If ever there were a crop to grow to make a person feel certain of a green thumb, it’s summer squash. When they start coming in, they don’t stop. The sideboard in the kitchen quickly goes from bare to a stack of fresh produce that seems insurmountable. There is no way a couple, say my wife Emma and me, can keep up with the production of half a dozen plants.
This year Emma has planted four zucchini plants and four crookneck (yellow) squash for us, and a couple of weeks ago the harvests started rolling in. Multiple times a week we emerge from the garden with four or five squashes in hand. We’ve learned to put them in breakfast. We’ve learned to can them (squash relish has become a personal favourite) for later. We’ve learned that no matter what we do there’s always more…at least till the autumn frost.
One thing we can’t do, however, is give them away. An interesting issue arrived in the fact that all of our friends, too, grow gardens. They also put a handful—or just a couple—of squash plants into their plots, which means they are addressing similar overabundance. On the other hand, we hardly have enough of a harvest to supply a soup kitchen because our eight plants can’t produce that much. In other words, we are left with a seemingly troublesome amount of surplus.
What a wonderful problem we have. Not long ago, we’d read about it with giggles in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Yes, that’s a recommendation!) in which she recounts locking her car door to avoid the “gifted” bag of summer squash being left on the seat when she’s in town. Like her, and the gift-givers, we are producing, at least in one facet of our garden, too much food. Now, what do we do?
The obvious first answer to too much fresh produce is to horde it away for leaner times. In essence, most of us, especially us self-sufficiency types, have that as a goal when planting a garden. We enjoy bountiful growing seasons when they are happening, but we are also an industrious sort preparing for winter with jars of jam and freezers of fodder. We are storing squash for the winter, no doubt, but let us not forget that one only has so much time to put away the produce and only so much will to eat the same thing every day..
- Squash and cucumber relish: A recipe we’ve discovered within the last couple of years, squash and cucumber relish has quickly become a favourite of mine. I like to spread it on hummus toast in the morning for breakfast. I like to spoon a little atop some stew or hearty soup. It’s how we can our squash. It involves vinegar, so the acidity level is high enough to keep the canning process simple.
- Frozen chunks: While freezing squash isn’t the first option most of us think of, it does work reasonably well, and it works wonderfully when flavour rather than textural integrity is the goal. Frozen squash can be tossed into wintertime chilli and stew to provide some chunky veg when we need the nutrition. This probably only warrants a little space in the annual collection of frozen goods, but we do it.
Share the Surplus
Admittedly, I’ve already kind of poo-pooed this idea by noting that most of our friends, the close ones at least, are into gardening as well. Of course, that’s not to say we don’t have any outlets for excess squash, and it’s also not to say that, on occasion, some of the surplus can’t be foisted upon friends in real time. The foisting can even be fun.
- Neighbours/Family/Visitors: Inevitably, there are people around who don’t grow their own garden. While such a choice seems inconceivable (I know!), it’s not to say such people don’t like some fresh produce. We have managed to pass some squash to my mother when she visited and plied our neighbours with some. That only makes for better relationships and healthier friends and family.
- Potluck Party: As for friends and family in a similar boat, it’s also fun to go the potluck route. Potluck parties are a good excuse to get together, and during a busy garden season, we sometimes need that. In terms of squash, the challenge could be that everyone prepares a different dish with the same ingredient, setting the stage for a serious squash-off.
In the throes of so much food being harvested, it can become easy to overlook the fact that not only humans need to eat but also animals and plants. While squash, unlike many plants, is something we readily digest and find delicious, it’s also something other species might delight in having a few servings of. We don’t have to store it all for ourselves.
- Animal Feed: Chickens will tear into some summer squash, but so will many other common farm animals: pigs, horses, goats, cows, and even fish. This is an especially good way to get rid of those fruits that get a little overgrown/tough when left an extra day or two. This is actually part of the “share” scheme of permaculture.
- Compost: At times, composting fresh veg can feel a little bit painful, perhaps wasteful, but it’s important to remember that it is the natural cycle. We can only eat and store so much. If we don’t need it, then nature should use it. The microbes and worms and other soil life will happily devour this year’s crop to help us grow next year’s.
It’s important to be realistic about donating fresh produce to soup kitchens and the like. The same dozen extra squashes that seem daunting in an individual’s kitchen may seem wholly inadequate in a large-scale kitchen. If there isn’t enough of an ingredient to feed the masses, often that ingredient is left out. It’s a sad reality.
- Donating Squash: Rather than making a tiny donation of squash, hoping other growers have done the same, collaborate with those friends trying to sneak bags of squash onto your car seat and compile a few dozen fruits to donate somewhere. In fact, contact the kitchen beforehand to ensure they’ll be utilised and how many they’d actually need. There’s no point in donating food that’ll just sit and rot somewhere else. Soup kitchens have to plan ahead of time. In some places, there are also centralised food banks that specialise in getting fresh produce to needy and welcoming recipients.
- Co-op/Market/Giveaway: Assuming that a surplus is like ours, i.e. too much for two people but not enough to open a vegetable stand, a good avenue might be to find a co-op or market stall that will trade in fresh produce. Of course, there is still the issue that we all get summer squash at the same time here, so the demand may not be adequate. It might pay to simply create a fresh produce box out by the street for passersby to partake of. Greens might not last in such conditions, but squash and cucumbers and other vegetables will keep for a while in a shady spot.
At the moment, Emma and I are still enjoying the abundance. Having squash over grits in the morning or in a scramble is still exciting. We’ve been eating it every day, we’ve canned a few jars of relish, but we’ve got a basket full of them picked with about as many developing on the plants. As our green beans trickle in, as our tomatoes take hold, as carrots culminate, we are feeling the need more and more to taste the new things, and that means the surplus will only grow that much faster. At least we have some choices as to what to do about that.