Fall harvest coming to a close after one of driest, hottest summers

Published 9:22 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

We are now into the fall season, but I think we will all remember this past summer as being a “truly unusual” summer. It has probably gone down in the record books as being one of the driest and hottest summers on record, and we are still suffering a severe drought in this area. Although some local areas did get a little rain this past Saturday and Sunday, we are so far below normal that it will take a lot of moisture to make up this deficit. Hopefully we will get more rain before the ground freezes.

Verlys Huntley

Because the early hot weather brought things on two to three weeks earlier than normal, some farmers were able to complete their harvest of soybeans and corn earlier than normal, and with little if any drying necessary. Most farmers harvested corn before soybeans this year. Our son-in-law harvested all his crops, and had most of his fall tillage done in September, something which had never happened before. Although yields were reduced, most farmers were surprised by the yields they got, considering the small amount of rain received this year. And not having to dry their crops did save money for them.

Email newsletter signup

Gardening this year was certainly challenging. Watering to some extent was a necessity, and working outside in the heat and humidity was difficult at times. Those crops that do well in hot weather, and don’t need as much water probably did pretty well. Many people lost their apple crop and other tree crops because of the hard freeze when the trees were blooming. Fortunately, that did not happen for us, and we probably had the largest apple crop we have ever had, with our two walk in coolers both full of some of the later varieties of apples. In general, later varieties of apples will store in cold storage for several months. Because of the dry weather and the fact we could not water our trees, some of the apples were smaller than normal, but have very good flavor. Some of the root crops sent down roots much deeper than normal,  and I actually had to give my carrots a good soaking of water in order to be able to dig them from the ground.

Most gardeners have almost everything out of their gardens, with the exception of some of the root crops. Some things like carrots and beets probably get a sweeter flavor after freezing weather. I have tilled up a lot of my garden, and even seeded down one area with winter rye, in an attempt to provide more organic matter to the soil. This is also the time to plant your garlic. And you may want to mulch it, in case we don’t have a good protective layer of snow this winter.

Produce of the week: squash and pumpkins

The word squash comes from the Massachuset Indian word askutasquash, meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” Although the Indians may have eaten it raw, we like our squash cooked. The word pumpkin originated from the Greek word “Pepon,” which means large melon, and morphed eventually into the English word “pumpkin.” North American native American Indians used squash or pumpkin along with maize (corn), and beans to create their “Three Sisters” to create a early version of sustainable agriculture long before the arrival of European explorers. Corn served as the trellis for  the beans, the bean roots set nitrogen in the soil for the corn and helped stabilize the corn on windy days, and the squash or pumpkin plants shaded and sheltered the shallow corn roots and preserved moisture and discouraged weeds.  Commonly a fish was buried alongside the seed when planting as additional nourishment or fertilizer. These “Three Sisters” provided an important part of their diet. Pumpkins could be stored for a while, or dried and ground into flour for later use. The seeds were also used as a food and even as medicine, and even the blossoms were added to stews.

Although pumpkins and winter squash are closely related, many of the pumpkins today are grown for Halloween or fall decorating and are not edible. Winter squash can be used interchangeably in most recipes calling for pumpkin, and in fact much of the commercially canned pumpkin is  not really pumpkin, but is a type of squash. The three most common types of winter squash are acorn, butternut and buttercup. I use the butternut when making pumpkin pies or anything else calling for pumpkin.



Baked Pumpkin Rice Pudding

1 small pie or sugar pumpkin (3 to 3-1/2#)

l Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

l/4 C. packed light brown sugar (Plus more for topping)

kosher salt

2/3 C. instant rice

1   12 oz.can evaporated  milk

1 Tbsp.molasses

¼ tsp. vanilla extract

¼ tsp.ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Slice off and reserve the top l-1/2 inches of the pumpkin.  Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub the inside with  butter,  then rub with 1 tbsp. brown sugar and a pinch of salt.

Combine rice, evaporated milk, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon and remaining 3 Tbsp. brown sugar and a pinch of salt in small saucepan and bring to boil, stirring occasionally.

Put  pumpkin in a baking dish and fill the pumpkin with the rice mixture.  Cover with the pumpkin top and add one inch of boiling water to the baking dish.  Cover loosely with foil and bake until pumpkin is tender and the rice pudding is thick (about two hours).  Stir, scraping the pumpkin flesh into the rice pudding.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and serve.


Magic Pumpkin Pie

1 unbaked pie shell

2 C. pumpkin (or squash)

l  15 oz. can condensed milk  (not evaporated)

1 egg

½ tsp.nutmeg

½ tsp.ginger

¾ tsp.cinnamon

Blend and pour into pie shell.  Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate for at least one  hour.


The Albert Lea Farmers Market will be open in our usual outdoor lot until Oct. 31, and then will be at the Northbridge Mall beginning Nov. 3.  In addition to fall produce, there is always  lots of delicious baked goods, jams & jellies, pickles, salsa, fresh eggs, candies, and some unique craft items.

See you all at the market!


Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.