HELEN LANG: Hardening off the winter squash

August busy for gardeners, from apples and squash to corn and lilies

August is one busy month for gardeners. So much to do: harvesting, washing off the dirt, peeling, coring, freezing or bottling, or just storing things, such as ripe apples.

It’s a bit overwhelming, especially when its so hot, but think of all the pleasure to be had later and you’ll hardly notice the perspiration running down your back!

A hint about storing apples: To make sure they are ripe, split one in half and if the seeds are brown, the apples are ripe.

If there are apples falling on the ground, they are also ready. Pick and store them in cardboard boxes in the coolest place you can find (under the house, maybe). If you are troubled with rats, I’d put the apples in heavy duty plastic containers, putting a thick layer of newspaper between layers (remember the story of the one rotten apple that spoiled all the others?).

Apples emit a strong scent which may be used to ripen other fruit.

Put a ripe apple in a bag with green bananas, close the bag tightly and presto! Ripe bananas. (Please, this is not immediate, it takes a day or so.)

To make sure winter squash are ripe, try to puncture the skin with a fingernail. If you break the nail, the squash is not ripe (and you’ve ruined your finger nail). If it is ripe, do cut it off close to the vine, leaving the stem attached.

Squash need to be “hardened off” after harvesting. This requires leaving them out in the sun after picking, up off the soil (bringing them in, if rain threatens) for a week or 10 days. I used to wash them off with dish soap and water immediately after harvesting to be sure no fungus was present, but do dry them immediately to prevent mildew getting started.

Squash may also be “hardened off” by putting them on newspapers in a cupboard in a warm place (above the kitchen stove).

“Hardening off” enhances that delectable squash flavour.

Talking about delicious flavour, Don took me to Silver Rill Farm where I bought the first ripe corn of the season. It was bliss! And to think the corn season goes on until early October! Marvelous!

My darling husband, an Englishman, could never understand my love affair with corn, which he was certain was only properly used as cattle food. I finally convinced him to try just one taste and he had to admit it did taste remarkably good. But he never became a real fan.

Remember the lily we talked about last week? I wish I’d been able to move it into the shade, because it lasted only four days and then, in a temper, cast off all but two petals.

Now it needs to be kept watered and occasionally fertilized for at least another month (or more) to build up the bulb for next year’s bloom.

You can stop watering it when leaves and stalk turn yellow. I’m annoyed with it.

It hardly seems fair to demand all this fussing for a mere four short flowering days. There is just too much sunshine on the balcony but there is no choice unless I move and that would require much more energy from me than it deserves.

Fortunately there is another lily in bud, but its an orange colour with a much less dramatic flower. It is a fiesta strain but maybe it will surprise me and be glorious.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. I remind myself that it is going to flower and that’s something to look forward to.

On that note I’ll have to leave you and begin my daily chores — which include half-filling the watering can and staggering out to water those thirsty plants before the sun reaches round to fill the balcony with an entire afternoon of blistering heat, until my poor, precious plants collapse from sun stroke!



Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 30 years.


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