The Garden Patch: Nothing better than fresh, garden-grown pie!

When I was a kid growing up on the farm, my grandpa and mom always had a beautiful garden. One of the products of that garden was the annual supply of rhubarb which grew in a patch with the asparagus. The rhubarb was not only tasty (in pies, etc.) but it was a beautiful plant, adding some color to the waves of green from the adjoining garden. So this week, let’s talk about …

Rhubarb

020714-garden-patch-rhubarbRhubarb is a perennial crop grown for its red stalk that has an acid flavor. Rhubarb is often mixed with fruits. It is among the first vegetables ready for use in the spring. Because your planting may last a number of years, locate your plants in full sun at the edge or the end of the garden to avoid damaging them when you do your annual tillage.

Varieties. The most common red-stalked variety is Canada Red; others are McDonald, Ruby, Valentine, Cherry Red and Strawberry Red.

When to plant. Rhubarb is best established in early spring – March to April – by planting a plump, healthy “crown” consisting of a portion of the woody root system with some buds in a shallow trench. You can dig an old plant and divide the root into four to eight pieces for replanting, or you can purchase rhubarb roots from a garden center.

Spacing. Plant rhubarb about two feet apart in rows at least three feet apart. The crowns should be planted in a well drained location with a slightly raised bed to encourage good drainage away from the center of the plant. The roots should be planted 1 to 2 inches deep.

Care. Fertilize rhubarb plantings in the spring so that spring rainfall will carry fertilizer into the root system, encouraging early summer growth. Rhubarb survives by producing vigorous leaves that produce food reserves that are stored in the root system, especially in the fall season. Rhubarb thrives in cool locations and is fairly hardy in severe winters. Always provide good drainage; never allow water to stand over the row.

Harvesting. Rhubarb MUST be established for a season before it can be harvested. Pull leaves as soon as they are large enough to use in the spring, and continue the harvest as long as the leaf stalks are large and thick – up to seven or eight weeks in the spring. After late May to early June, it is time to stop harvesting and allow the plant to produce summer growth for continued bearing the following season. In some seasons, the rhubarb will produce seed stalks. These should be cut and discarded immediately as rhubarb that produces seed also produces less foliage, resulting in a less vigorous crop the next year. Rhubarb dries out quickly. Trim the large leaves and place the leafstalks in plastic bags in a refrigerator to store for a week or more. Excess rhubarb can be frozen for later use.

Common concerns. Crown rot, curculio.


Squash

020714-squashLet’s change the pace a bit and talk about another local favorite! Two main types of squash are grown in Kansas gardens. Summer squash are used in their young or immature stage and grow on compact, non sprawling vines, while winter squash are used at their mature stage and grow on trailing vines. The general culture and care are similar for both types.

Varieties. Summer Squash – Summer Crookneck, Prolific Crookneck zucchini (several hybrid varieties vary depending on color and shape), Eldorado (yellow zucchini), and Sunburst (yellow scallop).

Winter squash – Royal Acorn, Ebony Acorn, Table Queen, Butternut (several hybrid varieties), Improved Green Hubbard, Pink Banana, Striped Cushaw and Spaghetti Squash.

When to plant. Squash are warm-season crops that are damaged by freezes. Plant after all danger of frost has passed – early May is a traditional planting time. A planting of summer squash for a fall harvest can be made in early August. Fall plantings of winter squash should be made in mid- to late-May.

Spacing. Summer squash can be planted two feet apart in rows at least three feet apart. Winter squash need more room for their sprawling vines, with three to four feet between plants and rows at least six feet apart.

Care. Weeds compete with squash plants, making shallow cultivation essential, especially early in the season. Squash benefit from the soil warming and weed control properties of black plastic mulch. Once full vine spread is achieved, little additional care is necessary. When plants are established, squash are fairly tolerant of drier soil conditions. Squash, like other relatives such as cucumber, muskmelon and watermelon have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Bees are required to transfer pollen from flower to flower. Male flowers usually appear first, and there are more male than female flowers.

Harvesting. Summer squash are harvested at an immature stage – before the skin and seeds have toughened. Usually harvesting when they are six to eight inches long is preferable. Squash develop quickly, and regular harvesting is important. Winter squash are harvested at maturity – after the rind or skin is tough. Check the development by trying to penetrate the skin with your fingernail. Immediately after harvesting, allow winter squash to further dry by storing them at 70 to 80 degrees F in a dry location for two to three weeks before moving them to storage areas such as a basement where temperatures are 50 to 60 degrees F. This “curing” process allows squash rind to toughen. Winter squash can be stored for four to eight months. Summer squash should be stored in a refrigerator for only a short time because they are prone to drying out.

Common concerns. Squash bugs and powdery mildew.

What are we doin’ next week? Almost everybody’s favorite – SWEET CORN! Stay tuned and we’ll give you and an inside track on raising this tasty meal-time treat for young and old alike! Thanks for reading and I’ll look forward to our next visit! Till then!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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