Give Winter Squash Some Love

by Engrid WinslowPhoto of two golden butternut squash.

Now that the nip of fall is finally in the air it is time to celebrate the coming harvest of winter squash.  Winter squashes include the beloved Butternut as well as Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Long Island Cheese, Pumpkins and so many more varieties. The squash should be harvested before the first hard freeze but a light frost will actually sweeten the sugars in the squash fruit. The stems should be fairly dry and the fruit unblemished. If there are any squishy spots, just eat those right away but the others can be stored for up to six months.  The fruit should feel heavy and dense and your fingernail should not pierce the flesh when pressed against it. Cut the squash from the vine so that there is at least a 2” stem and then let them cure at room temperature for a week or two.  After they have cured they should be stored in a cool dry place such as a basement or garage where they will not freeze.

 

Winter Squashes are rich in fiber and vitamins and low in calories but they are also so hearty that they are great for meatless meals.  To my mind, the best way to eat most of them is roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but let’s not forget pies and casseroles with warm winter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  The seeds can also be roasted for a delicious and nutritious snack.

 

Many years ago this recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto in Cooks Illustrated  Italian Favorites that I have tweaked and played with to come up with one of my most beloved recipes.  It gets the center starring role at least once a month during the winter season for its comforting warmth. It seems like a lot of work but this is one that is worth every minute.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

                Serves 4-6

 

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Italian Favorites 2009

 

 

2 TBL olive oil

6 TBL butter

2 LB butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into ½” cubes which should yield 3-4 cups

  NOTE: Reserve seeds, fibers, peels and any extra bits of squash for use later

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

1-2 small onions, minced

2 cups Arborio (Carnaroli can be substituted)

1 ½ cups white wine such as Pinot Grigio that you will also drink with your dinner

1 cup grated Parmesano-Reggiano

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBL minced fresh sage leaves

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the squash over medium-high heat with olive oil until cubes are nicely browned.  Season with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.  Add reserved squash peels, seeds, etc. to pan and cook, stirring to break up the fibers as much as possible until brown.  Place chicken stock and water in a saucepan with reserved, cooked bits of squash, bring to a low boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer.

Place 4 tablespoons of butter in the empty skillet over medium heat and let melt before adding onion, garlic and additional salt and pepper. Cook and stir often until onions are softened.  Add rice and stir until grains are a bit translucent around the edges (about 3-4 minutes).  Add white wine and cook, stirring until it is fully absorbed.  Add 3 cups of liquid (avoiding stems and other bits – Strain if desired but press the solids to get as much flavor from them as possible) and a half of the cubed squash to the pan. After the liquid is completely absorbed and the pan is nearly dry, continue adding liquid about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding another ½ cup. Taste the rice for al dente and then stir in the rest of the squash, sage, nutmeg, parmesan and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add additional liquid if you prefer a looser risotto and sprinkle additional parmesan on the top.  Serve with the same white wine you used to cook your risotto.

 

You can add other things such as spinach, sweet peas and cooked chicken to this recipe if desired.

 

Bee Boulder Family Festival!

Photo of a bee on a pink petaled flower.

photo courtesy of Pexels – Phillip Mullen

September is Pollinator Appreciation Month here in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder is home to more than 550 species of native bees and the city has made a pledge to help recognize, protect and celebrate this diverse pollinator population.  All month long there have been activities for both kids and adults including; pollinator story times, a student poster contest, a native bee lecture, and a hive tour to name a few.

This Saturday we wrap up Pollinator Appreciation Month for 2018 with the Fourth Annual Boulder Bee Festival.  Come to help us celebrate our pollinators at Central Park in Boulder from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. It will be tons of fun with educational activities, live music, face painting and prizes.  Come by the BBB Seed tent to chat pollinators, flowers or whatever you like. We will have crafts for the kids, stickers, seeds and much more.  Hope to see you there!

Photo of a bee keeper holding up a frame of a bee laden honeycomb

photo courtesy of Pexels – Timothy Paule II

 

Honey Bee Swarms

HONEYBEE SWARMS: CA– USE FOR CONCERN?

Swarm of Honeybees on tree branch

Swarming is a large cluster of honeybees (tens of thousands!) hanging in a ball from a surface, and it begins in the spring.  It is reproduction of honeybee colonies. How, you ask?

The hive is considered a super organism, which means all parts are uniquely necessary to the survival of the colony as a whole. Not a single honeybee can survive without the hive. The colony grows and eventually needs to split to reproduce more super organisms at additional nesting sites. This is where swarming comes in.

The “old queen” is programmed in her second year of ruling the hive, to prepare for swarming. This means she will leave, along with tens of thousands of her worker bees, including foragers and house bees alike. Some of the colony will be left behind with a virgin queen bee. The queen is very heavy whilst living in the hive fulfilling her egg-laying duties, and is unable to fly. Thus, she must go on a diet when she knows it is time to swarm. The house bees cease to feed her and she stops laying eggs. Once she is slim and trim enough to take flight, all the bees gorge themselves on honey for the exhausting task ahead.

How does the hive decide to swarm?

Pheromones, otherwise known as chemical messages. Bees use many pheromones to communicate different messages throughout the colony. The queen releases pheromones from mandibular glands (adjacent to the jaw line), which are passed to her worker bees through feeding. Her pheromone “cocktails” can instruct worker bees to collect food, create swarming cohesion, and prevent the maturation of eggs in other female worker bees. This form of communication unifies the colonies survival tactics. One mode of survival is reproducing the hive, and this happens when the colony has become so large that some of the worker bees are not feeding the queen and thus not receiving her pheromones. Such a population believes there is no queen, and begins raising a queen of their own. The existing queen must leave before the virgin queen emerges from her cup.

Meanwhile, the “old queen” is trimming down and sending out scouts to find a location to cluster. A cluster is a ball of bees hanging in strange places.  It could happen on a stroller, car, tree, house, pretty much any surface!  The cluster location isn’t far from the hive, and the swarm will only cluster as long as it takes to find a new nest, which is very brief. So, if you happen upon one, you are one lucky individual to be witnessing such an important part of a hive’s life cycle. Enjoy the view!

During the cluster some of the best foraging bees are sent out as scouts to find the next nesting site. Upon returning to the cluster, the scouts will do a waggle dance. The degree of enthusiasm the bee is waggling will encourage other scouts to verify the nesting site is indeed a good one. Finally, the entire swarm will leave together to begin building their new home.

What should you do if you see a swarm?

Please do not be afraid, but do show respect.Bees are not in the mood to attack at this very vulnerable moment in their life cycle. Stand back, give them space, and watch and listen (the hum of a buzzing colony is music!).  If you are concerned, contact your local beekeeping association for a list of bee rescue contacts.  Do not spray or exterminate honeybees, or any bees for that matter, they are critical to our survival!  1 in 3 bites of the food we eat comes from bee pollination!

I hope you enjoyed learning something new today!   Thank you for joining the movement to save our bees!
Jessica

 

 

 

Two Sweet And Savory Uses For Green Tomatoes

 

A cluster of small green tomatoes on the stem.

photo courtesy of pixabay-HBH-MEDIA-photography

By Engrid Winslow

Summer is starting to wind down and perhaps you want to do something with all of those green tomatoes. Here are two interesting and delicious recipes for you to try. Green tomatoes are high in Vitamins A & C, full of potassium and a good source of fiber.

 

Green Tomato Chutney

Yields 5 1/2 cups

2 lbs green tomatoes                                     ½ tsp mustard seeds

½ lb cooking apples                                         ½ tsp cayenne pepper

1 lb red onion                                                    1 Tbl finely grated fresh ginger

¼ cup packed brown sugar                          1 ¼ cups raisins

2 ½ cups malt vinegar                                     3 green chiles, deseeded and minced

1 tsp salt

Put tomatoes in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep until peels can be easily removed then chop roughly.

Place all ingredients in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the chutney is thick, stirring occasionally.

Can be refrigerated or water bath canned.

 

Green Tomato Jam     Bowl of small shiny green tomatoes and 1 red one.      

Yields 2 cups

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped

1 ¾ cup sugar

1 one inch diameter ginger, peeled and finely sliced or chopped

Place the tomatoes, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl and let macerate overnight. The next day, pour the mixture into a non-reactive pot along with the zest. Stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat and bring to a rapid boil for one minute.  Add ginger, stir well and skim if necessary.

Can be refrigerated or water bath canned.

 

5 Easy Tips for Successfully Planting Grass Seed

Five easy tips for successfully planting grass seed.

 

by Sam Doll

Now that fall is nearly upon us, it’s time to start thinking about planting grass seeds! Don’t know what you are doing? Don’t worry. We are here to help. Here are our 5 tips to successfully plant grass seed this season!

1.      The Season Matters

While some warm-weather grasses, like bermudagrass, should be planted in early summer, most grasses need mild weather to successfully germinate and survive. Freezes and harsh heat can kill off you baby grass before it has a chance to become established. Late Spring and early Fall, when the soil temperature is between 50 to 80 degrees, is the best time to plant most grass seeds.

2.      Find the Right Seed

Find the grass that will suit your lifestyle and location. Some grass mixes, like our Green Manure, are great for restoring the soil nutrients in your soil. Some, like our Colorado Supreme Turf Grass Mix , are better for heavy foot traffic. Native and drought tolerant grasses are great for creating a sustainable and low-maintenance landscapes. Make sure to consider you soil type, climate, amount of sun, and intended use when picking a grass mix.

We have a wide variety of grass mixes that will suit all your needs.

3.      Prepare Your Soil

Once you’ve chosen your site, use a shovel or a sod cutter to remove the existing plants and grass from the area. Remove any debris and rocks you see, till the soil, and fill in any low spots. You want your soil to be broken into pebble sized particles.

Rake the site to even out the soil and remove small debris. Be careful when bringing in new topsoil to make sure it doesn’t contain unwanted seeds.

Optional: You can send a soil sample to your local extension office to have it tested to see if you need any soil amendments. As for pH, you generally want to keep the soil between 6.0 and 7.0.

4.      Seed and Fertilize

Once your site is prepped, it’s time to seed. Using a drop spreader or a broadcast spreader, spread half the seed lengthwise over your site, then use the other half and spread crosswise over your site.  A recommended seeding rate will be listed on the seed tag.

Feeding with starter fertilizer the same day as you seed will provide proper nutrients for early growth and establishment. Make sure the site stays moist, but not soggy, through germination.

5.      Maintenance

Different mixes require different maintenance. Generally, once the grass reaches a certain height, it is recommended to cut it to encourage even growth. Water and fertilize as needed.

 

 

Mexican Sunflower, Pollinator Magnet!

by Heather Stone

Close up photo of an orange Mexican Sunflower blossom.

photo courtesy of pixabay – impradip

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundafolia is a must for the butterfly garden and is a favorite of our beloved monarch butterfly. This 4-6’ tall annual (perennial in USDA zones10-11) is covered in vibrant orange flowers the monarchs can’t resist. But it’s not only a favorite of monarch butterflies. Mexican Sunflower is also equally adored by many other butterfly species including painted ladies, fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtails, giant swallowtails and more. Honeybees, bumblebees and hummingbirds flock to these nectar-rich flowers as well.

Mexican Sunflowers are easy to grow. Plant seeds indoors 1-2 months before your average last frost date or directly in the garden in late spring when the soil has warmed. Once germinated, these plants take off reaching heights of 4-6’ by 3-4’ wide so place them in the back of the border. Staking these tall plants helps to avoid any toppling over. The vibrant orange blooms appear mid-summer and last until the first frost. Deadheading every 2-3 days ensures continual bloom, equaling more visitors. Mexican sunflowers make great cut flowers too and are easy to grow in containers. Don’t leave this beauty out of your pollinator garden.

Mexican Sunflower blossom against blue sky.

photo courtesy of pixabay-4924546

 

 

 

 

Check out this cool video of Monarch butterflies enjoying the blossoms of Mexican Sunflower.

https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterflyGarden/videos/895905987113736/

 

 

 

Seed Hoarders

Chipmunk sitting on a sunflower head eating seeds.

photo courtesy of pixabay -evitaochel

Thank goodness that “Hoarders” TV show doesn’t ever focus on seed hoarders. Gardeners who are very tidy and organized and otherwise not people who collect or hoard things can secretly have boxes full of seed from years and years of saving.  Sometimes the seeds are gifts from friends, or seeds ordered because you forgot you has some left over and bought more or just surplus seeds from generous seed packages. I knew my seed habit was getting out of hand once I started collecting seed myself – now I have paper bags full of saved seeds and had to move from the tiny shoebox to a big box.

This year, I’ve come up with a way to use those old seeds without feeling too guilty…and I’ll save some money, too.  Early Fall is the traditional time to put in cover crops…seeds that will germinate and grow some but die back with a freeze or simply be chopped down and turned into the soil to replenish it in the Spring.  Cover crops get lots of organic matter into the soil without much trouble. But there’s no reason you have to use an official “cover crop.”  The idea is just young plants that get chopped up and mixed in with the soil. This year, I decided to turn some of my seed hoards to cover my garden soil this winter. (Let’s not be ridiculous and use all those good seeds.)

So as I have clear patches of the garden after harvesting, I’m going to remove the big debris, lightly rake the soil and sprinkle out old and gathered seed.  Many of the old seeds won’t germinate but there’s enough that will make a good protective cover.  And as long as you PROMISE to turn the cover crop in before perennials establish themselves, you can even include old packets of grass seed.

My cover crop won’t be as cute as when I put in just winter rye and get a nice even green lawn effect….but it will be great fun to guess what is what!

My hoarded cover crop this year includes:

Years of half-used radish seeds, hybrid tomato seeds from 1996, leftover lawn patch seeds that got wet in the bag, cabbage seeds I forgot about and never gave garden space too, dill, cilantro, caraway and fennel seeds collected from previous years gardens, hollyhocks collected from alleyways. Lots of black-eyed susans, marigolds and cosmos.  While I’m on the seed purge, I’m cleaning out the kitchen pantry and throwing in old spices (coriander, dill, mustard seed) and old whole wheat berries that have bugs, or old beans I’ll never like. Talk about recycling!

You can decide which seeds are iffy by checking out this list of lifespans of vegetable seeds:

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1999/4-2-1999/veggielife.html

Phew. Now that I understand which seeds will happily last until next year, I can order from the End of Year Seed Sale and have good viable fresh seed to save in my seed box for next Spring.

 

HIVE HAPPENINGS IN SEPTEMBER

Two beekeepers in bee suits inspecting a hive.

photo courtesy of pixabay – topp-digital-foto

By Engrid Winslow

Have you ever wondered what beekeepers actually do? Did you think that they just put hives in fields and then visit to collect honey every once in a while? Well, we are going to take you inside the duties of a beekeeper in the first of a series of articles explaining what the bees are up to and how a beekeeper helps them to survive and thrive.

Two jars of golden honey with a honey dipper.

photo courtesy of pixabay – fancycrave1

Honeybees are the only bees that overwinter as a colony and cold weather can be stressful enough that many colonies will not survive without some help from a beekeeper. Even with that help, a hive that is weak or doesn’t have enough food stored or suffers from a mite infestation will not make it through.  Each colony has worked very hard all spring and summer collecting honey and pollen to feed the new brood that the queen spends all day (and night!) laying. They are also storing extra honey and pollen to make it through the winter when there is very little forage (in most parts of the country).  Every colony needs 60-90 pounds of honey to survive the cold season. A responsible beekeeper only harvests whatever extra honey has been stored by the hive. Beekeepers watch their hives grow during the season and add “honey supers” on top of a two-deep hive colony with a “queen excluder” between the hive and the supers. Some hives will produce many of these supers that hold the excess honey – it varies by the colony and by the amount of forage available during the season. The excluder ensures that no brood is laid in the supers. In the early fall, beekeepers check to make sure that the honey stores are capped with wax and proceed to harvest the honey in a variety of ways ranging from using a “capping scratcher” with the frames set over a bucket to using electric or manual extracting machines.

Honey is a marvelous thing to have for personal use, to sell or to give to friends and family as gifts. The National Honey Board website has numerous recipes for all types of dishes using honey as an ingredient.  Check them out at National Honey Board.

There are many other duties for the beekeeper to take care of as the weather cools and, concurrently, the hive is also preparing itself for winter. The queen slows down her egg laying, drones are evicted from the hive and the colony shrinks to a size that can huddle together when it’s cold outside. I’ll share more of this information in my next blog about honeybees.