Ciscoe Morris, Seattle Times garden writer, offers tips on keeping squirrels from eating flowering bulbs; when to harvest squash and what to use as a protective ground cover.

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Outwit the varmints.

It’s prime time to plant tulips and other spring blooming bulbs, but if squirrels frequent your garden, you are undoubtedly aware of how difficult it is to keep those varmints from digging up and eating the bulbs. In the past I often recommended planting the bulbs surrounded by chicken wire or hardware cloth. Now there’s a new way to protect bulbs that is much easier and just as effective.

Dig the hole and plant the bulb as you normally would, but instead of caging it, cover the bulb with poultry grit, which is made up of crushed granite, shale, or oyster shells, and is available at feed stores and some hardware stores. The squirrels don’t like trying to dig through the sharp grit and quickly give up.

Unfortunately, if the squirrels do what they did at my house and exact revenge by eating the flower buds right when they emerge from the soil, there are only two effective control methods. Either plant one of the many types of spring blooming bulbs that squirrels won’t eat such as Chionodoxa, snowdrops, Daffodils hyacinth and Fritillaria, or adopt a wiener dog to patrol your garden.

Harvest your winter squash before a freeze hits it.

To store well and develop sweet flavor, winter squash must be allowed to fully ripen on the vine. At the same time, however, freezing temperatures can harm the fruit, so it must be picked before the first frost. It can be a bit tricky to know when a winter squash is ripe.

Usually the first sign that it’s time to harvest is that the vines begin to dry out. Another sign is that the fruit turns color. For instance ‘Spaghetti’ squash turns tan, or yellow, ‘Delicata’ usually turns cream colored with dark stripes and ‘Butter Cup’ squash usually turn dark green with silvery or golden striping.

Once it colors up, test to make sure the rind has hardened sufficiently by applying pressure to the skin, if it doesn’t yield to a bit of pressure it’s time to harvest. When harvesting, use pruners to cut it and leave a few inches of stem on the fruit. Leaving a shorter stem will cause the fruit to rot.

Most winter squash need to be cured by keeping them in 70-degree temperatures for 15 days before storing them in a cool dry place.

Delicata and acorn squash don’t need curing. Simply store them cool and dry and you’ll be enjoying delicious squash all winter long.

Manure never smelled so good!

Improve production in your vegetable garden by sowing a fall cover crop, commonly referred to as ‘green manure’ before mid-October. Fall cover crops usually consist of legumes such as winter peas, fava beans, clovers or vetches. They germinate and grow quickly enough to form a protective ground cover before winter freezes set in, yet not so fast as to harm late season, or overwintering vegetable crops.

Cover crops protect and improve the soil in several ways. The thick foliage prevents pounding winter rains from compacting the soil surface and leaching out nutrients, while choking out winter and late spring weeds. At the same time it forms an aggressive root system that breaks up and aerates hard soil.

Most important, especially when sowed with an inoculant (available at nurseries) members of the pea family used as a cover crop host special fungus that collect nutrients and make them available for vegetable-crop growth. In spring, simply turn the cover crop into the soil. If you are going to sow a fall cover crop, don’t delay. Seeds germinate best when soil temperatures are in the 50 to 60 degree range.

Ciscoe Morris:; “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV