Friends Drift Inn – What We Grow
When summer starts winding down, that is when Friends Drift Inn Farm is ready to deliver the long awaited winter squash.This page addresses butternuts, delicatas, spaghetti squash, acorn squash and kabochas. We grow larger vine crops including culinary pumpkins and cushaws. And of course we grow decorative pumpkins and gourds for fall decoration.
“You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook’s year. I get more excited by that than anything else.” Mario Batali
We Grow Family Friendly Small Winter Squash
At our market, we serve many young families with small children. Kids love small squash! They love picking out which squash will be their dinner. The beauty of small winter squash are that they are quick and easy. They can be skilleted or baked, both simple enough methods that busy parents and over-worked medical students can conquer without being overwhelmed. Besides that, we just think small winter squash are fun to grow! Giggles
What We Plant and Why
Winter squash are planted just as soon as the ground fully warms. We try to get most of the seeds in the ground by mid-May. The term “winter squash” applies to late maturing squash that develop a hard rind, making them ideal for storing over the winter.
If there is one thing we have learned as market farmers, it is that you can never grow enough winter squash. Winter squash grow in the field over a long season; but the wait is so worth it!
We grow two varieties of butternut, the dumb bell shaped buckskin squash popular for soups and roasting. Butternut squash mature between 80 and 100 days; occupying the fields for most of the season. Their vines sprawl, taking up the space equal to the space needed for four rows of beans. One variety matures two weeks before the other. By having both varieties in production, we get a steady harvest from late August right on up until October’s frost. On a good year, we can harvest five butternuts per plant.
We will also be introducing an a Italian butternut squash this season that grows quite large. (See culinary pumpkins)
The darling of the culinary world, delicata squash, quickly became a local favorite. Appealing to small families, delicata squash are versatile in the kitchen. We use them as a simple side dish, skilleted with olive oil and a sprinkling of cumin. They are also popular stuffed and baked, either with vegetarian options or ground beef.
A favorite with customers trying to reduce gluten consumption and carb intake, spaghetti squash is one of those vegetables we grow more of each year, yet never seem to meet demand. As the name implies, spaghetti squash is a pasta substitute baked, shredded with a fork and topped with any variety of sauces and stewed vegetables.
We are partial to acorn squash, and grow several varieties. By far our favorite, Thelma Sanders, an heirloom squash is popular more with our chefs than our farmers market clients; but we are working on that. Acorn squash have a bit of nutty flavor when roasted, and are a favorite of kids who enjoy having half a baked squash all to themselves.
Kabochas squash are perhaps our most popular of the small winter squash. Their characteristic bottom button makes them appealing not just as good eats, but for fall décor. We grow three varieties of this small squash, each with a different maturity date so as to extend the season right up until frost. These are our favorite variety to cook for samples at the farmers market. We skillet these in olive oil and offer them served with a few savory herbs or a sprinkle of cumin or curry.
The biggest challenges with growing squash are wilt and mildew. The next is insect pests including squash borers and cucumber beetles. Because the vine crops remain in the field over the entire season, they are most vulnerable to attack. Requiring up to 120 days to mature, there is only a two week window to replant early in the season.
The third challenge is the maddening one. Deer are the bane of my farm existence. With winter squash, you wait three and four month for the harvest. The deer do too! They know good eats when they see them. Deer fencing is an expensive investment. One we are forced to make, which will significantly diminish any profits for a few years. When you have less than 20 acres, and the deer count is 21 with anticipated “twinning” births this spring it is a losing battle. But we shall preserve.
Of all our crops, the vining ones give us pause to use fungicide applications and pesticides. So far we have never resorted to spraying. With nearly 8 acres in squash production, a good harvest is critical to our cash flow. Time will tell if we can keep our farm a “no spray” zone. We are committed to a bee-friendly environment so we make decisions with our hive occupants in mind.
While pumpkin farming is less time consuming than other crops, a bonus for Charlie and I, it is also the one that takes up the most real estate in the garden. Space is at a premium in the Appalachian Mountains. How we divvy up ground available, directly influences our income.
In the time it takes to produce a pumpkin, we could have grown three crops of beans. But the upside is, as fall comes to our mountains, the winter squash are “keepers.” We can harvest and hold the produce, without diminishing quality. In fact, many winter squash develop higher sugar content after being stored a few weeks. Our local farmers market stays open through November, and winter squash is a lifesaver as the weather turns cool.
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