North Georgia Candy Roaster Seeds

North Georgia Candy Roaster were originally grown by the native Cherokee tribes residing in present day North Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, and were an important food source to these tribes, making them an excellent variety for the deep south.

They are heavy squash with a weight range of 10-250 pounds (according to Slow Foods USA) though most fruit from the vines we grew ranged between 8-15 pounds. A pale orange color with greenish blue tips and some green striations and patches, they come in both tear drop and banana shapes. We found that most of the squash produced later in the season tended to be more banana shaped, and have more green coloration than fruit produced earlier in the season.

These store well and taste excellent cooked in any manner imaginable. They also make a great substitute for pumpkin pie around the holidays.

Ideal for three sisters planting, their large leaves help keep moisture in the ground and the weeds at bay, these massive vines can reach lengths of at least 25 feet. (There’s no telling how long they could get if you coax them along.) Twelve plants produced well over 200 pounds of squash throughout the summer with minimal watering once vines were established.

Excellent cooked in a variety of ways, these squash store well in a cool dark room, and make a wonderful substitute for pumpkin in pies during the holiday season.

North Georgia Candy Roaster is of some concern as it is an open pollinated plant with separate male and female flowers that require a third party for pollination. Because of this necessity, it is important to make sure there are no other Cucubrita maxima varieties within a mile, or hand pollination must be performed to ensure seed purity.

North Georgia Candy Roaster
Cucubrita maxima
Long sprawling vines, with numerous 10-15 pound fruits.
20 seeds, $3.00 plus shipping and handling.
Email us to purchase some.

You can read more about how we came to pick this variety, purchase some, or watch as I use the North Georgia Candy Roaster as a subject demonstrating hand pollination of the Cucurbitacae family.

A Winter Squash for the South

Growing up in New England, winter squash were a staple in the garden – they were sweet by nature, but the cold falls brought the sugars out to perfection; their thick rind allowed them to sit in the root cellar all winter waiting to be used, sweetening as the days passed; their flowers are showy and easy to hand pollinate, and there is an endless variety to choose from ranging in flavor, shape, color, texture, size and plant habitat. I would often find myself perusing farmers’ markets looking for odd shaped and unique varieties to save seed from in the hope that something might come back true to form the following years.

When we moved to Georgia, the farmers’ markets were all but devoid of winter squash. The local nurseries could not suggest any specific varieties that would weather the heat, the squash borers, and, in the end, produce something remotely palatable. Initially, I went with a couple of my favorites: Delicata and Sweet Dumpling. Unfortunately, they did not work so well. By the time the weather started to cool, the fruit had been harvested and the vines long dead. Squash vine borers feasted, and the little squash we actually harvested was anything but sweet.

Not willing to miss out on one of my favorite garden delicacies, I went to the internet to search for some answers. I always learned that squash was a staple of Native Americans, and the Cherokee inhabited this land until they were driven to Oklahoma, so I started there and somehow ended up at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in search of something called the North Georgia Candy Roaster.

Unlike my favorites – which are all varieties of Cucubrita pepo – the Candy Roaster is a Cucubrita maxima, which means it’s big: the vines are big, the leaves are big, and the squash is big, but it’s over sized leaves, lengthy vines, and ability to root at will from nodes along the vine make it an ideal candidate for three sisters planting, keeping weeds down and moisture in, a plus when it comes to gardening in the deep south. According to Slow Foods USA, the Candy Roaster was cultivated among the Cherokee tribes in what is today western North Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee. We are in Middle Georgia, so our winters are incredibly mild, and our summers are hot, but based on the plants historical habitat, we had to give it a shot, and by mid-summer, we were not disappointed.

These squash did excellent in the garden, almost too well. By summer’s end we were inundated with squash. Throughout the summer we continually moved vines to grow back into the corn, but eventually just began trimming the ends of the vines that became too long and unruly. By the end of summer we had a couple of wheel barrows full of the orange squash either tear drop or banana shaped, all with a green tip and some with greenish blue striations. They were a marvel to look at, they tasted just as good, and to top if off, they produced all summer, though the second crop was much skinnier and smaller, they were just as tasty.

Just a small batch of our second harvest.

This squash was certainly a winner and one we will continue to plant for seasons to come. SlowFoodsUSA lists seed availability as concern, but fortunately, we have some seeds of this variety available. You can find these seeds here.

Using the North Georgia Candy Roaster as a subject, I made a how-to video demonstrating hand pollination of the Cucurbitacae family. You can watch it here.

Homestead Hack #4: Van Dried Tomatoes!

There is a point in the growing season, that it almost feels as if the tomatoes will never ripen. The plants sit, loaded down with green globes, waiting for something, of what you’re not sure. You check every day, peering into each bush hoping to find the red gems inside, but to no avail. Then finally, they start and before you know it, you are inundated with tomatoes. This is a good thing. Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables in the garden: they can go on sandwiches, in salads, canned whole, chopped or crushed, cooked down into sauce, juiced, frozen, processed into an endless array of condiments, the list goes on. And for each culinary use, there is a specific tomato that breeders and gardeners have selected for over the years.

At my house, we eat what we can fresh, and turn the rest into chopped tomatoes or sauce for pizzas and soups later in the year, and likewise, we always grow a couple of varieties of tomatoes: big hearty ones with few seeds that are great for slicing and chopping that break down well in sauce, and smaller cherry varieties ideal for snacking and salads. Unfortunately, this year, due in part to a very wet spring, our cherry tomatoes did not fare well, luckily we had planted a number of Black Vernissage as a test crop, and while not a cherry tomato per se, they are on the smaller side with most fruits smaller than a golf ball and for all intents and purposes, they eat just like a cherry.

spiced.jpgMaking sauce, while enjoyable the first seven quarts, can become something of a burden, especially when it’s 95°F outside, and you are filling the already hot kitchen with more heat and steam. And let us be serious, no one is really salivating when it comes time to crack open a jar of sauce; it is an excellent addition to a dish, but you can not snack on it by itself. Of course, we add some of our cherry-types to sauce for additional flavor, but we also like to turn many of our cherry tomatoes into a healthy garden snack that can last well beyond a tomatoes natural shelf life: sun-dried tomatoes. It may be up for debate as to whether or not these actually qualify as sun-dried tomatoes, but that is neither here nor there, the fact of the matter is they are a delicious snack and exceptionally easy to make.

This year we used our Black Vernissage, but because of their larger size, we had to cut them up into quarters or even sixths; when using typical marble size cherry tomatoes, we only cut them in half. Once cut up we toss them in a bowl with some spices. Sometimes we will stick to traditional Italian flavorings, and other times we attempt more exotic flavors – a personal favorite is salt, cocoa powder, cayenne and olive oil – but whatever flavorings you choose, make sure to use salt and olive oil as these ingredients help speed the drying process and mitigate potential mold growth. Once the tomatoes are thoroughly coated, they are laid out – so as not to touch each other – on old dehydrator trays, or cookie sheets, or whatever is easily movable and available. Sometimes with juicier tomatoes, it is better to start them on solid trays so the juice does not drip to the surface below. Once everything is laid out, I put them in my van.

tom-car.jpgYes, you read that right. In the summer, my van works as the ideal solar oven. I put the trays on the dashboard and let the sun do the work. If you have vents (like I do in my man-van) you can crack them, or you can just crack the windows a little, but some air flow is vital. After the first day, when most of the dripping juice has evaporated, I will move the tomatoes onto some aluminum screen that I have set aside just for this purpose, or you can use the screen inserts from a dehydrator if they are not in use elsewhere. Do not stack your trays and make sure they are laid out in the full sun. The olive oil and salt help keep mold at bay, but so do the heat, sun and air flow. I have also found that turning the tomatoes over so the skin side is facing the sun after the first day helps to speed drying. The whole process takes two to three days, depending on the weather, but it is important to check them often; believe it or not, they can go too long and then they not only become too hard to chew, but they can actually burn.

sun dried tom handsOnce cured, we try to get them in jars with rubber gaskets before the kids eat them all. They make great additions to salads and pastas or simply as individual snacks, and they make your car smell garden fresh!

Homestead Hack #3: Paint Your Tools!
Homestead Hack #2: Steam Your Eggs!
Homestead Hack #1: Label Your Eggs!

 

Waiting for the Lull

Some days in the spring, I find myself wanting the dead heat of a Georgian summer to

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It’s always a beautiful morning when the fog is left behind to burn off.

keep me locked up inside, not because I particularly enjoy having cause to take a shower after walking from the house to the car, or because I enjoy paying an obnoxiously higher electricity bill for powering the air conditioning units, but because there is a lull. During fall, we keep busy with the fall crops, give the lawn a final mow and try to enjoy the relatively cooler weather as we drift toward the winter solstice. Winter is a time for bucking firewood, amending the sleeping soil, digging holes for future fruit trees, and trying to harvest some venison before the whirlwind that is spring comes tornado-ing in.

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The sun wakes the bees, reminding them to get to work.

Once spring arrives, there is no slowing down, and this spring has been exceptionally busy. In part because we keep expanding the garden and trying to get more crops in, in part because there are more mouths to feed and more obligatory places to be, but mostly because of the rain. Don’t get me wrong, the rain is usually a good thing in Middle-Georgia,but where as I typically have to mow the lawn once every three weeks, it’s been an every other week ordeal (if not more than that), weeding the garden has been virtually non-stop, and the damp weather has kept the beans from germinating as healthily as they should, leaving them susceptible to aphids and cutworms and other unsavory pests. But we have prevailed. The rain may not be over, but it is slowing and the temperatures are climbing into the mid-90s during the days and evening temperatures hovering right around 70; it seems as if summer is here and the lull is beginning.

IMG_20180602_182429375_HDRWhen things start to slow down we have time to enjoy the sunrises bouncing off the clouds, waking up the bees, eliciting the edamame to show their dainty purple petals and enticing the big showy squash flowers to open for pollination. We have time to sit on the porch, lingering under the fans after dinner, watching the barn swallows swoop in and out of the corn patch as they catch the Lovebugs mating mid-flight. Summer brings the end of school and friends who can stay a little later.

IMG_20180602_182503123IMG_20180603_085014013Of course, just because there is a lull doesn’t mean all work cessates. There are still plenty of chores that need to be done outside in the heat. The lawn still needs the occasional mow, the crops harvested and the animals fed. You can do it in the cool of the morning, but it’s still 70 and muggy as anything you’ve ever experienced and as soon as the sun rises it’s width over the horizon, the temperature starts climbing. The trick is enjoying the time you have to appreciate it all.

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Choosing A Bean

We have seeds for purchase on our “For Sale or Trade” page.

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

Potawatomi Line Up
Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It is a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We did not have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans we have grown when it came to cold nights.

Pot tails
Soaked, sprouted and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We are able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We have tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?