Summer heat creates some challenges for local gardeners

Published 8:43 am Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

For most of July and the first half of August, we have had some of the hottest, most humid weather that I can recall in recent years. The heat index has often been over 100, and rain has been abundant. Although we have been fortunate in this area to not have had the heavy rains that cause flooding, we have had frequent rains, unusually high humidity, and consequently, lots of mosquitoes. Most garden crops have been doing pretty well, but some of the plant diseases that thrive in humid, wet weather may be more prevalent this year.

Verlys Huntley

This has been somewhat of a challenging summer for gardeners. Between the abundant crop of mosquitoes and the heat, it has been difficult to keep up with harvesting and weeding. And the grass just keeps growing, and growing, so we need to keep mowing and mowing. Although weeds seem to grow under any weather conditions, they grow even faster in the hot wet weather we have had. Typically we have at least a week or more of dry weather each summer, when the grass doesn’t grow much and may even dry up and become somewhat dormant. But this year has certainly not been a typical year.

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Tomatoes are ripening fairly well now, although I think the crop may be reduced because of the heat. Tomatoes like warm weather, but if the temperature remains too high, the blossoms may abort and not form into fruit. Apples are ripening now, and are also a week or two earlier ripening than normal. The varieties we are picking are Beacon, Whitney Crab, State Fair, Liberty, Williams Pride and Duchess. Cucumbers and summer squash are producing very abundantly. Fall raspberries are ripening now, and if the weather cools off a little, there should be a good crop of them. Extreme heat and humidity are hard on raspberries. The sweet corn came along very quickly this year, too, so you had to watch carefully to harvest it at the peak of tenderness and not let it get too mature. From the way the sweet corn produced, I would expect there to be a bumper crop of field corn, and also an earlier than normal harvest of both corn and soy beans.

Farmers Market notes

The Albert Lea Farmers Market is having a record setting year. We have more vendors than we have ever had, and we have more of a variety of products than ever, more activities at the market, more food served on site, and more entertainment.

We have some growers and sellers at the market who follow the organic philosophy of applying no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified organisms. Although most of our growers are too small to make it practical to be certified as organic, they may be following the same requirements without paying the fees and completing the paperwork required to be certified. Most of the other growers use a limited amount of chemicals, and only when they know there is a problem that needs treatment in order to get a harvestable crop.

Those of us who work in gardens on a daily basis are concerned about the impact of the products we use on the health of the consumer of that vegetable or fruit, and are also concerned about our own health and the health of our families, who not only also eat those vegetables and fruits, but are also exposed to any chemical products during the application and while working in the garden. For that reason, I believe most of the people who sell at the market are very careful in what they apply to their gardens. One of the benefits of buying at your local farmers market is that you have direct contact with the grower, and can ask him or her exactly how that product is grown.

Produce of the week: Summer squash

Summer squash is a general term used for many different varieties of fast-growing, tender-skinned, soft-fleshed, bland tasting squash. Zucchini may be the most famous, but there are also yellow crookneck or straight neck, and scalloped or patty pan, as well as many others.

Summer squash is easy to grow by direct seeding after the soil is warm and frost is past. Plant about 1/2 inch deep, and probably at least three feet apart. I plant about three or four seeds in each hill, and then you can thin down to one or two plants later. The plants get large, and produce quite abundantly, so no need to plant extra.

Summer squash may be the most underrated vegetable in the garden. It has a rather bland taste, but is extremely versatile. They should be picked when the seeds are small and tender. Different varieties can be used interchangeably in recipes. They can be eaten raw, with dips or in salads. They can be steamed, fried, sauteed, grilled, stuffed, in soups, pickled, or baked in breads or cakes. Because of the lack of a distinct flavor, they tend to pick up the flavors of whatever they are mixed with. There may be more recipes inspired by the zucchini than any other vegetable. There are entire recipe books devoted to zucchini alone.

Some of the ingredients that go well with summer squash are onions, garlic, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and oregano, as well as cheese. Grated zucchini, when added to meat loaf, or baked goods, adds moistness without changing the flavor. We like yellow summer squash prepared on the grill. Just coat with a little olive oil, sprinkle on a little garlic salt, and maybe a little basil or oregano, and grill for a few minutes on each side. Delicious! Or if making scrambled eggs, sauté a little grated zucchini in butter, add any other seasonings you may like, such as basil or oregano, add the beaten eggs, and maybe top with a little grated cheese. Very good.

Here are a few other easy recipes:

Zucchini brownies

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup grated zucchini

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method: Beat eggs, sugar and oil. Add zucchini and vanilla. Combine and add remaining ingredients. Bake in a buttered 13 by 9 pan at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

Hope to see you all at our local farmers market in the north Broadway lot each Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.


2 pounds ground beef

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini

1 cup milk

1 cup bread or cracker crumbs

1 onion, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 teaspoon parsley

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Method: Combine all ingredients and mix well. Pack into loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1-1/4 hour.


3 cups grated zucchini

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup Swiss or mozzarella cheese

1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell

1/2 cup light cream or whole milk

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon basil or oregano

1/4 teaspoon thyme

Method: Squeeze zucchini to remove excess water. Combine zucchini, onion and cheese. Spread into the unbaked pie shell. Briefly beat together remaining ingredients and pour over zucchini mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 more minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.


6 yellow squash (could also use zucchini)

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1 tablespoon (heaping) mayonnaise

6 fresh green onions, chopped (using green parts also)

1 tablespoon sour cream

1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm seasoned croutons, crushed

grated cheddar cheese.

Method: Parboil squash for 7 to 10 minutes. Slice lengthwise and scoop out center. Chop up center parts and add cottage cheese, mayonnaise, onions, sour cream and croutons. Mix well and spoon this mixture into the hollowed out squash boats. Top with grated cheese and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Verlys Huntley is the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.