Growing Pumpkins: A Seasonal Favorite

If you’ve been following along for a while, this will come as no surprise: I love pumpkins.

I love growing them, harvesting them and finding creative ways to show them off leading up to Halloween. Mike takes over from there, carving extraordinary Jack o’ lanterns for the front deck.

After growing pumpkins for a decade, I had two bad seasons in a row. Squash bugs infested my small patch the first year, claiming a few pumpkins entirely, forcing an early harvest of what remained. I relocated the pumpkin crop from the back garden to the front the following summer, but as soon as the plants fruited the squash bugs were back. Then the drought dragged on and I stopped planting them altogether.

The pumpkin growing hiatus did the trick and sent those dreaded squash bugs packing. Further, I’ve now had a couple of self-seeded pumpkin vines grow without a single drop of additional water, at least from me. All the reading I’ve done says that pumpkins like warm, moist soil and lots of water. I learned last summer, though, that they can hydrate from the morning dew using their straw-like stems. Don’t you just love nature’s resilience?

Late last year, after Halloween had come and gone, I did what any self-respecting gardener would do. I harvested the seeds, dried them and stored them for the winter.

Ha! I’m kidding!

Instead of saving the seeds, I sent a “written invitation” to the neighborhood squirrels. What exactly does that look like, you ask? The first invitation was subtle. I placed a pumpkin in the center of the garden and carried on with my day. I glanced out the window from time to time, and sure enough, this cautious squirrel showed up for a meal.

They don’t like the fruit or the skin, but there are plenty of other garden visitors to take care of that. It wasn’t long before it looked like pumpkin mush.

The second “invitation” landed on the back steps in view of the sliding glass door. I kept the camera nearby and sure enough another squirrel came along and helped him or herself to the seeds.

I love watching squirrels eat as they sit on their haunches keeping watch.

Fast-forward to this spring, and I’ve got pumpkins growing throughout the garden. There are a couple of large specimens growing along the side of the house. As an aside, I removed three large flowering vines last year so we could replace the dilapidated fence. I didn’t want to replant anything till the new fence went in. Long story short, it will be October before it’s replaced. Meanwhile, the pumpkins showed up and off they grew.

One of the pumpkin plants actually made it into a planter box and it’s also the first to produce fruit. It’s getting the best sunlight and moisture from a drip system so it’s doing well.

There are three smaller pumpkin vines, struggling to take hold but refusing to give up. I’m just letting them be for now.

The biggest surprise showed up in the last couple of weeks under our home office window. After freshening up the front garden after the sweet-peas went to seed, we replanted the area under the window with a gardenia and a few sunflowers.  A week or so later, in the blazing heat I might add, I brought home 36 bags of redwood mulch and covered every bit of exposed dirt. We upped the watering to twice a week to help establish the new plants, and with that several more pumpkin plants arrived on the scene.

I love checking on the vines each day, following the traditional progress of male flowers, then the female flowers and with good pollination, wonderful fruit. If our luck holds, and the rats, opossums and squirrels let them be, we’ll have carving pumpkins once again.

Fingers crossed.

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Five Little Squirrels: Welcome to the Neighborhood

three baby squirrels

Three of the six baby squirrels, September 2, 2014 Photo courtesy of Jessica B.

A few months ago my friend Jessica rescued half a dozen baby squirrels. Two young boys in her neighborhood found them on the ground and brought them to her for help. The squirrels were small, eyes still closed, and unable to survive in the wild on their own. Jess contacted a rescue group who took them in, but they needed a place to release them once they were old enough to be on their own.

Guess whose arm shot up in the air?  Pick me, PICK ME.

I called Connie who works with a few other home-based volunteers the following day. The rescue group, Injured and Orphaned Wildlife, said it would be a few months before the squirrels were ready. They would be in touch when the babies could survive on their own. They want to re-release the squirrels into neighborhoods with established squirrel populations. We definitely qualify.

Last night I got the call. The volunteer asked if she could release them in our garden this morning?

Ann arrived around 10:30 with five young squirrels in tow. They traveled in a wooden nesting box, encased in a larger plastic crate ready to move in to Gardening Nirvana.

the squirrels arrive

The squirrels arrive in the garden

She placed their nesting box under our orange tree and scattered handfuls of fruits and vegetables nearby. After lifting the top of the wooden nest, we stood back and waited.

squirrel nesting box

Placing the nesting box under the orange tree

lifting the lid, vegetables nearby

Ann scatters vegetables nearby, then lifts the lid to the nesting box

They remained huddled together, poor little things, breathing heavily and trying to burrow to the bottom of their cozy box.

five squirrels

Five huddling squirrels

Ann said that once one of squirrels leaves the box, the others usually follow. In our case, two of them shot out within seconds of each other, and raced to the safety of nearby shrubs.

I'm out of here

I’m out of here. One of the first two squirrels to leave the nest

The remaining three hunkered down. I watched for half an hour, but reluctantly had to leave for appointments. Ann asked me to call her if they were still in the box at nightfall. If so, she would return and secure the nesting box to a tree. By mid-afternoon, they had vacated the box. We’ve watched from inside as they explore the garden. What joy!

three trembling squirrels

Three trembling squirrels

I’m grateful for all the caring hearts that brought this to fruition: the two young boys who knew the tiny squirrels needed help, and my friend Jess for taking them in and contacting a rescue group. Special thanks to Connie who takes in these rescues and Ann who delivered the nesting box, with the care and wisdom of someone that’s rescued critters for over 30 years.