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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Autumn on My Mind

Are you following Kerry at Love Those Hands at Home?
If not, you won’t want to miss her sumptuous love letter to Autumn. Here’s an excerpt

Autumn seduces me, energizes me, makes me feel alive. My blood sings and fizzes like champagne when autumn comes to me.  – KerryCan

You can read her entire post here.

It’s a gorgeous piece of writing, and one that perfectly captures my feelings of the approaching season.

Even in California with our subtle, seasonal changes, the arrival of autumn is unmistakable. Breezes finally blow through the valley, chasing away the ugly smog. The last of the pumpkin vines shrivel and die, but not before gifting us their wonderful fruit.

Dusk settles in earlier, and for this fair-skinned gardener, working longer hours outdoors is no longer unthinkable.

I cleared out the back corner of the garden, pruning away overhanging limbs, dead leaves and the growing layer of pine needles.  Look at this pile?

garden waste pile

Pile of pine needles, dead leaves and tree pruning. (Slinky’s tiny feet in the background)

garden corner after pruning

After: I don’t have a good before, but you saw the pile (Slinky’s ears in the lower corner)

Ironically, the pumpkins I planted in May were a complete fizzle, while the self seeded (squirrel-planted) vines were a hit. One of those vines produced four tall, hefty carving pumpkins, ready for our resident, master carver (Mike).

A second vine produced one basketball sized pumpkin, took a rest, then pumped out a second pumpkin, turning a lovely shade of orange.

round pumpkins four days apart

A third vine tip-toed up on us, producing a perfect little pumpkin the size of a cherry tomato. Then in the dead of night a critter ate it for supper.  Boo-hoo! But wait…another pumpkin eventually took its place and it too is turning orange.

protected pumpkin

“Under Armour” Pumpkin

protecting the pumpkin long view

Tiny pumpkin, big fortress

Summer is far from over. Even when the autumnal equinox rolls around, we’re still in for a few more heatwaves. That said, the California Gray squirrels have stepped up their game, knowing intuitively what lies ahead. Indoors, Slinky is getting a head start on snuggle weather. She’s resting in my lap on a soft blanket, her coat still shiny on her diminished frame.

slinky, august 2016

Slinky Malinki

There’s an interesting conversation going on in the comment thread of Kerry’s post on the origins of  the use of the word “fall” vs “autumn”. Here’s what I learned:

Fall and autumn are both accepted and widely used terms for the season that comes between summer and winter. Some who consider British English the only true English regard fall as an American barbarism, but this attitude is not well founded. Fall is in fact an old term for the season, originating in English in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally short for fall of the year or fall of the leaf, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin. – Source: Grammarist

I love learning the origin of a word. While I know my Southern Hemisphere friends are looking forward to fall, how about the rest of you? Are you ready to say goodbye to summer and to welcome the ‘fall of the year’?

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Re-covering the Garden Swing: The 2016 Edition

It’s become a bit of a hobby of mine. I like re-covering the garden swing every year.

Not!

I just finished sewing my third cover, not counting the original, for my beloved swing.

garden swing cover 2016

Garden swing cover, the bed sheet edition

I blame the squirrels. I’m not being mean here. I have photographic proof of the carnage. It’s become a bit of a neighborhood tradition to dismantle parts of my swing cover each year. Apparently they haul it off and line their nests.

My boys gave me this swing for Mother’s Day in 2009. I love it! It’s a relaxing place to hang out during the warmer months, and it gives me a wonderful view of my garden.

garden swing may 2009

Mother’s Day, May, 2009

The swing came with a tan-colored cover, suitable for the outdoors. It lasted a few years, but weather and time took its toll. I decided to buy some nice upholstery fabric to make a colorful slip cover for the swing. I bought contrasting pink fabric and soft, cotton piping for trim and fashioned my pattern after the original.

garden swing cover

My first swing cover, 2012

It turned out well.

Then one 4th of July I came home to a squirrel chewing on the back of the swing. She was after the soft cotton piping. How she knew it was there under the fabric is anyone’s guess. She chewed through the fabric to access the cord, then pulled it out and was on her way. Our block party was under way, so I couldn’t stay long. I came back inside, found the leftover piping and cut it into smaller strips. I draped them over the back of the swing, and sure enough, they were all carted away by the following day. Sadly, they didn’t stop there and by year’s end they had damaged the slip cover AND part of the original cover, this time after the fluff.

aqua swing cover collage

Garden swing rehab using a thrift store shower curtain, 2015

Last summer I went with a quick and easy cover. I found a blue cotton shower curtain at a thrift store for $4. Instead of putting a lot of time into sewing a cover, I simply attached a few ties to the back using a scrap of material on hand and called it done. Of course I had to re-stuff and repair the swing seat first, which I did using an old pillow and a tired looking tea towel.

My shower curtain fix worked for months, but eventually the squirrels got to it as well. Not quite as bad, but chewed nonetheless.

Off I went to my favorite thrift store, but this year no luck. I couldn’t find any shower curtains or fabric remnants that would work. I drooled over some pretty fabric at JoAnn’s Fabrics, but left after coming to my senses. I finally settled for a set of soft, cotton sheets from Target.

I used the fitted sheet to make the cover and bought some $3 bias trim in a coordinating color to trim the bottom edge. Now I have a second sheet to use next year and a pair of pillowcases for another project. Score!

I removed the elasticized edge of the fitted sheet and set it aside. In order to keep the sheet cover from slipping, I stitched the elasticized pieces together into one long length, then tied it at the back of the swing.

garden swing elastic

Removing the elastic from the fitted sheet

garden swing cover sewing machine detail

Stitching the lengths of elastic together to hold the swing cover in place

garden swing cover detail

This holds the cover in place, staying hidden under the fold

Here’s the definition of a hobby:

noun:

1.
an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.
“her hobbies are reading and gardening”

Using this definition, it makes perfect sense that I would “regularly” make a garden swing cover “in my leisure time” while the squirrels laugh at me “for pleasure.”

Little stinkers!

squirrel closeup on umbrella

Squirrels Stop by For Lunch and That Strange Polldaddy Link

How’s that for a catchy title, eh?

Before I get to the cute squirrel photos, I wanted to thank Lisa and Kelly for pointing out the odd polldaddy url. It started showing up in front of posted comments. Weird.

Originally I ignored it. These things tend to pop up now and then, then disappear without notice.  Who am I to question why. This odd feature however refused to budge.

I contacted the WordPress Help team, and here’s what they had to say:

We’re aware of this issue and our developers are working on a fix! The URL is related to the Ratings feature being enabled in comments. A recent update has broken this link. If you’d like to avoid seeing this, you can disable ratings. Otherwise, our developers are already on it!

If this shows up on your own blog comments, know that a fix is under way.

Now on to the cute squirrel shots.

I asked one of the boys to strategically locate three tiny pumpkins from my Halloween display to the top of my garden bench. I knew the squirrels would enjoy the treat. The top of the bench gave me a front row seat to their cuteness.

Indoor Halloween Display

Back in October, three small pumpkins were part of a display

squirrel chewing on pumpkin

Yum!

I love the way she/he’s holding on to the curled stem.

squirrel eating pumpkin 2

Double Yum!

Plump and happy, a bit like me after spending six weeks on the couch while helping myself to Hershey’s Kisses.

Footnotes

I had my six-week follow-up with my doctor this week. She’s delighted with my progress! I am free of the cast at night, but will continue to wear the surgical boot/brace by day. I’ve also started to walk with crutches. She wants me to continue the exercises and to begin to put about 25% of my weight on the foot. It’s painful to walk, but necessary for healing, so I’m following orders and looking forward to continued healing. I’ll be on crutches for two to three weeks, and if all continues to go well, I’ll be back in real shoes by early next year.

Quenching a Thirst

California’s drought is taking its toll on thirsty wildlife. Many sources of fresh water are depleted.  Birds and mammals are struggling to quench their thirst.

So while I’m happy to let my lawn die while at the same time watering trees with my bath water, I’m choosing to share some of our fresh water with the critters that need it most.

Our small, re-circulating water fountain continues to flow.

new water fountain

This thing weighs a ton. It took all three men in the house to move it from the car to the back patio

water fountain closeup

New fountain closeup (the copper fairy is a gift from Boomdee)

We have a bird bath hanging from a branch of a maple tree

water wiggler in fountain

Bird bath and water wiggler. The wiggler keeps the water fresh and discourages mosquitoes

and the newest addition: a pair of dog food bowls.

squirrel drinking water

Quenching his thirst at the water bowl

Last week I spotted a squirrel on the patio umbrella, sipping from a rivulet of water formed by the morning dew. I filled a plastic bowl with water and wedged it into the rock wall. Within minutes the squirrel was having a drink.

squirrel on umbrella

Squirrel drinking from a small rivulet of water

A few days later, a mourning dove swooped in for a drink from our bird bath. They’re large birds, so she couldn’t land on the small bird bath and instead sent the bird bath swinging and sloshing water.

Over the weekend I bought two, heavy-duty dog watering bowls and placed them outdoors on the hutch. The bowls are sturdy enough that they can’t tip over, but accessible to larger birds, opossums and squirrels. As you can see, above, the squirrels found them immediately.

As we draw to the end of another long, hot summer, I’ve become acutely aware of the value of every last drop.

Nothing in all Nature is more certain than the fact that no single thing or event can stand alone. It is attached to all that has gone before it, and it will remain attached to all that will follow it. It was born of some cause, and so it must be followed by some effect in an endless chain. – Julian P. Johnson

If you live in California, I would like to issue a small challenge: The next time you stop to quench your own thirst, think about sharing a bowl of water with the creatures in our midst.

Resources:

Then and Now: California’s depleted reservoirs

Wildcare: Live well with wildlife

Water Wiggler: attracts birds while keeping mosquitoes at bay

Fledgling Hummingbirds, Baby Squirrels and an Unexpected Pumpkin

I’ve been meaning to update you on the baby hummingbird we rescued in June. You can read the entire story here. After caring for her overnight, I drove the little darling to an animal rescue organization where they immediately placed her in round the clock foster care.  She thrived. Within a few weeks our fully fledged little Ana started her new life in the wild.

hummingbird in homemade nest

Temporarily fostering a baby hummingbird

I think I exhaled out loud once I knew she was okay. Hurray for second chances.

On the subject of second chances, check out this baby squirrel.

squirrel crouched with tomato

Baby squirrel enjoying a fresh tomato

We’re taking part in the occasional back yard release of urban squirrels who are either orphaned or injured before they can make it on their own. The first group of squirrels high-tailed it from our yard last fall without a backward glance.  This second group of six are staying closer to home. One in particular is incredibly trusting. I keep startling her when I round a corner at my usual brisk pace, only to find her nibbling on tomatoes.

squirrel with tomato

Holding a cherry tomato

I inwardly smile at my own double standards. I’ve been disappointed  in the past when squirrels eat the vegetable garden. It’s especially disheartening when they take one bite out of a pumpkin, leaving the rest to wither on the vine. Instead I snag the camera and happily watch her nosh away at the tomatoes while I point and click.

Two years ago, nasty squash bugs moved in. They arrived uninvited with family and friends in tow. Most of that year’s crop fell victim to the vermin. I harvested two surviving pumpkins, but the rest of the fruit succumbed to the ravages of that pest.

pumpkin with squash bugs

2013: Adult and juvenile squash bugs

Last year I moved the crop to our front deck so I could cleverly outsmart the little juice suckers. All seemed well until the plants set fruit. No amount of handpicking or pruning could slow down those squash bugs and again another crop went belly up.

pumkin with squash bugs and pantyhose

2014: Squash bugs ride again

This year I decided to skip planting altogether, hoping to send future generations of repulsive squash bugs packing. Then we entered year four of this punishing drought so I skipped planting anything all season.

This brings me back to the squirrels. I think they may have planted a pumpkin. Last fall I sheet mulched part of the lawn. At the edge of the path, an all-volunteer crop of tomatoes took root, circling a single pumpkin. They’re all happily growing in a dry dirt patch without a drop of water!

pumpkin and tomatoes

At first I refused to invest any emotional energy into a crop that would surely expire after the first heat wave. The pumpkin plant did indeed wilt, but then it  did something else: it pumped out one small, starting to turn orange pumpkin. Within a few days, the fruit shriveled and died, snapped clean off the vine. I left it there for future noshing and went about my business. What a tease!

Then this happened:

green pumpkin 2015

An as yet, undisturbed foot-long pumpkin

How can you ignore that?!

So I did what any self-respecting gardener would do: I encased the pumpkin in a leg of pantyhose.  I found a box of extra-large pantyhose on clearance at a local drugstore.

pantyhose for pumpkin

Just my (pumpkin’s) size

pumpkin under cover-001

Pumpkin secured inside the leg of a pair of pantyhose

pumpkin under cover

Dear rats, squirrels and other foraging critters, Please eat the tomatoes and leave the pumpkin. We only have one. Thank you, The Gardener

The ample material gave me plenty of wiggle room to cover the pumpkin and to allow it to continue to grow. I’m not the only one that hates pantyhose. Apparently that nylon irritates rats and squirrels as well. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Not that I care or anything.

Because…I don’t.

😉

Five Minutes in the Garden

Yesterday was busy from stem to stern: carpooling, walking, working and the usual day-to-day activities. It was also unseasonably warm, a day begging to be spent outdoors.

I took the spare minutes that I had and sat on the back steps.

Wishing I had my camera, I spotted five hummingbirds sunning themselves on the bare branches of the fruit cocktail tree. Delightful. Then a pair of mourning doves swooped down, foraging in the earth under the tree.

Now I *had* to grab my camera.

Once back outside, the birds had moved on but a squirrel took their place.

squirrel under fruit tree

Easy-going squirrel

Lindy followed me outside and settled into a sun-warmed layer of leaves beneath the Acer. Mouse followed and had a long drink from the garden fountain.

lindy at rest

Lindy enjoying the warmth under the Acer tree

I prowled the garden, making mental notes:

  • Remember to grab some twine and attach the Abutilon to the fence
  • Call the arborist and get a quote for pruning the fruit tree
  • Check the weather forecast for rain as things are looking dry
  • Staple the wooden slat back to the fence
  • Bring in one of the oranges as an offering to the indoor rat, missing in action
orange side one

Orange: side one

orange side two

Orange: side two

Five minutes probably turned into ten. The garden absorbs me and I lose all sense of time. The camera grew heavier in my hands. Reluctantly, I headed back inside.

What would you do with an extra five minutes today?