Langley Gardening: Time to start thinking about winter

Dear Anne,

“How can I keep squash over winter? In the past we’ve kept them till January, when they will start to rot on the inside. I have kept them in a cool place, and apart so they don’t touch each other. Can they be cut up and frozen?”

Jimmymac, South Langley

Sure, squash keeps well if you cut it up and put it in plastic bags in the freezer.

That’s how I keep acorn squash, ‘Delicata,’ and butternut squash.

The newer varieties appear to be bred for fast production, small size, and a smooth skin. All are delicious  squash, but unless they’re frozen, none of them keep reliably much past January.

The heritage squash do keep reliably outside the freezer – and they have excellent flavours. They are the squash that kept North American pioneers alive through long, cold winters.

But they’re not perfect.

Heritage squash are later to fruit, often the skin is very ribbed or bumpy, and that skin can be so tough that you need a cleaver or an axe to cut them. Many have a thick, fibrous layer holding the seed.

Also, many heritage squash grow very large, and some can be too heavy to lift.

Once I had to cut one with a wood axe out where it had grown, because I couldn’t lift it until it was halved.

Dear Anne,

“Most years, I leave my dianthus plants in the pots and store them in our shed, and in the spring, new growth starts again. But this year I am moving to Vancouver Island, and would like to collect dianthus seed. Is it the brown, old flower heads that should be collected for seed?”

Jo-Anne Harrison, Abbotsford

The capsule holding the seeds is directly behind the old petals.

Usually the last trace of dried petals has to vanish before the seed is ripe enough to harvest.

You can test a couple of seed heads by shaking the seed into your hand. When the seed flows freely, it’s ready to harvest.

But if your pots are out where rain could attack them, it might be best to cut a few stalks of your oldest flower heads and dry them inside. Rain-soaked flower heads can rot.

Also, do take at least one of your pots of dianthus with you when you move.

Odd things can happen in moves, and this way, your dianthus will be doubly safe.

Dear Anne,

“I want to seed spinach in pots this fall. I used to seed Bloomsdale spinach, but didn’t have too much success lately. So I wanted to ask you what your favourite spinach seed is, that would be available locally.”

Bernie Epting, Vancouver

A spinach that’s especially good at overwintering is ‘Avon.’ It has large, tender leaves and grows quickly.

Another spinach that gets through most of our winters is ‘Samish.’ This spinach has thick leaves and doesn’t hug the ground as much as some, so stays a little cleaner.

Both should be available locally, because they’re sold by West Coast Seeds (www.westcoastseeds.com).

Most garden centres here carry West Coast Seeds. The company is based in the Ladner area, where they have a store and test garden. You can also order online.

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