Oskaloosa Squash, Wayne White has learned during the years, is one of those small investments that pays out by the bucketful.
In mid-May White transplanted zucchini and straightneck yellow squash into one of the gardens on his Creek Ridge Farm and recently found himself at the peak of the picking season, harvesting at a rate of about 40 pounds a week.
White has no trouble disposing of his bounty as Creek Ridge Farm is a member of the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, a subscription vegetable service that provides customers with a bag of fresh produce each week during gardening season.
``Zucchini is kind of notorious for overrunning you but the straightneck yellow will produce twice as much,'' White said.
And that's just fine. White, who has been growing summer squash since he was in graduate school, is partial to the buttery flavor and creamy texture of the straightneck yellows.
He and his family like their summer squash any number of ways.
``It's good raw. I think it's excellent raw,'' he said. ``It's easy to fix in a stir fry.''
Squash should be picked when they weigh half a pound or slightly more, depending on your tastes. White said the smaller squash probably do better in a stir fry as the larger ones can get pulpy and seedy. Even then, those squash can be used in breads.
When he picks squash, White expects to be able to keep them a few days if they're going to market and about two weeks if they'll be refrigerated for home use.
It's best to cut squash from its stem, rather than to twist it off, and to leave the blossom set on the end of the squash alone.
``The most important thing for keeping squash is to not nick it,'' he said, noting that he always brings newly picked squash in from the garden in a plastic container. ``I don't use a metal bucket.''
White says his squash are so prolific this year because he planted most of the vines in soil that is rich with natural compost.
``I fed cattle here for three years and then kept them off for two years and then tilled all that organic matter into the soil,'' he said.
Plants on the edge of that garden, in an area where the soil was not amended by cattle, are producing about half as much squash.
During the years, White has learned a few tricks to head off infestations of squash bugs and other pests. For one thing, he doesn't plant squash in exactly the same spot two years running. For another, he doesn't make it easy for pests to reproduce or to find their way back into the garden via the compost pile.
``When your plants are done, pull all your vines. I put them in a separate pile and when they're dry I burn them,'' he said.
Summer Squash Saute
1 small onion, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced and pressed
1wly picked squash in from the garden in a plastic container. ``I don't use a metal bucket.''
White says his squash 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup tomato, cut into chunks
salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and garlic. Over medium heat, add the squash and toss for three minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the basil and, if necessary, a tablespoon of water. Turn down the heat and cover for five to seven minutes. Add tomato and toss until the tomato is hot. Correct the seasoning. Serves four.