by Sandy Swegel
Two forces collided around the kitchen table this week. First I was oogling our seed catalog and indulging in winter snow day daydreams about summer gardens and how I might turn my tiny urban yard into a farm so I could grow one of everything. At that moment I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful shiny vegetables. Then the second force came. I went grocery shopping for my favorite winter recipe: a very simple roasted winter vegetable dish with squash and sweet potatoes and beets, marinated in olive oil and rosemary. Yum. The winter squash was even on sale. Then sticker shock hit. A single large winter squash was $5, even on sale!
The force of wanting to buy more seed collided with the force of not wanting to pay retail prices for food. The only natural outcome is I have to find more space to garden so I can plant more squash.
It’s too late for any of the summer or fall garden expansion methods of either tilling in land or doing some lasagna gardening. So I will use the easy method my urban farmer friend Barbara taught me. Out in a neglected corner of the yard where there’s just some old grass, I’ll dig a shallow hole next May and fill it to an overflowing mound with a bucket of compost. I’ll plant squash seeds there and cover the surrounding grass with cardboard. The squash plants will grow over the cardboard as it takes another year to make good garden soil underneath. I can drape the burgeoning squash plants over the fence and maybe up an old ladder onto the shed roof. (I did mention the tiny yard, didn’t I?) But the key to expanding my garden this way is that I’m not doing all the heavy work of putting in a new 10 x 10 garden bed for squash. The squash roots and cardboard are going to help do that. My yield won’t be as high this year as a full amended composted garden, but then the work will be almost nothing to grow a lot of $5 squash for the price of $1.89 seed packet.
The key to baking yummy winter vegetables is to cut them in 1-1/2 inch pieces, marinate them in olive oil, salt and rosemary, and bake them on flat cookie sheets. The flat baking sheet is crucial to the outcome because then the sides of the vegetable get a nice crisp roasted texture. Here’s a more formal recipe: