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Volunteer squash and Brussels sprouts

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#1 Janet Macunovich

Janet Macunovich
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Posted 07 January 2006 - 10:51 PM

Hello all!
The following questions and answers were contained in my Growing Concerns column on January 7, 2006. In putting together this answer I came across some facts that weren't essential to the article and so for purposes of maintaining a reasonable column length I didn't include them there. Yet they were interesting enough that I wanted to share them with anyone who was interested enough in that topic to follow it further. So here they are, appended to the Q&A.

I also ended with a question of my own on this topic, included below. If you can shed any light on it, please join in.

The question was:

Dear ,
I had what may be a butternut squash that volunteered in my tomato patch and I don't know much about them. In mid-September they were still light green but pretty big. How do you know when to harvest them and how do I "keep" them?

I also planted two Brussels sprouts plants that became huge. There was one little sprout between each huge leaf. What does one do with them?

In Growing Concerns 1-7-06 I wrote:

Dear R.D.,
That's one of the best things about vegetable gardens -- that we can just grow it, see what happens, and net a free meal or two from the process.

Butternut squash and any of its hybrid seed that would have volunteered in your garden will taste best if harvested after the seeds ripen inside. You know that's happening when the rind turns a deep, solid color and is hard -- not easily dented with a fingernail. Cure them for keeping at room temperature for 10 to 20 days and then store them at 50 to 55 degrees until you care to use them.

Brussels sprouts develop best in cool weather, even after light frosts. In hot weather the plant may produce mostly leaf, little sprout. So keep watch in fall and cut off sprouts when they are firm and have reached an inch or inch-and-a-half in diameter. You can also wait and harvest the entire "tower" of sprouts as the lowest leaves begin to yellow.

Additional notes just for this forum:
About winter squash:
Seeds, in squash and other fruits, can have a lot to do with flavor even if we don't eat them. Some apple orchardists swear by their bees, for the best fruit flavor comes with plenty of seed ripening inside the apple core.

Winter squash is the group of fall-ripening varieties including Hubbard-, butternut-, spaghetti-, and acorn squash. They lack in flavor if you harvest them before their rinds are hard. In zone 5, expect that ripening to happen in late September. Plan to harvest before a hard frost.

You should leave two inches of stem on a squash if you want to store it for a while. If the stem breaks, the squash won't keep well so eat that one right away.

It's best to store winter squash in dry conditions and in a single layer, not stacked. If you must stack them they are far more likely to spoil.

About Brussels sprouts:
Leave the leaves if you harvest the sprouts one or a few at a time. (As my son used to do. He loved to eat them raw when he was a toddler, although his adult manifestation claims that it was all imagination on my part!) The remaining sprouts on the stalk will use the energy from those leaves in production of the remaining sprouts.

Strip off the leaves so only the sprouts themselves remain in place, if you harvest the whole stem for storage. I used to hang the stalks upside down from a rafter in the garage where they would last for a month or more into late fall.

A question I have for you, now:
If you're in zone 5 or colder: Have you ever stored vegetables such as Brussels sprouts in a pit, over winter? By digging a hole that allows you to set the produce below frost line, you create an in-ground, temporary root cellar or refrigerator. Put your carrots or potatoes or sprouts in there and you should be able to fill the hole with straw and uncover what you will as you need it. What I'd like to know is if you used this storage method, how did you get around the problem of varmints taking their share over winter?

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#2 PamPalechek

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Posted 09 January 2006 - 01:32 AM

If you want to hasten the Brussels Sprout's harvest and have them all table ready at the same time, "top" the plant so that all energy goes into maturation of the existing sprouts. If you plan to harvest a bit of the crop at a time, and you desire larger sprouts, remove some of the lower leaves so there is more room for their expansion.
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