By Norman Winter McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Squash and pumpkin for small urban gardens and containers seems like an idea that is simply too good to be true. I want to recommend Balmoral, a hybrid patty pan type summer squash.
I have always wondered about what seems to be the popularity problem with summer squash. Could it be that until now summer squash has been a vine-type plant that runs rampant in the garden or is it that we simply get stuck in our ways, plant a couple of yellow crooknecks, maybe a green zucchini and that is it?
Besides being tasty, you’ve got to give Balmoral a try because it fits in the small compact gardens for today’s urban lots as well as offering a wonderful plant with exotic blossoms on the porch patio or deck.
Catalogs describe Balmoral as setting fruit along the stem much like a Brussels sprout. Indeed that is how it sets those delicious squash, but it is just not straight up like on pole.
There is really no secret to growing this type of squash. If you are growing in a small, outdoor bed there should be plenty of sun and the soil should be fertile and organic-rich. That is one thing nice about the today’s urban style garden; soil improvement is easy, by bringing in organic matter ensuring that you will always have the green thumb.
Plant your seeds once spring has arrived and the soil has warmed. Sow the seeds about 1 inch deep. You can plant two to three seeds to a hill or in short rows. Two or three seeds in a container will provide an abundance of squash for the table.
Again the Balmoral is a creamy white scalloped patty pan type that you may want to initially try harvesting when they are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. These are young and tender and used much like a zucchini.
Slightly larger fruit may be cut and used by hollowing out and using them for stuffing. These larger fruits may also be grated or shredded for baking in breads and other items.
Pay attention to not allow these summer squash to become too large, hard and seedy because this will reduce the energy level of the plant that could been better used to produce more young fruit.
Do harvest oversized unusable squash with developed seeds and throw them away. Examine your the plants every day or so. Like other squash the Balmoral will grow rapidly, especially in hot weather and will generally be ready to harvest within 4 to 8 days after flowering.
We are still in the grip of winter but there is ample opportunity to order these new compact vegetables so you can plant this spring directly in your soil or containers, or in the case of peppers and tomatoes you will have plenty of time to grow garden transplants.
Vegetable gardening is an activity the whole family will enjoy. Make this the year you get back outside. For more information about compact vegetable gardens write to winternaba.org.
Norman Winter is executive director of The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.