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Mystery plants: compost volunteers

This summer, the mottled umbrella-like leaves of an butternut squash plant have popped up on the west end of Fink Farms.

It's interesting since we never planted butternut squash. In fact, we have never had butternut squash in the farm. But we have composted butternut squash remains, and we have had other volunteer plants from using compost.

(The ever-helpful Google Extension Service offered up an anecdote about a man who scattered his rich homemade compost over his front yard -- and ended up with butternut squashes shading his St. Augustine grass. True? You tell me . . . )

It's hard to keep a compost pile running hot when you're feeding it out of one and a quarter kitchens. (Karen is the one because she just has to take a short walk from her kitchen to the compost pile; I'm the quarter, because composting for me requires collecting decaying veggies, putting it in my car and driving it over to Karen's. For awhile, it got to be such a problem that I was freezing my compostibles to avoid the smell and liquification if a trip to the compost pile was delayed. Eventually, I decided there were better ways for me to be green.)

And with no lawn clippings or fallen leaves, we don't have much in the way of brown stuff to add to the green stuff to keep the composition of the compost pile balanced.

We spent part of our gardening hours recently getting the ripening butternut squashes off the ground and out of the path of bugs, slugs and other vegetable chompers. We put them in the plastic net bags that little cuties or potatoes come in and hung them from plant stakes.

When we talk dirty these days we're debating how you can tell when a butternut squash is ripe. Karen learned from Google Extension Service that butternut squashes are best left on the vine until the first frost.  Here in L.A., we might have to wait a year or two for frost.

For now, we're waiting awhile, and flipping through our recipe files for butternut squash recipes.

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Harvesting the butternut squash

We worried about when to harvest the butternut squash. There's no greening, yellowing, reddening, deepening or other particular sign of ripeness once the squash grow to a certain size. Google Extension Service suggested harvesting before the first frost.  In California, that would be the day before Never.
In Nature's wisdom, the plants told us. The huge green vines that had sprung up on their own, just turned brown and shrank back on their own, leaving six heavy butternut squashes dangling from their red and yellow net bags. (We'd strung them up to keep them away from the wetness of the earth and the mouths of the snails.) We cut them down and divided the harvest.
My first butternut squash, I simply seeded, roasted and scraped the flesh from the shell. Butternut is bland, a lovely gold color, but -- yawn -- not much flavor.  But it was fresh and home grown. That imparts something wonderful to it, if you have the stillness and focus to be aware.