Growing Your Own Leeks

DO let this information “leek” out. Leeks are an amazing vegetable to grow yourself and super easy to care for too. 

I know local prices vary, but I live in one of the most expensive markets in the USA. So, chances are you’ll pay less than the $4 I paid for two small packs of baby leek plants. I wound up getting about 30 full-grown and amazing leeks. 

What’s the secret you ask???

I wish there was more to it, but these babies are simple as can be to grow. Actually, I am so happy there is not more to it. Simple is perfection!

The main thing that I did to get such healthy-sized leeks is water frequently. This was especially important during the hot, dry summer that we experienced this year in my neck of the woods.

Some days that extra watering was a pain in the overalls. However, now we have the bounty of the harvest to remind us how much the effort is worth it. 

Lastly, I noticed that my home-grown leeks are so much cleaner than the ones I buy in the store. Washing them is a snap compared to their store bought friends. I credit this to the less sandy soil that we have here on the DIY backyard farm. 

Traditionally, leeks are grown on very sandy soil which makes cleaning them difficult and time-consuming. As you can see from the top photo, we did not experience any difference in quality. I believe this is because our soil is so loose and drains well. 

Leeks  have made it to our list of must have vegetables for the 2017 growing season. Do you grow leeks? If not, are you planning on growing them now that you have read this post?

Seed Starting Is a Family Affair

Started a tray of kale, swiss chard, beets and cilantro seeds tonight. We used one of the garden planning worksheets from my new book to map out our seed starting trays. No more unidentified plantlings because of lost plant markers or stakes!

Make this a family affair to teach life long skills like living sustainable, self-reliance and even math, geometry and spelling!

State Fair Worthy

cucuzza

proud papa with his monster cucuzza

We have posted and tweeted a lot about the magical squash called cucuzza. In this picture my neighbor poses with a monstrous specimen. Must have been the incredible seeds he got from the Backyard Edible Gardener (me)!

Those seeds came from my wife’s grandfather. He brought them to the USA from his native Sicily. I am thinking these qualify as heirlooms. If not in gardening term than in family terms.

Note, when you plan to eat cucuzza you should not let them grow this long. The cucuzza will develop a much harder texture and will contain a lot of seeds. For eating purposes it is better to pick them younger.

We usually let one cucuzza grow a bit longer and more mature so we can dry out the seeds and keep this “heirloom” going strong.

So, are you sold on growing cucuzza yet?

Proof in the “Ga-Goots”

Here is video proof of the incredible growing “ga-goots” (cucuzza squash). We profiled this fantastic edible garden plant in a recent post.

After posting it we realized people may not believe the incredible growth and other characteristics of this squash.

We do not have any large squash yet, but they are coming. The video below is a quick look at what this thing looks like when growth kicks into full swing.

 

The Next Hot Food…

cucuzza,squash,vegetable

A Cucuzza “Ga-Goots-Za” Plant Growing Up The Fence”

Introducing the Cucuzza! I am betting you never heard of this squash unless you are from Southern Italy, know someone who is, or recently visited the “heel of the boot”. I never heard of or saw it either until I met my lovely wife about 15 years ago. Her Sicilian grandmother served me an amazing pasta with a magical pale green squash in it. I still remember asking her what this tasty squash was. Her reply came in the form of a lovely voice, thick with Sicilian dialect…”Ga-Goots-Za”. Say what? Ga-Goots-Za! At least that is what it sounded like to me when she said it. Other people say it like this, “Ka-Kooza” or “Ka-Koots-Za”.

I have also heard Cucuzza referred to as “Snake Squash”. Usually farmers or people from the South use this term. Once you see Cucuzza grow you will know why. They can get 3 feet long and actually look like snakes! Call it what you want, just be sure to grow some!

Cucuzza squash is a firm, pale green colored squash. The plant has small, delicate white flowers and is a very prolific grower. It does need to be trellised well and loosely tied to the trellis every foot or so. Once the weather heats up this baby will grow like mad. It is not uncommon to go away for a day or two and come back to 4 feet of new growth! No kidding!

I prefer to prune my squash vines well. We are a family of four and will get more than enough cucuzza from just one plant. We have 2 cucuzzas growing this season. They are planted 6 feet apart and will cover the entire length of a 25 foot fence if I let them. I won’t! Pruning also allows the plant to concentrate on making great squash and not just lots of leaves.

It is too late to grow cucuzza this season if you have not already started. It does not transplant well and needs to be planted by seed only when all danger of frost is gone. Seeds are large and should be planted about 1″ deep and kept moist until they sprout. Cucuzza likes moisture, but should never be kept soaking wet. Do not space the plants any closer than 3 feet apart. I keep mine even further apart. Finally, unless you want to feed a community, 2 plants are all you will need. Plant extras and thin them down by keeping the strongest plants.

Timing is everything when harvesting cucuzza. It is not uncommon to have a 6″ squash turn into a 2 foot squash in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the longer they get the harder they are to cook. Young, 8-10″ cucuzza are tender and have fewer seeds. The seeds are also much softer and will not ruin a dish. The longer cucuzza end up being really hard and come along with seeds that will need to be removed before cooking. So, harvest the majority of them young and leave one or two to grow to huge lengths to impress the neighbors.

I am not an expert on cooking cucuzza just yet. My wife’s Nonna cooks it so well that I do not even want to try. I also do not have the time to take the care she does in preparing. I do know most cucuzza needs to be peeled and much of it will need to be seeded. Here is a video I found on the internet with some basic, Southern Italian Cucuzza recipes and prep tips.

http://www.wwltv.com/frank-davis/Franks-squash-smothered-in-red-gravy-97798029.html

Have you ever grown Cucuzza???

 

 

 

Secret Squash Blossoms

Why more people do not know about these tasty treats is beyond me. Are they just and “Italian thing”? No matter, for the next couple of posts I plan to focus on nothing but squash blossoms!

Before we chat up the recipes we need to learn the basics. That is, proper blossom selection. You will most often see people using zucchini blossoms in their recipes. So, let’s talk zucchini.

The video below will walk you the blossom selection process. It is so easy a 6 year-old can do it. Actually, in the video my six year-old does do it!

Up next…recipes!

 

Why I Love My Backyard Edible Garden…

Actually, there are many reasons I love my organic, backyard edible garden. The obvious ones are:

  • Having an abundant supply of organic produce nearly year round
  • Being closer to nature. Just open the door, harvest, and enjoy!
  • Knowing more about the foods my family eats. No chemicals, non GMO, just tasty goodness!
  • It looks fantastic!

Those are all great reasons to have an organic, backyard edible garden. However, just yesterday I was reminded by my kids and their little neighborhood friends about what really gets me charged up. They were playing children’s games in the yard and having a blast. Then, all of a sudden the garden gate swings open and in comes a trio of 6 – 8-year-old girls. The youngest was my daughter. She was leading the other two over to see her personal plot of vegetables.

Next, she explained to the other two girls that they can pick some radishes if they like. She showed them which ones are ready and how to pull them from the ground. She also bragged about her soon to be ready “candy of the garden”, AKA beets. She said those were her favorite because they tasted like candy.

I observed this action with such joy. Every ounce of thought, planning and physical effort I put into the edible garden had paid off in a way I could not quantify. The experience was topped off when they started asking me questions about the radishes and other plants they saw. I could count two new disciples of backyard edible gardening goodness!

Yes, the just picked radishes tasted amazing too!

Invite a New Plant to the Edible Garden Party!

tomatillo,plant

Tomatillo Plant

In our new book, The DIY Backyard Farm Edible Garden Planning Guide, we encourage readers to limit the plant varieties and total plants they put in their edible gardens. This piece of advice stems from a common mistake we often observe. People plant too many types and numbers of edible plants!

If you follow that rule you will thank us later. Plus, you will have more time to devote to learning how to properly grow nd care for each particular plant variety. Take notes throughout the season too. What plants did well? What plants did you like? Which plants could you do without?

Perhaps you grew zucchini and noticed not a soul in the family wanted to eat it. Maybe your children were asking for crunchy cucumbers instead? Let your notes be a guide to planning future gardens. This gets us to the heart of this post.

Each season brings the opportunity to invite a new edible plant into your garden. For example, last season we grew far too many tomatoes. We got carried away by all the heirloom varieties and could not decide which ones to grow. We basically grew them all!

This season we cut back on the tomatoes and found an opening for a new cast member in our edible garden show. Since we love salsa and love tomatillos the decision was a no-brainer. Why not grow tomatillos? Tomatillos it is! We found the lovely plant above and plan to plant it, learn about it* (see the comment below), and hopefully enjoy its delicious fruits in many recipes later on this season.

What new edible plant are you inviting into your garden this season?

*In learning about our new tomatillo plant we learned it is not self-pollinating like a tomato plant! That means you need to plant more than one plant to actually have tomatillo fruits to eat. So, off we went to get another before our local garden center sold out. We also learned tomatillos like to be planted deep just like their friends the tomato plants. 

Tempting Tomatoes

It has been unseasonably cold here in the Northeastern USA. Sure we hit 70 degrees a couple of times, but those days were just spring teases. That brings us to the importance of this posting.

On a recent trip to a local “big box” home improvement store we saw rows of tomato and pepper plants sitting outside in the cold and very windy weather. The plants looked strong and healthy. The temptation was there to buy them and plant them in our empty edible garden beds. Oh how we long for the first tasty cherry tomatoes of the season. We could imagine their bright acidic, yet sweet flavor. The way they burst in our mouths as we bite down…

WAIT a minute! That is not the way it would play out. We fell for this early planting trick last season and struggled all year to coax a decent harvest.

Tomatoes, peppers and many other fruits and vegetables demand warm weather before going into the ground. If they are planted too soon they may face a season long struggle to grow. It seems a quick snap of cold weather can stunt a plant’s growth and potentially reduce the yield come harvest time (if it ever comes). This is exactly what happened to the pepper plants we put in the ground last May. It was early May and colder than normal. Our local pepper expert warned us not to plant, but we did anyway. Those plants never caught up and yielded much fewer peppers than the pepper plants we planted in late May.

Our advice is to buy from local garden centers. These places are not under the same constraints and “buying schedules” as the big box stores. That being said, even local garden centers may feature tomatoes and peppers too soon. They tell us customers demand these plants and if they do not carry them they will lose the sales. We always ask the garden center to tell us exactly when the plants came in and to ensure us the plants came from a greenhouse. Asking such questions to a big box store may prove frustrating because the employees are often not well-informed on such matters.

Growing your own plants is not foolproof either. You will still be tempted to put them outside too soon. However, at least you know the growing history of the plants.

Either way, the temptation to plant too soon will be there. Resist the urge young grasshopper! Wait for mother nature to open her arms to your plants (or ask you trusted local garden center) before planting those warm weather edible garden plants.