. Most of these squash were pollinated by insects but as I tired of seeing promising squash embryos turn yellow and fall off undeveloped, I started to hand pollinate the flowers.

To hand pollinate a squash you take the male flower and brush its stamen on the female flower’s pistil. I did this to about eight female flowers and got two or three new squash.

The male flower with the single stamen in the photo on the left, the female flower with the three part pistil inside and the squash embryo below it in the middle photo, and the same female flower from the side with a clear profile of the squash embryo in the bigger photo on the right.

From left to right: just pollinated, maturing, almost ripe butternut squashes.

Well it is not just me who watches the butternut squash plant and the butternut squashes in my garden. My friend Catherine tells me she checks it out when she walks by to see how it is doing and my neighbor’s children, aged 5 and 7, are keeping track too. They will come over at the end of the day to talk to me about the squash and to look and see how many squash they can find. The kids may also ask for some chard, or a beet. They know vegetables are special and worthy to be gifts. They know better than to ask for a carrot. They know about Carrot Day and the value of waiting for the frost and talk about Carrot Day as if it was a prominent holiday.

When Carrot Day happens is dependent on the weather. But I expect it will be before Thanksgiving and I hope you do celebrated Carrot Day.

Please send me pictures of your carrots, your children and your celebrations when the big day does come.

May we all do our part to get our selves, our friends and neighbors, and their children to celebrate the garden, growing vegetables and doing our part to grow our own. Let’s combat global warming by sequestering carbon in our soil. That is if we are fortunate enough to have soil. If you do have a yard please think of those who do not have any land and sequester carbon not only for yourself but for your friends without soil.

News from California

September 10, 2021

This time of year, the tomatoes are usually laden down on the vines, begging to be picked and turned into tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes, gazpacho, or just sliced and eaten with a pinch of salt. Late summer turning into fall, the garden is exploding, while winter crops and green-topped carrots grow patiently above and below the soil surface, promising continued nourishment in the dark and quiet months to come. However, on some small farms in California, there are no tomatoes to be picked, no vegetable bounty to carry to local farmer’s markets. The state of the drought is so severe that irrigation ponds did not fill up, or the local jurisdictions cut off water access to some farm properties. This is the case for Green Valley Farm in Sebastopol, CA, tucked into a valley among redwoods and nearby rivers and creeks, all of which have run dry. Here I am, leading a course about climate change and regenerative agriculture, bearing witness with the host farmers and eight participants to the very impacts we are seeking to better understand, adapt to, and mitigate.

We have been gathered here at the farm for 10+ days, working on the land in the morning in a variety of capacities (tending perennial beds, moving animals, milking cows, making cheese, harvesting herbs, lining new pond projects with clay to hold water that will hopefully come in the winter), and learning about climate change intersections with farming in the afternoons. It’s part of a new experiment in land-based climate change education, bringing people together onto a piece of farmland to connect the dots between farmers and non-farmers working to address the challenges of climate change. With veggies from nearby farms, meat, eggs and dairy products from Green Valley, and homemade sourdough bread in plentiful supply its not like we’re suffering here too much, but the realities and challenges of this drought year and fire season are ever-present on people’s minds, a backdrop to the pastoral and idyllic setting with bone dry grasses begging for rain.

“Climate change is a self-created problem turned opportunity that we must now embrace,” said one of our Climate Farm School speakers from a local Resource Conservation District, hosting a workshop on soil carbon. What does this mean for your garden? Intercrop, grow a diversity of things, incorporate perennials, incorporate animals even if they are worms or other insects demonstrating that there is life in the soil, and above all keep your soil covered! Put down a layer of straw or seaweed, or plant a cover crop of rye, fava beans, vetch, and oats over the winter. Put some garlic in the ground and straw mulch around it, so you might have some delicious garlic scapes and bulbs to harvest next summer.

What thrives in drought conditions? What survives? There are still grapes on the vines waiting to be harvested, apples and pears on the trees, though maybe a few less than a good year. Perennials can do ok, limiting their energy towards fruiting and leaf production and instead focusing inward, drawing strength from their deep root systems and stores of nutrients several feet below the soil surface. My Indian colleagues tell me to plant millets in California, because they are such a drought resilient and nutritionally dense form of sustenance. But we don’t have many millets in the farms around me in Sonoma County, or elsewhere in California for that matter; we have almond trees and alfalfa fields, and tomatoes and lettuce and other crops no longer suited for the changing climatic conditions and extremes, and water limitations we are facing across the state. How do we get back on course, back in planting rhythms that are more in harmony and taking cues from our regional climate and native ecology? What aspects of native plant science are still relevant, and do we need to look to native plant regimes further south for guidance on what should happen in a climate-changed future California? I would like to plant millets in my garden next spring, and maybe some amaranth and drought-resilient plant varieties saved from seeds of what did ok this year, under such challenging conditions.  

As the time draws closer to Carrot Day 2021, that day of the first frost when patient gardeners will pull frost-kissed carrots out of the ground and eat them in celebration of the soil’s fertility, I am especially grateful for the gift of carrots. I don’t take them for granted, because they might not be able to be planted every year, everywhere. The Green Valley farmers might not have their own farm carrots this year, but there are other farms nearby with better water resources who might be willing to share. There is community, and generosity of spirit, and so much strength in human relationship, and I suspect those relationships also increase in strength when there is soil involved. When people come together to plant, weed, harvest, and eat together, something amazing happens: we collectively experience the power and magic of our connection to the Earth, how good it feels to have our hands in the soil, and so much generosity and mutual support springs from that collective energy. That’s at least how it’s felt having the participants of the first Climate Farm School course here at Green Valley, digging and cooking and eating together, and forming a very strong sense of community and empowerment towards collective action on climate solutions.

This fall, as we prepare to focus inwards and slow down our activities in line with winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures, consider keeping a small book shelf alive with further readings on climate change and food systems, talk to your friends, family and local farmers about what it means to farm and eat “regeneratively,” and make a personal commitment to growing and sourcing food in a way that mitigates climate change by sequestering more carbon in our most vital natural resource: the soil. I’ll be heading back East to Rhode Island in another month or so, to check on my family’s garden plot in Tiverton and hopefully pull up some carrots and put in some garlic. I’ll leave a nice layer of seaweed on the ground and some cover crop seeds buried underneath. And I’ll look to start up some conversations about the Climate Farm School courses that could happen on the East Coast next year.

Enjoy those carrots pulled from the ground in another 6 to 8 weeks!   

Laney Siegner, Ph.D., Director of Academic Programs and Climate Farm School course creator at Terra.do

September

Well, it is already September, somehow the August Post never got written but the carrots did not care.  They grew and grew.

On August 28th I began the transition to the fall garden.  I picked the last of the cucumbers and put in beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach, and turnips seeds. The big news, for this post, of that day’s gardening is that I did some selective thinning of the carrots.  That selective thinning’s main goal was the future — bigger and better carrots on Carrot Day, but I did get some nice carrots to use right then.

Over the past three or four years, I have been developing my knowledge of interplanting. It began for me as a way to get more out of each inch of the garden. As different vegetables mature at different rates the bed can be maximized for production.  For example, by the time the kale is mature and in need of a great deal of space the radishes and lettuce have had their time and are no longer competing for light, water, and nutrients.  

Right now my big interplanting excitement is a single butternut squash plant. Sometime in late June, I put in some seeds on the edge of the garden right at the corner where the flowers, mint, and vegetables coexist.  

I did not see the butternut squash for weeks.  But a single seed germinated and lived and one day while picking cucumbers I saw the plant.  My friend Katherine was there when I first discovered the larger squash leaves among the smaller cucumber leaves.  We celebrated the discovery together. We laughed and found glory in that sole squash plant and what it might bring come fall. That sense of sharing and hoping is what Carrot Day is all about. Developing a sense of community and encouraging each other.

Well, the cucumbers are now gone and the squash is taking over the cucumber’s space and the space of the tansy and mint.  The butternut squash has grown to twenty feet in one direction and ten in the other.  It is growing amongst and over the tansy, asters, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, and mint. It seems to grow almost a foot a day.  But not all is well with that butternut squash plant as the first leaves are starting to die off and I fear that disease may be moving fast as well. 

Will the plant produce 10 – 12 beautiful butternuts or two of three that exist now and will mature even if the plant dies?  I don’t know but I am very curious to find out. I am not that hopeful about the butternuts but also not that worried as I am not dependent on those squash for survival.

In another part of the garden, I am training my Sungold and Black Cherry tomato plants to climb up to our porch.  Tropical Storm Ida had other ideas and set the tomatoes back some but I am hopeful about reaching over our porch rail and eating a tomato.  Fingers crossed.

Our next post will be written by Laney Siegner, a teacher of farming and carbon sequestration, and she tells me that interplanting is supported by science as a way to maximize the health of the garden and farm and to improve soil, and to sequester more carbon in that soil.

I got started interplanting because I am a competitive gardener. I want the garden to produce more food this year than last year.  Things don’t always work out.  Sometimes it is too wet, sometimes too dry, or too cold or too hot, sometimes there is disease and insect damage.  The only thing we as gardeners can really work and succeed with is our soil.  When our soils improve, more carbon is sequestered, and not only will we be doing our part to lessen climate change, eventually the conditions will be right for more food to share from our own labors.

It feels good to try to get the most out of the land and feed friends and family. Here is to a celebration of surplus shared! That is what Carrot Day is about — celebrating the taste of a really good carrot with friends. Let’s try to spread that joy to all of our vegetables one garden and one child at a time.

Thinning Carrots

It has been over six weeks since my last post and in that time I have become a grandfather. Our daughter Cleo and her husband Josh had a baby on June 24th.  What a blessing. Well here in Massachusetts it has been plenty wet enough for good carrot germination and growth.  And like all things you can have too much of a good thing and June was one of the wettest on record.

That meant that there were also a lot of weeds to pull and carrots to thin.

This year I again interplanted carrots and radishes but I used alternating rows. In the past I had broadly cast the seeds for a solid bed of carrots. I found that when I had good germination I did not give each carrot enough space as I did not thin aggressively enough.   I am trying rows this year because I wanted bigger carrots and by using rows I could more easily assure each plant enough space.

Well, using rows has certainly great for the radishes. I have been falling in love with radishes more every year and they have been really, really good this year.  I slice them on a mini mandoline and then make an instant pickle with apple cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, salt and water.  They make any salad or sandwich better…

I have been reading carrot experts who talk about progressive thinning.  Progressive thinning means you thin and then later you thin and harvest.  This method optimizes yield and minimize the need for patience.  It is still a long, long way from the frost and eating the thinnings in August will makes waiting for frost easier for me. The carrots in the pictures below were planed last fall at the CCSC school garden and grew under a cold frame all winter. On the left are some of the thinnings; they are not frost kissed but they are very good.

Rabbits have been doing very well the past few years in Hull but my garden has been protected by our cat Pepper.  Pepper was a hunter and brought us rabbit corpses to our back door mat regularly.  Carrot Day Post are not typically conveyors of bad news but today I tell you that Pepper fell victim to coyotes and while the rabbits stayed away for three weeks they have discovered that the garden is now unprotected.  So today I will instal a small fence around the carrot bed.

With love and hope you are thinning and weeding your carrots and are able to protect them from the bunnies and other predators.

Ted 

June 1

Well it has been a  while since I last wrote and I hope you, your family and your gardens are doing well.

In May, Katy and I were blessed with visits from all three of our children and their partners. Each pair stayed for a little over a week  and we had lovely weekend overlaps. I am pleased to say the garden kept up with the crowd and fed us greens and radishes all month.

Yesterday I put carrot seeds in the ground and I am hoping to see them up and in about ten days or two weeks.  I planted them with rows of radishes in between as my mother advised me to do in my childhood gardening days.

Furrows for the carrot seeds (and a few radish seeds too)

It is not too late to plant post-frost carrots and I still have seeds to send out if you are interested and I would love to get closer to the goal of sending out seeds to 80 folks.  Here is the form if you want to order the seeds.

Be well and grow food if you can.

Carrots planted and protected from the cat by sticks with the flowers that surround the garden

April Eve

Here in Massachusetts it is officially spring and has been spring for a few days now. Two days ago I took these pictures of bulbs in our yard at 41 Western Ave in Hull. Our crocuses have never looked better and the chionodoxa lucilea flowers are also nice reminders of “the more” that is to come in April.

Other than the photographs included here, my only message today is that I hope you use the form below to order your free carrot seeds.

I am hoping to get 80 folks to sign up and we are at 25 now. Order your seeds here.

These pictures were taken on Monday. The cold frame kale is seen here in all its spring glory, and cold frame turnip is tempting too, but I think I will let the turnip get a bit bigger before I harvest it and well, the collards, I am just hoping.

I ate some kale leaves last night for dinner and they were unbelievably good. While collards are the heartiest of these three plants, not having the protection of a cold frame shows in their browns leaves. I am hoping I might get a few collard leaves anyway before this springs planting is ready to eat as the collards roots may have survived — time will tell.

May we all be kind to ourselves and give our collards and ourselves space and tolerance, every little bit that we give and produce matters.

Happy Spring and happy gardening.

ted

March First

Right before I started to write this post I took some photographs to document the garden and my state of mind.

When I was fifteen I spent a summer living with my Uncle Henry and his partner Mary, both potters. My mother knew that aspects of school were hard for me and admired how I made things. She thought living with her brother would be just right for me, and she was right–it was life changing. As I prepared to write this post I went to take some photographs of my cold-frames. While I was taking the pictures I was reminded of a story my Uncle Henry told me that summer. He saw me peering into a kiln before it had properly cooled. Henry laughed and said that I reminded him of the story of a famous Japanese potter who in his late seventies was out peering into his kiln before it was cool. It is hard to wait for a cooling kiln and it is hard to wait for spring.

I went out and peered in the cold frames to take the pictures below of arugula, lettuce, and kale. I was not surprised that the arugula and kale had survived the winter, but that head of butter lettuce and how good it looked did surprise me. I had picked almost all of the lettuce in early January but had left a couple of plants as an experiment. Well, the lettuce did just fine. I think we had enough snow cover when it was really cold so snow and the cold-frame kept it nice and blanketed.

By the end of March the cold frames will be off the kale and perhaps the arugula as well, and substantial food will be coming out of the garden.

But the big news around here is that the Fedco Seed box arrived! It was a hard year to order seeds from Fedco due to a huge demand and it took over a week and two delightful telephone calls with a great person at Fedco to help me place my order, which included seven ounces of carrot seeds. Google tells me that there are anywhere from 11,300 to 34,000 carrot seeds in every ounce, so I have between 80,000 and 240,000 carrot seeds and I want to get them out to you!

My goal is that 80 of you will request seeds. Here is the seed order form to get your seeds and to join Carrot Day 2021!

Be well and keep in touch,

Love Ted

Carrot Day 2021

Well it is the third year for this blog. I am looking forward to 2021 and expecting a better year.  I plan to spend some of this year on carrot centered work as I hope for tiny steps to “tend our garden” and heal the world. 

Growing and ceremoniously eating carrots are the tasks of this work. Last year because of the pandemic it was hard to have big carrot parties but may 2021 be very different with many carrot celebrations from small to large in the fall of 2021.

My hope is that a by-product of our collective work is the building of community, inspiration of a land ethic, and small steps in saving our habitat. Hope is a super-power, let’s use it.

January 9, 2021 a warm rainy day and cold frames are off so the lettuce and turnips are getting some fresh air and water while the sturdy collars are always exposed to the winter.

Some of you may know that I like to quantify acts and interactions to try to make sense of the world.  Here is a list of last year’s blog’s publish dates, reading times and titles.  There were ten posts:

  • 02/09/2020 1 minute read Carrot Day 2020
  • 03/07/2020 1 minute read Carrot Seeds
  • 03/31/2020 2 minute read Carrot Seed Order
  • 05/05/2020 2 minute read May
  • 06/01/2020 5 minute read June
  • 07/02/2020 2 minute read July, a Time for Thinning
  • 08/01/2020 3 minute read August, Guest Post by Laney Siegner
  • 09/13/2020 1 minute read Mid September
  • 11/28/2020 1 minute read Carrot Day 2020

Ten seems a good number but who knows about this year, maybe nine, maybe eleven? I am ordering seeds this week and I am hoping to send out seeds to 80 folks this year. The first year I sent out 33, last year 52.

Now carrots seeds are small and they germinate slowly and they like wet soil of about 50 degrees so conditions do not not always cooperate for carrots.  This past summer in Massachusetts it was brutally dry so I am thinking that it might be good to push up the planting from the beginning of June to the last week in May.  The timing is hard because if you plant too soon then it is a bit too long for the perfect magic of frost on a carrot.

One thing I love about Carrot Day is that it helps me stay in touch with friends. Last month a friend, the writer and climate activist, Kim Stanley Robinson, wrote to me about carrot growing in Davis California. We became friends in the early 1990’s in Davis when our children were very small and we both had gardens and shared a love of nature. Stan is a sage who is one of the world’s most important voices in stopping our journey to a future of habitat loss and a mass species extinction.  Stan’s work is a warning but as Bill McKibben writes Stan is “at heart an optimist,” and Stan plants carrots.  Let’s all be all optimists and plant carrots, tend them and harvest after a frost (if we live in places with frost) and then have a party.  

Stan wrote me: Casey forwarded me your blog on carrot growing and I have to tell you I have been an enthusiastic grower of carrots in my garden for many years, though I find it really hard to get a successful start.  I prep the soil etc. and plant seeds as if planting grass, just lots and lots of seeds, then keep it wet for a couple weeks, and when it works it really works— a field of carrot tops I can pluck from early on and then have carrots for months on end from that one bed.  But half the time, I get no starts at all from all those seeds!  It’s either big success or total failure.   But it’s fun to try, and for years it was the only thing I grew in my garden that my boys would eat. 

Hope you grow carrots this year even though it can be hard.  Together we can grow more of our own food, give more back to our soil and inspire children to love vegetables.  Just last week a group of sixth graders who experienced a minor carrot celebration in November begged me for carrots and I know from many of you that a child in your life inspired your family to put in a garden.  Those kids were inspired by gardening in school and eating really good carrots and they inspired you to grow gardens. 

Let’s stay in touch.

Ted

CARROT DAY 2020

Some of the people of Carrot Day 2020

Some of the carrots from Carrot Day 2020

Happy Carrot Day

I hope you enjoyed your Carrot Day celebrations and your carrot growing.

I had three different Carrot Celebrations, and loved every one.

May you have a great winter and may we all sow our carrots next spring, perhaps in solitude but here is hoping for big Carrot Celebrations next fall.

One of my favorite stories of this year’s carrot day is about the lone carrot on the bottom left of the carrot gallery. Here is what the farmer wrote about that carrot, “Here is the total result of my labors. Three carrot seed varieties, three plantings, netting, frequent watering, weeding. A carrot! I referred to it as the multitaskers carrot patch. Other challenges were drought and curious chickens.”

Please join us next year and while I love carrots, I close with this photo of me with a couple of beets and if you can put seaweed down on your garden in the next month or so your beets too may grow this big. As we take from the earth in harvest we should always give back more in compost and my favorite compost is seaweed. We are growing carrots and food but our real goal is healthy soil. May the love of a really good carrot build our soil and add to our lives, one child, one garden, one experience at a time.

End of October

Well this will be the last Carrot Blog before the frost here in Massachusetts.

I hope that your carrots continue to grow and that we have a wonderful time on Carrot Day Massachusetts when it comes. One of the central joys of Carrot Day is that it is the weather and not a prescribed date on a calendar that selects the date. It is a nice to look forward to frost and while it is predicted to dip below freezing tonight on Mt. Greylock, the highest spot in Masscusetts, here on the coast frost and Carrot Day is probably at least several weeks away.

I have been getting carrot pictures from carrot friends this fall and the pictures above are two such examples. The photo on the left shows a fabulous carrot bed in Holbrook and on the right from a stove top in Rockland shortly after being pulled from the ground.

I encourage you to leave most of your carrots in the ground until the frost. Please document your own post-frost Carrot Day celebrations and I will include as many photos as I can in the next post.

Be well and keep gardening and eating vegtables with young folks.

Ted