Pumpkins in July?


After my squash bug infestation a few years ago, and a follow on year resembling squash bug Armageddon, I stopped planting pumpkins for a few years. With little rain over a four-year period, those pumpkin-sucking bugs easily over-wintered and destroyed my meager crop. Twice.

Last summer, something amazing happened: one noble pumpkin grew in the middle of my former lawn. Without any water and not a squash bug in sight, the plant served up a perfectly formed and cherished pumpkin. I’ve since learned that pumpkin plants can survive on morning dew, taking in the moisture through their straw-like stems and delivering it to the root of the plant. Color me impressed!

This year we had our first season of near-average rainfall. We also installed a rain water catchment system.

rainsavers collage

Rain Catchment System

I took the plunge and bought a package of seeds. I prepared one of my Earth Boxes and waited for the temperatures to rise. The packet directions said to plant once night-time temperatures were consistently above 50 degrees F (10C) which for San Jose is usually May.

Meanwhile, seeds planted last fall by our neighborhood squirrels took root. They found a home near the patio in the newly planted, drought-tolerant garden. I let them grow of course, but figured the cold nights that followed would dash our hopes. As the temperatures rose and I planted my own seeds, the squirrel’s garden happily meandered along, pest-free and robust.

Pumpkin Vines 2016 collage

A pumpkin we will grow

One plant stayed small, and produced a single, perfectly formed round pumpkin. It started out dark in color, almost a pine green, before turning a lovely orange. The sister plant took off across the garden, racing toward the swing and sending out runners in both directions.

Pumpkin Vines near gravel 2016

The Meandering Pumpkin

The second pumpkin plant produced four tall pumpkins before the vine started dying back.

We were eager to harvest them before the squirrels stopped by for lunch. We put them in our garage to let the stems dry for a few days, then brought them into the house. Typically we wouldn’t be harvesting until September.

As I ready for my trip to Canada on Monday, I’ll leave it to my son to harvest the last three pumpkins. He’s looking forward to it. Meanwhile, the tomatoes are flush, producing a delicious crop. My new favorite is a ‘Black Cherry’, a sweet and juicy heirloom tomato that is melt-in-your mouth delicious. I’m definitely saving seeds for next year.

assorted heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes: ‘Mr. Stripey’ and ‘Black Cherry’

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

I’m in count-down mode: Edmonton here I come!





Musings of a Gardener Returning to her Nest

The strangest thing happens when I first return home from a trip. It’s subtle. It doesn’t happen when I’m gone for just a day but if I’m gone a weekend or longer I notice.

If I lived with Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory he could probably sum it up in a sentence or two. In my unscientific mind it feels like my environment shifted. Does this happen to you?

It started at the airport. Mike pulled up to the curb, and the boys spilled out of the car. They didn’t look like the boys at the airport curb just a week before. They’d changed. I studied them closely when we were back in the car. How much could change in eight days? Yet it was there. Palpable.  One week older, that much closer to manhood, tousled hair a fraction longer. Strange.

Back home the environment shifted too. The furniture hadn’t been moved, all the kitties were present and accounted for but time moved ahead by a week. I could feel and it smell it in the air.

In the garden, the changes were even more profound. Squash bugs took over the last pumpkin hanging. Pantyhose be damned!  I’m glad I harvested the other three early.  Tomatoes remain on the vine, but they’ve lost their rosy plumpness. Left unattended the basil flowered along with a few sweet peas, arriving late to the show.

purple sweet pea

A purple sweet pea…at last. Thanks for the seeds, Boomdee!

pumkin with squash bugs and pantyhose

Pantyhose fail: Squash bugs, 1, Gardener, 0

Most of the sunflowers are bowing with weighty seeds. One newcomer bloomed in my absence. What a happy surprise. I planted a variety pack, but thought I’d seem them all. This one looks like a bright yellow pom-pom and stands over six feet tall.

sunflower seed head

Someone’s enjoying the sunflower seeds

pom pom sunflower

My newest sunflower

Another subtle shift happened while I was away: a shift of mind. Rather then trying to break bad habits, I’m focusing on establishing better ones. I’m heading to bed earlier and reading more. I’m rethinking my blog, exploring new ideas and realizing that a vacation is not only time away but a break from doing the same thing.

The trip itself was a treat beyond measure. I got to spend time with my dearest friend, Boomdee, her delightful cousin, another blogger and a woman I’ve never met. We walked, talked, laughed, shopped and carried on like teenagers. It was good for my heart and my soul.

Victoria, BC, 2014

Victoria, BC, 2014

I love traveling and I love coming home. Time away helps me appreciate the value of both.

How about you? Do you arrive home refreshed and ready for a change, or grateful for the return of your routines?

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.

small purple flowers

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


Nymph: Science vs Mythology

pumpkin turning orange

Pumpkin beginning to turn orange

A mythological nymph is:

a minor female nature deity typically associated with a particular location or land form. Different from goddesses, nymphs are generally regarded as divine spirits who animate nature, and are usually depicted as beautiful, young maidens who love to dance and sing; their amorous freedom sets them apart from the restricted and chaste wives and daughters of the Greek polis. They are believed to dwell in mountains and groves, by springs and rivers, and in trees and in valleys and cool grottoes.


Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of those in the garden. On the other hand, a biological nymph is:

the immature form of some invertebrates, particularly insects, which undergoes gradual metamorphosis (hemimetabolism) before reaching its adult stage.[ Unlike a typical larva, a nymph’s overall form already resembles that of the adult. In addition, while a nymph moults it never enters a pupal stage. Instead, the final moult results in an adult insect.


With all my due diligence, I missed a few of the squash bug eggs. The following video tells the rest of the story:

I removed the offending nymphs and even more eggs this morning, but it was impossible to get all of them. I’m going to figure out a way to create a barrier between the pumpkin and the bugs without harming the bees or the plant.  Stay tuned.

Freshly hatched squash nymphs

Freshly hatched squash nymphs

Squash bugs overrun a pumpkin leaf

Squash bugs overrun a pumpkin leaf

removing squash bugs

Squash bugs: off the vine and into the bucket

For the Love of Pumpkins

I love my pumpkins. After a good night’s rest I’ve decided that I won’t take it lying down.

Their demise that is.

In case you missed yesterday’s post, my nemesis the squash bug recently moved in. You can catch up here.

pumpkin female flower with bee

Female flower at the ready as a bee swoops in

Actually I did take one thing lying down: pictures. How else would I get a shot of the underside of the leaf and the attached eggs?

squash bug eggs

Squash bug eggs on the underside of a pumpkin leaf

squash bugs on stem

Leaves, tendrils, flowers and…more eggs

In a word, yuck!

I laid flat on my back and took photos looking up. Fortunately, no one walked by at the time or they surely would have called the paramedics. Amazingly, I managed to get back up, then spent the better part of an hour looking at the underside of every leaf on the pumpkin vines.

That scrutiny lead to another discovery: eggs on some of the pumpkin plant stems. In the end I’d scooped several adult bugs into my dry bucket, along with infested leaves and stems. I removed dead or browning leaves as well as spent flowers, making it easier to detect the adult bugs  They were happy to crawl on my glove and from there they went into a bucket. I dumped the infested leaves and bugs into the curb side green waste site, and within an hour the ‘green monster’ came by and scooped the entire pile into the back of the truck. This was another tip from one of the sites: rip them out and compost them.

pumpkin infested stems and leaves

Infested stems and leaves

The lovely Pauline at The Contented Crafter looked up companion plantings for me, something I hadn’t thought of nor come across in my reading. Ah, the web is vast indeed.  There is enough room in the boxes for additional plantings so I’ll give it a try.  Nasturtiums unfortunately need opposing growing conditions, but dill might work. I’m going to look for some at the garden center.

It’s unlikely that I removed all the eggs this morning. I’m pretty sure others still lurk on the vine. With daily checks, however, I hope to slow them down and possibly keep them at bay.

Stay tuned.

pumpkin vine trails deck

Trailing the deck

Decoy Pumpkin Fail

Did you hear that long exhale? It’s been one of those weeks in the garden.

A squirrel shredded my garden swing cover.

squirrel eating cover

Gathering nesting material

My decoy pumpkin died…

dead pumpkin decoy

Decoy pumpkin no more

…and the dreaded squash bugs descended on my beloved pumpkins.

pair of squash bugs

Squash bugs dancing a jig…or something

A bit of history

I spotted a single squash bug on the side of the house in early spring. Thanks to a dry, warm winter, they happily overwintered. Further reading tells me they’re a hardy bunch and can survive under a blanket of snow. In any event, they’re back.

The idea was to plant a decoy pumpkin in the back garden, hoping to draw them away from the other plants.  I planted three varieties of pumpkins in EarthBoxes™ on my deck, as far away as possible from the ‘scene of the crime.’

Unfortunately, the irrigation in the decoy box stopped working. Pumpkins are thirsty plants, and by the time I realized, it was too late. Whether or not it would have worked is anyone’s guess, but it’s now a moot point.

A colony of squash bugs are now residing om my beloved deck-top vines.

I’ve learned a thing or two from a handful of sites, but nothing that gave me any hope. Apparently squash bugs need the squash to reproduce. They’ll go in search of other food, but it’s not until they find a squash plant that they set up house.  Some of the professional growers plant ‘sacrificial’ crops like pumpkins (what!!!) to defer the damage away from pricier crops in the same family. Imagine choosing cantaloupe over pumpkins. Why I never!!!

After last year’s debacle, I assumed the bugs liked the fruit alone and that I would be safe until then. Nope! They lay eggs on the underside of the leaves.


According to John Capinera of The University of Florida:

The squash bug causes severe damage to cucurbits because it secretes highly toxic saliva into the plant. The foliage is the primary site of feeding but the fruit is also fed upon. The foliage wilts, becomes blackened, and dies following feeding; this malady is sometimes called “anasa wilt.” Often an entire plant or section of plant perishes while nearby plants remain healthy. The amount of damage occurring on a plant is directly proportional to the density of squash bugs.

The plants look healthy. I’ve been knocking the large bugs off the leaves, but I’ve yet to go in search of the dreaded eggs.  The bees are a buzz every day, moving from flower to gorgeous flower.  A couple of pieces of fruit have reached the size of a baseball.

pumpkins on deck

Deck-top pumpkin crop

developing pumpkin

Developing pumpkin

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s crop, it might be time to take a year off between plantings. I know a lot of gardeners rotate crops for this reason. I took a break from growing tomatoes after a nasty tobacco (tomato horn worm) infestation.  They’ve been fine ever since.

I’ll keep you posted.


The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Squash Bugs

University of Florida: Entomology and Nematology

Living with Insects: Squash Bugs

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

What’s on Deck?

With the ‘rainy’ season behind us (ahem), I’ve pulled out the seat covers and the mat for our front deck. The deck feels like an extra room for about six months of the year. We generally put up an awning as well, but we waited for the winds to die down.  Now it’s so hot, that we’re more comfortable indoors.

deck furniture

Ready for summer

That took about 30 seconds

That took about 30 seconds

I’m trying something different on the deck this season: pumpkins.  Pumpkins growing in EarthBoxes® to be precise.  We’ve grown pumpkins in the back garden for many years with great success.  Last year, however, this happened:

Unwelcome Squash Bugs

Unwelcome Squash Bugs

Squash bugs.  Voracious, pumpkin-eating, squash bugs. I salvaged what I could by harvesting early, but not without casualties. I crossed my fingers that they would die off over the winter and all would be well. Ha! Thanks to our unseasonably warm *and* dry winter, they’ve seasoned over.  I spotted one in the garden last month.

I just couldn’t face another infestation, so I’m trying a covert operation instead.  I’ve surreptitiously  planted the seeds in the EarthBoxes®, far from the vegetable beds along the deck.  My hope is that mum’s the word.  One of my readers suggested planting a decoy out back, and I may well do that too.  I have plenty of extra seeds.

earthbox pumpkins

EarthBox® pumpkins

This year’s selection includes three seed types: an assortment of saved seeds from last year (the mystery box) along with  Botanical Interests Jack-o’-lanterns  and Luminas.  Mystery seeds are always fun to grown.  Three months from now, we’ll be pleasantly surprise.  My son requested carving pumpkins this year and the Luminas are one of my favorites.

The EarthBoxes® escaped the squirrels notice, but not my paintbrush.  Pauline and Boomdee convinced me that bling adds zing, so I put my Martha Stewart stencils to use. I don’t have the free hand skills to paint flowers and leaves, but I can definitely paint a stencil!  It’s good fun, too.

Seed packets, stencils and the finished boxes

Seed packets, stencils and the finished boxes

Do you have season-changing rituals?

Final Score: Pumpkins, 8, Squash Bugs, 2

Things got a bit dicey in the pumpkin patch last month.  Nearly a dozen pumpkins grew happily on the vine until disaster struck.  A rapidly producing colony of squash bugs moved in and things turned ugly.  If you have any doubt, take a look:

This pumpkin never had a chance

This pumpkin never stood a chance

Instead of leaving the orange pumpkins on the vine to harden, I harvested all but two and set them on the patio thinking I would wipe them off before bringing them indoors.  The next day, the squash bugs found the harvest!  Eek!

I brought the pumpkins inside one by one, wiping them down with the first thing I could get my hands on: my son’s lip balm. (Desperate times call for desperate measures).  I didn’t want to bring garden pests indoors, so I figured the coating would put an end to anything I missed.

polished pumpkins

Polished pumpkins

We’re big on pumpkins around here: we grow, harvest, decorate and carve them. It’s been a family tradition for a decade.  I also enjoy saving  seeds for the next season. This year I gave a few starters to friends, and passed on some seeds to an adorable pair of three-year-old twins that walk by the house with their dad. They planted the seeds and grew pumpkins of their own. I’m delighted.

The pumpkins hung out in the living room for several weeks, but as October approaches, it’s time to bring them center stage. I created a display on my iron bench combining an eclectic mix of drying lavender, three pumpkins and a refurbished fairy garden. Check back next week for the fall upgrade.


I love October. It starts with my birthday, ends with Halloween with plenty of goodness in between.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this Boo season brings a special visit from Boooooomdee. She told me to expect her on the whisper of a dandelion, but I think she was teasing. I’ll go to the airport to fetch her just in case.

Boo season, here we come!