Halloween vegetable stories and a squash update


Hope everyone enjoyed a spooky, stormy Halloween. Above is the oversized turnip that my mom carved a few years ago in accordance with the pre-pumpkin British Isles tradition. You can read about carving turnips in this Atlas Obscura story. I have to say pumpkins are better suited for the Jack-o-lantern task, what with their squishy, seedy interiors yet relatively firm exteriors.

Another Halloween-tradition Atlas Obscura story landed this week, titled “Scottish Singles Used to Spend Halloween Picking Kale.”

ON THE EVE OF HALLOWEEN, the old lore goes, the veil between worlds grows thin. Spirits walk the earth; magical forces are particularly potent. And to mark and make the most of this spooky-special time of year, Scottish youths sneak onto local farms or into their neighbors’ gardens at midnight, blindfold each other, pull stalks of kale from the ground, then read them, analyzing their length and girth, the quality of their cores and taste, and the amount of dirt caked onto them, to divine what kind of partner they’ll marry.

Which is fun, though I bet some of you are saying “stalks of kale, what?” For most of us, kale just looks like this:


A bunch of leaves emerging from a central stem, yes? But if anyone’s managed to coax their kale plants along well into the summer, or through a winter into the following spring, you’ve noticed that the lower leaves tend to fall off if not cut, and the plant keeps getting taller, and soon enough there is in fact a stalk with some leaves at the top. In mild-summer climates, this just keeps happening until the stalk gets fairly tall (those Scottish teens would have been pulling up kale many months old). In our hot climate, kale tends to bolt (go to flower) long before it’s tall enough for its stem to be thought of as a stalk.

If you do want to try creating kale stalks, the secret is to keep the plant from being stressed enough to bolt (which is just a plant’s way of saying “I give up, it’s time to reproduce and die”). Not too hot, and not too cold either–early cold stresses also promote bolting. You’d need to keep pests away, too, since being eaten is also stressful. Not sure how you do all that here aside from growing in a climate-controlled greenhouse, but it could be fun to coddle your kale and see how tall it can grow.

There is even a variety called Walking-Stick Kale or Jersey Cabbage, which is meant to grow upwards of six feet tall; the stalks are harvested and cured to become walking sticks. If anyone’s actually managed to grow this in Maryland, I want to hear from you!

Also, before I forget, here’s an update to my January post about mosaic virus-resistant cucurbits. I did manage to grow zucchini this year in my virus-ridden community garden! The varieties that produced for me were ‘Desert’ (green) and ‘Golden Glory’ (yellow). Chris gave me some ‘Dunja’ seeds that failed to germinate; however, her plants grew just fine and produced bountifully. So if you have watermelon mosaic virus, you can definitely still grow zucchini. (Some of mine were still taken down by squash vine borer, but that’s a different problem.) More on this next year, I hope.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

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