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.

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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.

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The start of something special

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Turning Orange in the Sun * June, 2016

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

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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.

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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

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New growth on the self seeded pumpkin

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Tall twins and a cousin * August 9th, 2016

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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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Xylocopa varipuncta: Love and Romance in the Garden

What a romantic! Did you know that the Xylocopa varipuncta, also known as the male Valley Carpenter Bee emits “a rose-scented blend of volatiles”  from within “massive thoracic glands.”¹

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

While courting the shiny black females,

female carpenter bee

Female Carpenter Bee

the amber male, with his bright green eyes and fuzzy amber body, emits a special cologne.²

Valley Carpenter Bee

Valley Carpenter Bee

The female decides if she likes his cologne and only then does nature takes its course.

When Love-in-a-mist met the Valley Carpenter Bee, it was a match made in gardening heaven.

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Valley Carpenter Bee circling a Love-in-a-mist flower

Love in a mist flowered all over the garden this spring, both front and back and the bees love it. It makes me so happy to see them buzzing from bloom to bloom. Sometimes I just sit nearby and watch them work.

bee on love in a mist

The more typical, seen daily be the dozen

What surprises me is that most of the bees are small with stripes. There are dozens of them throughout the day working in the garden.

Conversely, the golden hunk of bee is an occasional visitor.

Meanwhile, his female counterpart is out back pollinating the pumpkin planted by the squirrel.

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Runaway Pumpkin Vine…and yes, love in a mist

The pumpkin vine is racing across the garden at record speed and it’s only June. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never seen anything like it.

The bees working in my garden are docile. They don’t mind my presence as I brush up against the flowers, currently referred to by my family as “the jungle”. Love in a mist has completely taken over.

love in a mist takes over

The Jungle

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Slinky guards her catnip near the love-in-a-mist

Slinky likes to rest near one of the flowers in the back, but to be fair, it’s also close to her secret Nepeta plant, also known as catnip.

Mouse is also enamored with this flower, attracting lots of camera time with his antics.

In case it’s not obvious by now, I love this beautiful plant and the ease with which it grows. The original seeds were part of a “seeds that attract hummingbirds and bees” packet a few years back. They didn’t do much throughout the drought, but they’ve loved our season of rain.

We’re in the midst of a long heat wave now, so it could spell the end. I’m enjoying them while they last.

¹Wikipedia: Xylocopa varipuncta

²Native Bees: What’s the Buzz

Catnip Tomfoolery

Slinky Malinki has impaired hearing and her overall senses are dulled, but her sense of smell is superb. How else to explain her catnip tomfoolery?

A domestic cat’s sense of smell is about fourteen times as strong as human’s. Cats have twice as many receptors in the olfactory epithelium (i.e. smell-sensitive cells in their noses) as people do, meaning that cats have a more acute sense of smell than humans. Cats also have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ. When a cat wrinkles its muzzle, lowers its chin, and lets its tongue hang a bit, it is opening the passage to the vomeronasal.- Source: Wikipedia

Working in the garden at dusk, I looked up to see Slinky crossing the patio with determination. She headed toward a small mulch-covered patch of earth. Mouse the Cat looked on with interest, but kept a respectable distance. Slinky is a cranky, aging cat, and not one to be trifled with. He (generally) knows his place.

slinky finds some catnip

Mouse the Cat keeps his distance, hiding behind the love-in-a-mist

As I watched, she bowed her head, twisted it to one side and dove in. What odd behavior.

I crawled towards her since I was down at her level anyway pulling weeds, to see what she’d discovered. Sure enough she’d found a tiny sprig of catnip (Nepeta cataria) growing near the edge of the patio.

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Slinky enjoys a catnip moment

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Mmmmm, this catnip smells yummy

I planted catnip several years ago and it thrived.  Last year it died off, another causality of the drought. This year, thanks to the recent rains, volunteers are sprouting everywhere.  There are many things I didn’t set out to grow, happily filling patches of bare earth. Nepeta is one of them. It’s nice to see this perennial come back, and even nicer to see Slinky enjoying it. The plant is small and partially crushed after her romp, but it looks like it will recover.

slinky guards the catnip

This is my catnip. Don’t make any false moves

I suspect that once Slinky is slumbering on her cushions nearby, Mouse will help himself to. Lindy is quite a fan as well.

I too enjoy the subtle, herbal scent when you crush the leaves. The herb is also sold as a tea. It’s easy to understand why the kitties enjoy it so much.

I guess I better get in line.

My Garden has a Great Sense of Humor (Humour)

My Garden has a Great Sense of Humor (Humour)

Note: I started my schooling in Canada, and learned to spell humour ending in “our”. We moved to California in the late sixties and I had to relearn the American spellings of humour, judgement, and colour.

Now that I have a global blog following, I’m acutely aware of the different spellings. American English prefers humor whereas all the other main varieties of English prefer humour. I’m always worrying that I’ll offend people (which comes from my British upbringing). What to do what to do?

Where was I?

Oh yes, my garden. My garden has a great sense of…playfulness.

If you’re a regular around here, you know that we replaced our lawn with California native plants last fall.

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Newly planted California Natives, November, 2015

Then it rained! Wet, wonderful, welcome rain. All those seeds lying dormant around the garden sprang to life. Sweet peas, love-in-a-mist, bachelor buttons and others slowly overtook the new landscaping.

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A plethora of sweet peas (March 5th, 2016)

By the end of March, I pulled out one of my garden trellises and staked it in the ground. These flowers plan to stay awhile. It makes me smile (and cringe a little too). I hope the California native buried under all those sweet peas will survive this temporary but beautiful upstart.

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Sweet peas and love-in-a-mist take over, March 27th, 2016

Our lemon tree enjoyed the showers as well, but I think this is carrying “fresh” a bit too far. Avert your eyes if necessary and move on to the next photo.

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Rain kissed lemon tree using a gesture considered rude in many places

I popped the following photo on my Facebook page last week and asked friends to guess its true identity. If you didn’t know, it might be mistaken for an invading alien. In reality, it’s a recently undressed California poppy. They’re beautiful to the last, don’t you think?

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Alien landing or a California poppy recently undressed?

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Hmm, more ironic than funny

Okay, so the snail working its way across the sweet peas after a recent rain isn’t that funny. I’m trying to keep my sense of humour/humor though. Where there’s rain, there are snails. You take the good with the “oh no, snails!”

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Acer shows off fall colors in early spring

The bright blue sky and the orange leaves remind me of fall, not spring, but here is the Acer setting wonderfully orange leaves. It makes me smile.

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Snicker

Still not smiling? How about this pic of Mouse moving in for a nibble of grass? I smile whenever I see his little pink tongue.

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Is the cat wearing flowers or are the flowers wearing the cat?

While we’re on the subject of Mouse, I didn’t even notice his head in the flowers until I downloaded the pics. Silly kitty,

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Rock n Roll hands?

Last but far from least, doesn’t this remind you of Rock n Roll hands, or horns?

I hope I’ve left you with a smile.

Quotable

I have many problems in my life, but my lips don’t know that. They always smile. ~ Charlie Chaplin

Be someone else’s sunshine. Be the reason someone smiles today. ~ unkown

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. ~ William Arthur Ward

Sleeping Under a Tree

It’s been years since I napped in public. It was much more common in my youth.  I could fall asleep anywhere: curled up in a chair at the college student union, at the beach with friends or on a wide swath of lawn with a boring textbook close at hand.

The idea of sleeping under a tree seems idyllic, but in reality you get twigs in your hair and bugs in the wrong places. Unless of course you’re a cat.

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An afternoon snooze on a warm spring day

Though her senses remain muddled, Slinky Malinki, my shiny black kitty is still with us. She found her way out the back door into the garden this weekend, and settled herself in a cool spot of green under the maple tree.  She spends most of her time sleeping, but her appetite remains good. She grooms her coat to a lovely shine.

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Slinky’s cozy little nest

She’s the grand dame of the house, keeping Lindy and Mouse in their place, even with her limited vision. If either one of them gets too close, she  takes a random swing in their direction. They’ve learned to give her a wide berth, even though they are more than twice her size.

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Mighty Mouse in the garden

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Lindy keeping a respectful distance

Living with Slinky reminds me a lot of the toddler years. She wants in until she’s out; then she immediately wants back in. I close the door, leave the room and she starts howling to go out again. She walks out the back door, takes a few steps, and then she wants to come in. I can hear her howling at me now to open the door once again. I’m outwardly patient, but weary as well. She’ll be ready for another nap soon.

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Nature’s pillow

We have a cat fountain indoors along with a small water bowl near Slinky’s favorite sleeping spot. No matter.  She wants to go outside and drink from the cold water in the bowl on the steps. She relieves herself in the garden, even though she has a litter box. She uses that too…or the floor when the mood strikes. She’s officially crossed over into high-maintenance territory, leaving me feeling weary when the day is through.

Whoever said “dogs have owners, cats have staff” knew what they were talking about.

slinky under the tree

Yes, Slinky…I’ll be right there.

Have Carrot, Will Travel or Where’s Gardenerd?

Have you seen or heard from Gardenerd?

alys with gardenerdWell technically *I am* a gardening nerd and you’re hearing from me now, but this is different. Gardenerd is the brain child and mascot of Christy Wilhelmi, in Los Angeles, California. Here’s a snippet from Gardenerd: The Ultimate Resource for Garden Nerds.

Are you obsessed with organic gardening, have a thirst for knowledge and a healthy sense of humor? Whether you’re a novice or garden nerd veteran, there’s a place for you here.

At least a year ago my PR assistant, Mel, gave me a carrot plush toy. It’s the cutest thing ever. It also spawned an idea we couldn’t pass up. What if we sent this plush toy around the world so people could photograph it in their gardens? What if gardenerds all over the planet could then post their photos to Twitter or Instagram for all of us to share?

I’m like a child in a candy shop with this sort of thing. After meeting the traveling carrot via Sarah’s video, I quickly added my name to the list of garden hosts.

Gardenerd arrived in San Jose, California last week. He traveled thousands of miles from Waiuku, New Zealand via Sarah The Gardener. Sarah enclosed a few Kiwi treasures with her package as well. What fun!

Thank you, Sarah!!!

Gardenerd arrived with the first of several storms, bringing much-needed rain to our drought-parched state. What a weekend!

My first order of business was to take a quick pic in the garden with our guest. Mouse the Cat insisted on meeting him as well. As you can see, Mouse doesn’t have a shy bone in his body.

Gardenerd and mouse

By Saturday the rain was really coming down, so some quick rain gear was in order.

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Gardenerd checks out the California native plants #wheresgardenerd

A produce bag, a newspaper cover and some scotch tape did the trick and he was ready to spend some time in the garden.

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Gardenerd in his rain gear. He’s resting on my new planting Trug.

It’s been a busy time in the garden with the first day of spring less than two weeks away. I’ve been rotating compost bins, preparing gardening beds and assembling an elevated gardening bed called a Trug. More about that later. With the recent rain, the weeds are having a second go at garden domination. Sadly, they’re in for a disappointment. I’ve been plucking weeds and renegade lawn on a daily basis, keeping the garden in good shape.

Stay tuned for updates as I show my visitor around my garden and the nearby community.

If you’re interested in hosting Gardenerd, you can grab the details here.

You can follow Gardenerd’s adventures on Instagram or Twitter by using the hashtag #wheresgardenerd (with one ‘n’)

If Slinky Had a Thought Bubble

When I was sorting and editing photos this morning it hit me: Slinky needs a thought bubble.

slinky in the sun

Here’s what I think it might say:

My appetite is back You gotta love that thyroid medication.

or perhaps…

Finally that miserable heat wave is over. I thought it would never end.

maybe she’s thinking

I never miss my morning sun bath. I love vitamin D.

or

My shiny black fur looks like chocolate in the morning light. Is that why she keeps pointing that flashy thing at me?

Wouldn’t life be interesting if we were all walking around with our own thought bubbles? I’m sure there’s a Halloween costume idea in there somewhere.

What would your thought bubble say today?