The Giving Pumpkin

On a cool winter day, long before its scheduled appearance, a tiny pumpkin seed broke ground. How quaint, I thought, but how could it last? It was still cold at night.

pumpkin-march-4th

Pumpkin Sprout * March 4th, 2016

According to my seed packet, pumpkin seeds should go in the ground in May after “danger of frost has passed.” It was early March after all.

green-pumpkin-in-gravel

The start of something special

pumpkin-vines-may-2016

Pumpkin Vines (foreground). My crop grown from seeds in the Earth Box. RIP my failed little crop. * May, 2016

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Pumpkin Vines and a Strolling Mouse the Cat * May 26th, 2016

As weeds appear, they are unceremoniously tugged from the earth, but I let other tiny seedlings grow. When it comes to my garden I’m part dictator (off with their weedy heads) and part socialist (everyone deserves a fair chance).  I didn’t pamper the pumpkin, but I didn’t discourage it either. Before long, we were checking on the plant every day.  In the heat of summer, pumpkin vines grow like weeds. Curly tendrils grab hold of nearby plants and meander across the garden. The Giving Pumpkin took off before spring!

If you’re new to planting pumpkins, it goes like this: the seed sprouts and a small plant appears. Several leaves form and the vine trails. Male flowers start to grow on the vine, opening by day, closing at night, and dropping from the vine within a day or two.

pumpkin-flower-may-7

Male Pumpkin Flower * May 7th, 2016

Then the female flowers appear and the bees are on the job. The bees travel between blooms, cross-pollinating as they gather nectar for the hive.

female-pumpkin-bloom

Female Pumpkin Flower

Presto! Tiny green pumpkins begin to form on the vine. It’s not a done deal by any means. Those tiny pumpkins might last a day or two before shriveling and dropping to the ground. Sooner or later though, a glorious pumpkin takes hold and off it grows. If you’re lucky, the fabulously forming fruit goes undetected by rats, squirrels and the dreaded squash bugs.

pumpkin-turning-color-june

Turning Orange in the Sun * June, 2016

The size of the mature leaves closely determines the size of the pumpkin.

large-pumpkin-leaf

Pumpkin leaf correlates to the size of the fruit

Here’s what’s new this year with this fabulous giving pumpkin. As the fruit forms, the energy diverts from the plant to the fruit.  In the past, once that happened there was no turning back. In rapid succession, the leaves turned ashy, literally crumbling to dust in your hands.

pumpkin-leaves-turn-an-ashy-grey

Pumpkin leaves turn to ash

I removed the dead leaves, harvested all three pumpkins, and figured that was that. My son asked it we could leave the vine a little longer, as we spotted a tiny budding pumpkin. So we did. To my delight, several new leaves formed at the joints and the vine took on a second life: more leaves, more flowers, more fruit. I’ve never “grown” such a prolific pumpkin.

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Pumpkin Vine at Dusk * June 10th, 2016

new-growth-on-self-seeded-pumpkin

New growth on the self seeded pumpkin

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Tall twins and a cousin * August 9th, 2016

pair-of-pumpkins

A Second Pair of Pumpkins * August 9th, 2016

The average life of a pumpkin plant is 90 to 125 days from seed to maturity. When I harvested the last pumpkin we were well into October.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

What a fabulous crop! I may start following Pauline’s advice. I’ll just toss a bunch of seeds over my shoulder and let nature do the rest. This season was great fun.

*With a tip of my hat to Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree.

Note: On October 31st, my husband carves the pumpkins and we display them on the deck. We average 300 costumed children at our door each year. It’s a festive night. Here are some of his carvings from prior years.

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10 Reasons to Love October

October is my favorite month. I’m not alone. October ranks in the top three in a number of surveys, vying with May for the top spot.

Here is my personal, unscientific top ten reasons to love October.

10. October starts with my birthday and ends with Halloween

Okay, so not everyone is born in October, but if you love cooler weather, falling leaves and crisp air, this is the birthday month for you. If you’re mad for Halloween, also like me, you have 31 days of fun in store.

alys' birthday

Mike finds beautiful Halloween cards for my birthday

9. It’s a lovely month in both hemispheres

I’ve learned a lot about the southern hemisphere in my years of blogging. Most of us complain about the bitter winter months, but October is the start of spring for my friends in New Zealand and Australia, and the beginning of autumn here in San Jose. Everybody wins!

8. The return of gardening weather

Finally! The earth tilts on its axis as we head toward winter and cooler weather prevails. I can water the plants, pull weeds and put the garden in order without risking heat stroke.

hydrangea-closeup

Hydrangea’s fall colors

7. Pumpkins

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I dedicate a lot of blog “real estate” to growing, care-taking, harvesting and decorating with pumpkins. My husband takes over on Halloween, carving the pumpkins we grow into lovely works of art. We save some of the seeds to plant the following year. We offer the pulp and a generous helping of seeds to the squirrels to who are busy foraging for the winter. The neighborhood squirrels planted their extra seeds this year, turning out all the lovely pumpkins in this photo. I’ve even dedicated a page to our love of pumpkins. Can you see it at the top of the blog?

pumpkin-collage-october-2016

Growing and harvesting pumpkins

6. Planning a Halloween costume

My love of theater and sewing merge in October. I get to plan and create a costume for a couple of parties and if I’m not too tired, I’ll wear it on Halloween night. My sister Sharon and I have always had fun dressing up. I gave it up for many years, turning my attention to the boy’s costumes instead. In recent years, I’m back in the swing of things and I always have fun. This year I’m actually renting my costume, but sewing one for my husband. Stay tuned for the silly details.

5. National Chocolate Day

It should come as no surprise that the National Confectioners Associate designated October 28th as National Chocolate Day. As a lifetime chocolate lover working hard to keep sugar at bay, I’m thinking this might be just the day for me. I can choose to indulge in this delectable treat once a year, banishing it from my daily diet and making it a special treat. As always, I’m a work in progress.

chocolate-pumpkin

This chocolate pumpkin was a gift from a friend one year

4. National Cat Day

Every day is cat day in this household. That said, I appreciate the intentions of this charitable organization. They seek to:

” help the public recognize the number of cats that need to be rescued. The day also encourages cat lovers to celebrate the cats in their lives for the unconditional love and companionship that they bestow upon them.

This day is sponsored by the Animal Miracle Foundation and was created by Pet Lifestyle Expert and Animal Welfare Advocate, Colleen Paige, in 2005. Since its inception, it has helped save the lives of more than one million cats.” Source: National Day Calendar

inflatable-cats-and-mouse

My son’s larger-than-life, inflatable cat. Mouse the cat is the real deal.

3. Rain in the Forecast

After months of dry weather, October kicks off our rainy season. I love the rain as much as I love pumpkins. You know that is saying a lot.

tree reflecting in rain on deck

Once upon a time it rained in San Jose

2. Snuggle weather

After months of hot, dry days, it’s a delight to curl up under a warm blanket with a hot mug of tea at hand. Longer evenings give themselves over to more indoor leisure like assembling a puzzle, reading a thick book (or more blogs!) and making crafts.

1. Halloween

Halloween is the second most popular holiday in America, behind Christmas. It evolved over the years “from Medieval rituals to the 1950’s kid-centered activity it is today.”  You can follow this link to history.com to watch a two-minute video on the origins of the day. My youngest son, now 16, still enjoys the festivities. He and a friend create a “haunted deck” each year, using black plastic sheeting and an assortment of props. We live in a neighborhood populated with young children and words gets around. Last year we handed out candy to nearly 400 trick-or-treating children. There are knocks at the door for nearly three hours. It’s festive and fun. Everyone’s exhausted by November 1st, ready to settle in to cooler days, but until then, Halloween is great fun.

Is October your favorite month?

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Mad About Pumpkins

We’re mad about pumpkins. We grow them, dress them up and carve them for Halloween. Without further ado, some of my favorite pumpkins from the past decade.

Here a Squash, There a Squash

Everywhere a squash-squash.

Operation Dill and a Harvest Quandary sparked lots of great suggestions. A quick read of the comments section here and you’ll be up to date.

The onslaught of squash bugs continues unabated, but now I have a plan.

squash bugs on the trellis

Squash bugs wait in line to audition for the next horror movie

I guess I should specify another plan since the first three failed.

In Plan A I would stealthily plant pumpkins in the garden in front of the house,  far away from last year’s buggy fiasco. I would smugly dust my hands together, sit back, and wait for my glorious harvest. Those squash bugs have excellent radar and within a month, they found the plants and started their own little family. Plan B kicked in when I found the offending eggs on the backs of the vines. It required handpicking eggs and bugs from leaves and stems and sending them away on the weekly yard waste collection truck. (I wonder if the trash collector saw me smiling and waving in his rear-view mirror as he drove off with the bugs)? Plan C as in “Can’t a gardener Catch a break here?” kicked in this week. Now that the vines are dying back the plants are setting fruit. It was the next logical stop on their squash destroying journey.  Before throwing in the towel, I did what any blogger would do: ask the tribe for advice.

Thank you, tribe!

Plan C in 4 Parts:

1. Harvest my trio of pumpkins. I’m leaving for vacation, and I can’t risk the heartbreak of losing my tiny crop. Following advice, I wiped off the outer shell with a bleach and water solution. I set them to dry and warm in the kitchen window with the green sides facing the sun

pumpkin trio

Harvested Trio

beach bath

Pumpkins freshen up (1 part bleach, 8 parts water)

2. Wrap the bottom of a pair of pantyhose around the entire (newly discovered) pumpkin. Post a sign, just in case the crafty bugs can read.

squash bugs keep out

Please don’t judge: It’s possible the bugs can read

3. Tiptoe away from the vine growing on the other side of the deck (nothing to see here folks, move along, move along).

M's pumpkin

M’s pumpkin vine

4. Cross my fingers, stand on my head, rub my lucky kitty and marvel at the tiny seedling breaking ground nearby.

new pumpkin plant

Just getting started

So, there you have it. I know I’ve been boring you silly with pumpkin problems this week. Here are some other garden updates:

The sunflowers enjoyed a glorious run. Plenty of seeds to feed the birds and the squirrels, with leftovers to plant for next year.

sunflowers going to seed

Sunflowers bow their heads as the flowers go to seed

This delicate flower appeared last week. It’s from a butterfly and hummingbird seed mix. I don’t know what it is but it sure is pretty.

white flower annual

A new addition to the triangle garden

Two for one: brush the cat, carpet the fairy garden.

fairy garden rug

Lindy-Lu gets a nice long brushing and the fairy garden acquires a rug

Another late-season arrival from the seed mix.

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Dainty little flowers

Please don’t forget to send in your request for free vintage postage stamps. In case you missed the original post, you can read about it here. Then make your request.

Vintage Postage Stamp Giveaway

Vintage Postage Stamp Giveaway

Operation Dill and a Harvesting Quandry

Squash bugs, you’re on notice: Operation Dill is under way.

My lovely little pumpkins are ripening but it’s a race against the clock.

Precious Pumpkin No 1

Precious Pumpkin No 1

Precious Pumpkin No 2

Precious Pumpkin No 2

Precious Pumpkin No 3

Precious Pumpkin No 3

With less and less vine for the squash bugs to eat, my trio of pumpkins remain vulnerable. Last year this happened…

This pumpkin never had a chance

2013: A sad day

I’ve been hand picking squash bug eggs and removing adults from the vines for weeks, but predictably I missed a few. They hatched into destructive nymphs. I just can’t keep up.

Pauline at The Contented Crafter suggested planting dill. Apparently when grown together, pumpkins and dill make excellent companion plants. I raced to the garden center between appointments, but between the heat and my busy schedule, I didn’t plant them right away.  I deposited all six pots on top of the EarthBox, leaving them to wilt.  Boo!

I eventually gave them a good soak and they recovered. I pulled the three pumpkins together in a group, careful not to break the vines. I surrounded the fruit with dill.

ripening pumpkins

Ripening pumpkins

Curious how they would react, I placed a dill plant near a bug congregation. They scattered! Ha!!!

Then I had a good laugh at myself. Of course they scattered when a bunch of leaves disturbed their reverie.

Would it last?

I checked last night and found an adult intruder sitting on the pumpkin stem.  No, no, no!

Next Monday I leave for a much-anticipated, week-long vacation to Victoria, Canada with my bestie Boomdee. Yay, me!

The men of the house will do a cursory check on the plants, but none of them are on board with hand-picking bugs while I’m gone.

So…should I harvest them Sunday morning before leaving town, hoping they’ll continue to color? Or should I leave it up to Operation Dill and take my chances?

What would you do?

Six Ways to Control Squash Bugs in your Garden by Sarah Toney

 

Pumpkin’s Progress: Growing Like a Weed

Pumpkins grow like weeds. That’s a good thing. Within days of planting, flat, white seeds crack under the warm soil and  sprout. Cotyledons give way to true leaves and off they go. Leaves and stems shoot up so quickly that if you stood still awhile, I’m sure you could see them grow.  I’m a fan of every stage.

The size of the leaf is a good indicator of the size of the fruit to come.True leaves are prickly and so are the stems, which are hollow. They remind me of large, green drinking straws. Stems and leaves lead you to think you have a small shrub on your hands, but then strong, curling tendrils appear and the plant takes off down the garden path, up the trellis and around the bend.

A decade ago, before we knew a thing about growing pumpkins, a self-seeded vine grew across the path, into a  garden bench, and out the other side. It eventually set fruit, a lovely, heart-shaped pumpkin that hung from the garden bench door. We left the door open the rest of the season, delighted at the rambling pattern and the speed at which it grew. My boys were 3 and 6 that year, so you can imagine the daily joy of discovery. We headed out back in those early fall days to see what those pumpkins were up to.

It’s been such a pleasure growing this year’s crop in EarthBoxes™. They’re right outside my kitchen window, so I see them several times a day. We sit on the deck in the evenings and on weekends, and now feel like we have a ‘fourth wall’ on deck. The pumpkins and sunflowers together formed a beautiful screen.

Here’s a look at their progress since early May.

May 3, 2014

May 3, 2014

My stenciled EarthBoxes™ planted with three types of seeds: an assortment of saved seeds from last year (the mystery box) along with  Botanical Interests ‘Jack-o’-lanterns’ and ‘Luminas’.

May 11, 2014

May 11, 2014

Hearty seedlings in just one week.

May 30, 2014

May 30, 2014

About thirty days in, and look at them grow. You can see the start of the sunflowers near the lawn, also started from seed. I’ll write more about them later this week.

June 13, 2014

June 13, 2014

I added trellises to allow the vines to grow up as well as out. The birds land there, before diving in to the sunflower leaves. Why won’t they eat the squash bugs instead?

June 30, 2014

June 30, 2014

Golden flowers attract bees and wasps. I love spending time out there in the morning before the heat descends. It’s a challenge photographing the bees. They move in and out of the flowers with speed and efficiency. I still try though. I have about 75 blurred photos, but I refuse to give up.

July 4, 2014

July 4, 2014

The vines got a bit of window dressing for Independence Day. They’re beautiful on their own, but a little red, white and blue called attention to their magnificence. They’re wilting in the heat in this picture, but a long drink after dusk set things right.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I love growing pumpkins. Thank you for following along with my gardening obsession.

Pumpkins: Something Old, Something New

pumpkin plant leaves and tendrils

Unfurling leaves and curling tendrils

Did you know that pumpkins have been around since 7000 BCE?  Now *that* is something old.  Something new is planting out pumpkin seeds in EarthBoxes® on our front deck.  Most years, the pumpkins start out in the raised beds out back.  Unfortunately, the nasty squash bugs from last season wintered over, so I needed a ‘plan b’.  One of my readers suggested a decoy plant in the usual place so I did just that.  It’s growing so nicely though, that I fear I’ll be just as heartbroken if the nasty bugs take hold.

We’ve been growing pumpkins for a decade, mostly for carving and decorating. We’re all fans of Halloween around here, so nothing could be finer than a Jack o’lantern carved from a garden gourd.

Meanwhile, the pumpkins on deck are thriving.  We set up trellises this weekend so the pumpkins can climb up and over. I thinned the plants (always tough for me) so that the others would have room to grow.   I planted three varieties  from seed six weeks ago today, which means they’re already half way through the 90 day growing season.  Isn’t that amazing?

EarthBox Pumpkins 2014

Pumpkin progression: May, 3rd – June 16th

There are a plethora of buds, with the first few male flowers appearing this week.

pumpkin flower male

Male pumpkin flower, open for business

The females will bud next, then it’s up to the bees to cross-pollinate.

pumpkin bud female

Female pumpkin bud

To help things along, Salvia and Sunflowers are growing nearby. They’re all bee magnets, so a good time will be had by all.

pumpkins, salvia and sunflowers

Trellised pumpkins grow near sunflowers and Salvia

Please check back soon to see the pumpkins progress. Meanwhile, if you run into a squash bug, please DO NOT offer directions to our place. The pumpkins thank you.

Leaves, stems, tendrils, and flower buds

Leaves, stems, tendrils, and flower buds