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Stories from the valley

A Season in our Gardens – Last Legs and Winter Garden

Contributed by Paul Buttner

Contributed by Luke Matthews

Contributed by Tim Johnson

The adventure with our gardens this year has been great! A few vegetables are still hanging on so there are green tomatoes and of course some squash to think about. Really though, its time (past time really) to think about our winter garden. These last warm days before the nights turn cold and the days grow short are critical to get things started. So here were are with the transition – out with the old and in with the new!

red tomatoes growing in a garden

New Garden – Paul Buttner, Environmental Affairs Manager

I think I’m going to depart from my gardening comrades on the subject of a winter garden.  I am actually planning to take a break and use the fall season to focus on two non-gardening passions of mine—salmon fishing in Sacramento River and duck hunting up in Colusa County.  My boat and camper are standing ready to help me out with both of these next seasonal adventures as I escape to these cool weather sports.  I also have a few other flower beds to build in my front yard and have been waiting for cooler weather and clearer skies to start those projects (when I’m not hunting and fishing in my spare time).

So, sadly I will say goodbye to my garden which is losing productivity by the day.  What’s still hanging on for dear life?  It’s my tomatoes and, as you know by now, I love my tomatoes!  As you can see, my plants are still producing deep red fruit—smaller sizes—but equally tasty.  Lately, I have been making homemade spaghetti sauce and really enjoying the addition of this tasty freshness into my marinara sauce.

large yellow squash

Diverse Urban Garden – Luke Mathews, Wildlife Program Manager

Tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are still plenty in my garden, but everything is starting to slow down as weather cools and days shorten. Spaghetti Squash plants have been very productive this season and we just started harvesting. If you have never had them, these squash are very unique. To prepare them simply cut in half, drizzle with olive oil and salt, then bake. Once they are cooked, use a fork to scrape out the squash from its half shell, which comes out in strips that resemble spaghetti. You can pair this with your favorite pasta sauce but I usually make a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers from the garden and top it off with fresh parmesan cheese. While my fiancé prefers real pasta, I enjoy the nutty flavor and texture of spaghetti squash! 

As we approach the end of this month I will be pulling out all the summer plants and turning the chicken loose into the garden beds for some natural pest control. Like my colleague Paul, I also spend a lot of time hunting and fishing in the fall and winter; however, I do enjoy the low maintenance nature of gardening in the winter. For the next season garden I will primarily focus on the ‘dark greens’ such as collards, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Additionally, I will plant leeks and onions since winters in California are typically mild enough to allow their growth and production. I look forward to the changing season and rotation to a winter garden soon!

green tomato

Large Rural Garden – Tim Johnson, President & CEO

One of my favorite uses for green tomatoes is making chow chow. Never heard of it? Me either until I a friend from the South sent me a jar and his family recipe. Basically chow chow is a green tomato relish. It’s easy to make and is a great addition to your summer canning. Use it on all things pork but especially pork roast and grilled sausages.

For my winter garden, I stick with carrots, beets, and broccoli. A lot of people plant lettuce – which is great but I can never keep the slugs out of it. Regardless, it is time to get started NOW! Every time I’m disappointed in my winter garden it is always because I started too late. Don’t let this happen to you. Sacrifice the zucchini, pull the beans, and make chow chow. Get that winter garden started!

Southern Chow Chow

Here is a link to a simple recipe for this great relish