Squash

That vine says it’s time to pick it. If your squash vines look like this, stop what you’re doing right now and go pick that squash.

The weather is turning. Sweatshirt season is on the horizon. Time to think about bringing in some of your garden annuals for the windowsill or sunroom.

Don’t wait until they are hit by frost! Some plants that respond well to being dug up are coleus, impatiens, basil and sometimes rosemary survives the move. Pot up using a bagged mix of heavy potting soil, leaving some of the garden soil on the root ball. Cut the top of the plant back to a short framework. Keep the plants in bright light and moist but not soggy until you see new growth.

You can also take cuttings off coleus and impatiens and stick them in water until they are rooted and pot them up. Plants taken in from the garden will be in survive — not thrive — mode over winter; don’t expect large lush plants.

Burn, baby, burn!

Fall clean-up can start anytime, which is never as fun as spring clean-up when you know winter is on the way. If you have been reading me for some time, you will remember that my single best piece of advice for fall clean-up is to remove all of the dead garden plant stuff off your property to the local city collection site or burn it if allowed.

With it, you will be taking insects, insect eggs, weeds with their seeds and diseased plants. Don’t compost your problem until next year, unless you plan on regularly turning the pile to achieve 170 degrees. Therein lies the problem … the forgotten compost heap.

Squash ‘em

Winter squash is getting ready to pick — but how do you know when it’s ready?

On butternut and buttercup squash, the appearance change in the stem is a good indicator. Instead of looking fresh and green, you will notice brown or tan striations in the stem portion, or the stem may completely dry up. Also, the skin color may go from shiny to dull. Time is also an indicator as they can be full size weeks before being ripe.

Most winter squash are 75-100 days from planting. So even if it appears full grown in June, it’s not ripe. Years when spring is early, winter squash may be ripened by mid-August. And no, acorn squash does not need to have an orange spot on the bottom to be ripe — simply not true. Having been a large-scale producer and eater of squash, I can verify this. Although they may have an orange spot, it is not a requirement.

Acorn squash do not have the stem color change like the others, but will have duller skin when ready. Squash can stay on the vine after it is ready with no issues, so there’s no hurry unless you have deer in the garden.

Ol’ Jack Frost

When I have not paid attention to the advancing weather (namely frost) my quick fix to save the squash is to cover them with their own vines. Fold back the vines onto the squash or pumpkins. It doesn’t matter if you harm the vines, they will be dead by morning from the frost anyway. The idea is to protect the fruits from frost forming on them.

Be sure to use pruners and cut pumpkins and squash from the vine. If you attempt to just pull them off, the handle often breaks off leaving a hole in the skin which is a perfect route for bacteria to start rotting your squash. After harvesting, inspect them for damage or frost injury and eat those first. Frost injury will appear on the uppermost exposed parts of the fruit as it is positioned in the garden, and the frosted area will appear a little darker in color.

If you have time to pick before an unexpected frost, this is when having an empty wagon or wheelbarrow comes in handy. If you have too much to get hauled away timely, at least pick and pile it in the garden under a tarp if frost is predicted. No, frost on the pumpkin is not a good thing unless you like rotten spots!

Undug potatoes and root crops will not be bothered by frost so concentrate on the rest of your stuff first, such as peppers, tomatoes and sensitive herbs like basil.

Hopefully the first frost is far, but best to be prepared with a plan.

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Features Editor, Mankato Free Press Associate Editor, Mankato Magazine

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