In spite of cooler than normal temperatures that slowed down the growth of heat-loving crops, there is still plenty of harvest to enjoy and look forward to in the coming month.
One cool weather plant growing well in this weather is Brussels sprouts. A member of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts are nutritious and easy to grow. The vegetable resembles small cabbages growing along the sturdy trunk of the plant, each one above a leaf stem. Normally slow growing, the cooler temperatures have been excellent for this plant, which grows best below 75 degrees. Temperatures higher than this and the small sprouts, which are best when firm and tight, will begin to open up their leaves and soften.
Brussels sprouts can be sown as seeds directly into the garden in late spring in an area where members of the Brassica family have not been planted the previous year. Soil dwelling diseases that attack the same plant families will live in the soil two to three years, which is why most gardeners practice plant rotation. Plants can be purchased from local garden centers in early spring and placed in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant the seedlings about 15 to 18 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Kathleen Evanoff
There are several varieties of summer squash including green-skinned zucchini, yellow straight neck (shown), crook neck and patty pan. Summer squash, unlike their winter cousins, is a warm weather vegetable, growing only as long as the weather stays above freezing. Although the season is short for this vegetable, the plant reproduces so quickly it is difficult to keep up with the harvest.
Weeds should be kept to a minimum, but care should be taken when weeding around this shallow-rooted plant. In some cases, the plant will lean as though pulling itself out of the ground, but the sturdy stem will hold it upright as long as the roots aren't disturbed. Because the plant is mainly a leaf-producer, a fertilizer rich in nitrogen should be used throughout the growing season. Brussels sprouts like a lot of water, particularly if the soil is light. Deep watering will encourage root growth to help give added support to the somewhat top-heavy plant.
Sprouts can be harvested at any size, but are best when they are about one to one-and-a-half inches in diameter. To encourage greater yields, remove the growing tip so the plant can save its energy to make more sprouts. Like Brussels sprouts, kale would benefit from fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as fish emulsion.
The plants survive well into cold weather, with harvest possible even after the snow falls. They are best when served fresh, either steamed or sauteed in a bit of olive oil, but they also freeze well.
Another plant seeming to thrive in this cool weather is Kale. Kale, also a member of the cabbage family, is often thought of as only a garnish, but if harvested when the leaves are young and tender, they are excellent as a salad green. As the leaves mature, they can be cooked into pasta dishes and soups.
Best when planted in full sun, the Kale can be picked only two months from planting. Since they are a cool-weather plant, they can be planted now for a fall harvest. The plants can take a few frosts and crisp leaves can be harvested even under a light blanket of snow. Leaves can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks in an open container and still retain crispness.
Growing heartily this season is summer squash. There are several varieties, including familiar green-skinned zucchini, scalloped edged patty pan and two types of yellow summer squash, straightneck and crookneck, and many others.
Called courgette by the French and British, this mild flavored vegetable is the subject of hundreds of recipes, both sweet and savory, in an effort to keep up with the prolific growth the plant puts out in mid-summer. Bees love the bright yellow blossoms, also edible, particularly when stuffed with soft cheese and sauteed or deep fried with a tempura coating.
Seeds can be sown directly into the garden once all danger of frost. The plant matures quickly in just a few weeks and begins to form both male and female blossoms. The fruits grow quickly leaving gardeners scurrying to harvest nearly every day. Summer squash is best picked when not more than six to eight inches long. Fruit can reach harvest size in only three to four days after pollination.
Neglecting the harvest can result in fruit that grows too large for optimum use. Larger squash can be used by scooping out the excessive number of seeds and stuffing the ''canoe'' with a favorite filling. But leaving the fruit get too large can tire the plant using up strength that is better used to create new, young fruit. Storage time is brief for the thin-skinned summer squash. The fruit should be used within two to three days of harvesting, but there is no shortage of recipes for this hearty grower.
Surprisingly, many people have never tried spaghetti squash. This vegetable conceals its secrets inside a hard outer shell and can be used in place of higher calorie pasta in many favorite recipes. The thin strands of sweet squash is also tasty on its own with just a bit of butter and salt and pepper to season.
Spaghetti squash is a winter squash, evident by its hard shell. Summer squash, like zucchini, pattypan and yellow varieties have thin skins that are easy to slice through, but winter squash is protected by harsh weather by its firm outer surface that takes a bit of strength and effort to slice through. This also is true of spaghetti squash, and although this problem can be remedied with a bit of pre-cooking to soften the skin, most people prefer to tough it out and cut the squash first.
Cooking while the fruit is whole requires longer cooking time, and it is much easier to burn yourself when trying to cut it afterward. The squash can be boiled for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting to soften the skin, and it can be microwaved as well, but care should be taken to prevent scorching.
The preferred method is to cut the squash in half while still raw, as difficult as it is, and to scoop out the seeds with a sturdy spoon. Lay the squash cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at about 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Overcooking can result in mushy pulp.
After baking, carefully and with the help of oven mitts or pot holders, hold the squash upright and with a fork, gently pull the flesh out of the shell. It will come out in long strands that remarkably resemble spaghetti.
The vines get quite long in the garden, often winding their way through other plants. The squash can be harvested when the fruit turn from pale white to buttery yellow or orange and the rind is hard and difficult to pierce with your fingernail. When cutting, leave a two-inch section of stem attached to the fruit and leave them laying in the sun until the cut end has dried a bit.
Not only is this vegetable easy to grow, the fruit stores very well for long periods of time. Raw squash can be kept for a month or more at room temperature, but if stored in a cool, dry room, such as an unheated spare bedroom or dry basement, it can be kept for six months or more.