Pumpkins

Pumpkin is an herbaceous, monoecious (oh, no there’s that word again), annual vine native to America. Based on archaeological evidence, pumpkin has been cultivated in Mexico and North America since at least 14,000 B.C.E. Pumpkin seed has been used in traditional medicine as an anthelmintic (an agent used to expel intestinal worms), taeniacide (an agent which kills tapeworms) and as a diuretic, as well as other urinary tract disfunctions. Pumpkin has no cholesterol, it is low in fat and sodium and rich in vitamins, in particular beta carotene and vitamin A. Pumpkins are in the Cucurbita pepo species, directly related to acorn and spaghetti squashes. Most varieties of pumpkin grow into large spreading vines that quickly cover a wide area and require more space than the average gardener can spare. They can, however, tolerate more shade than the other squash. So you might find a corner here or there, maybe between corn rows or along a fence, to plant some vines. There are a lot of varieties to choose from. If you want to grow the giants look for Big Max, Big Tom, Howden’s Field or the famous Atlantic Giant. If you want to challenge the world's record for pumpkin size it's presently more than 1,130 pounds. The intermediate size varieties are those most often used for cooking. Give Jackpot a try. For those tight on garden space try the smaller varieties like Small Sugar and Spookie. Triple Treat or Lady Godiva are great for you pumpkin seed lovers as they have very thin skins (also called naked seeds). They tend to rot more easily, so presprout these types. And don’t forget some of the bush varieties, Cinderella is one variety that doesn’t require the room that the rambling kind do. Or maybe a semi-bush like Funny Face. If you want to make centerpieces try the ornamental miniatures - Munchkin, Sweetie Pie, Bushkin, Minijack and Jack-Be-Little. All of these varieties are also recommended for southern gardeners. Us northern types would want to start seeds in the spring, but southern folks can start pumpkins now for harvest by Thanksgiving. Which is probably the best time for you anyway because pumpkins that are seeded from late April through July are affected by virus and fungal diseases, impaired by fruit-set problems, and produce smaller size pumpkins. But for the rest of us that may want to get an early start on the season next spring, start your seeds indoors in six-inch peat pots four weeks before your last frost date. Keep the soil temperature between 80F and 90F for best germination. When the roots show through the peat pots, transplant the seedlings into the garden. Be sure to harden them off first. Prepare your soil like for squash, be very generous with the compost and well rotted manure. After all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. Make little flat top hills about six feet apart. Sow five seeds to a hill. I always side dress with compost and some fish emulsion pellets. This provides the extra nutrients as well as controlling weeds which will be difficult to get to as the vines spread out. After the seedling are up and growing, thin to three seeds per hill. At this point place a nice mulch of straw, grass clippings or something that will keep the fruit clean. Pumpkins may also be trained up a trellis, just make sure it is a strong one. First will come the male flowers. Don’t panic if you don’t see any female flowers, they make their appearance a week or two later. Unless you live in an area that is devoid of honey bees and other pollinating insects, you should see the female flower fall off and a baby pumpkin start to develop. Select the best fruit. When the plant has two small pumpkins about the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form. This allows the two that remain to reach fairly large size. There are several factors that will affect fruit set. In addition to poor pollination , too much nitrogen will, so a good slow release organic fertilizer is preferable to high nitrogen chemical one. A mid summer heat wave may also affect fruit set. High day and night time temperatures will cause plant stress. The tiny pollinated fruit may abort as a result. But this should stop as soon as the temperatures cool a bit. Once pumpkin fruits are growing, positioning is important. The largest pumpkins are produced on stems growing at right angles from the main vine. Over the course of one week, gently train the stem of the fruit you've chosen to that position. Prune all vines 10 to 12 feet beyond your chosen fruit. Cut all side shoots (shoots that grow between the main vine and a side stem) back to eight feet long and bury the ends of cut vines to reduce water loss. A good steady supply of water is critical and use of a soaker hose or drip irrigation is recommended. Like other squashes try to avoid wetting the leaves, moisture and humidity lead to plantdiseases.

Cucumber beetles, snails and slugs, squash bugs and vine borers are the most common pests associated with pumpkins. Allow pumpkins to fully mature on the vine. Then when frost is imminent remove the pumpkins by snipping stems at least two inches from the fruit. Do not carry the pumpkin by the stem. Wash the pumpkin off completely. Skins will cure and harden if the pumpkins are allowed to remain in the field several days before storing. Move curing pumpkins to a shed or garage at night to prevent frost damage. Store the pumpkin in a cool, dry and dark place (if possible) Avoid hot and humid places, even if storing for only a couple of weeks.

Pumpkins are best stored on a board or piece of cardboard. Do not store the fruit on a cement floor as they tend to rot.To freeze- wash, cut into cooking-size sections and remove seeds. Cook until soft in boiling water, in steam, in a pressure cooker or in an oven. Remove pulp from rind and mash. To cool, place pan containing pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally Package, leaving ½-inch head space. Seal and freeze. Pumpkins make a delicious fruit leather - take 2 cups fresh pumpkin, cooked and pureed. Add ½ cup honey, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon,1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves Blend ingredients well. Spread on tray or cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap. Dry at 140º.

Roast the seeds-soak clean fresh seeds in lightly salted water for one to two hours, spread out on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt if you like. Some recipes call for spraying the pan with a cooking spray before adding the seeds, but I don’t. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until crispy. Turn the seeds over halfway through the baking time to make sure they get evenly dry and don’t stick. Allow to cool before you try them, learned this the hard way. To add some variety, try sprinkling with seasoning mixes used for popcorn.

Eat the flowers-Rinse and pat blossoms dry. In a shallow bowl, beat 4 eggs with 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cumin. Dip blossoms in egg mix, then roll gentle in cornmeal. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to set coating. Heat 2 " of oil in a deep saucepan to hot but not smoking (375°). Fry blossoms a few at a time until golden, drain on paper towels. Keep warm in 250° oven until ready to serve. Or add some clean fresh blossoms to your favorite soup recipe. Just be sure to wait until the end of the cooking time as the flowers are delicate and may get over cooked.

Pumpkins will cross with squash and gourds as well as other pumpkins. If you’re saving seed, separate by 200 feet or so. They will not cross with melons or cucumbers. Collect seeds from fully ripened fruits that have developed a good hard rind. Do not collect seeds from hybrids. Halve the pumpkins, fork out the seeds, wash off the pulp, and dry the seeds for a week or so indoors. You’ll notice a few flat seeds. Since these lack embryos, they will never grow, so pick them out.

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To make a trap for slugs; cut the pouring spout off a two liter plastic soda pop bottle. Cut about 1/3 of the way down. Invert this inside the other part and secure with a low temperature glue gun or some Elmers. Bury this in the garden bed so no more than 1/2 inch is sticking out. Put a small amount of beer in the bottom. The slugs check in but they don’t check out. Empty every day.

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You don’t have a shredder but you have lots of leaves? Spread them in the walking paths of your garden and after a season of walking on them they will be reduced to a well shredded layer. Before planting next spring, rake them up into the garden bed and turn them into the soil.    

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Vine Weevils

Vine weevils are members of the beetle family. There are many species of vine weevils but all are tiny (1-1.5cm) and are hard shelled. They range in color from brown, gray and black. They all have a long snout. In fact there are many different species of weevils put together so I thought I'd group them by types. Larvae are very tiny atfirst, cream colored with brown heads and are usually found in a 'c' shape. These are found throughout North America and are an awful pest in the hotter regions. They overwinter in the grub stage in the soil. In the spring they wake up when the soil warms and they begin to feed. When they are fully grown they burrow deeper in the soil and pupate. The adults hatch in 2-3 weeks. Adults lay their eggs near the base of the host plants late summer and the cycle continues until the weather becomes cooler. Berry crops, cane fruits, grapes, plants in pots, ornamentals and many other leafy crops. Beware of some soil mixtures bought from nurseries. Check the soil thoroughly before using.

Check the roots of plants you buy for signs of vine weevils. Adults are nocturnal and feed on the leaves making large notch like holes. The grubs live in the soil and feed on  roots of host plants and cause the leaves of the plants to turn brown. Plants will eventually die from severe infestation of grubs.

Control

1) Sticky traps

Shake affected plants lightly and the beetles will fall to ground where you have placed your traps. Destroy the pest immediately.

2) Hand Pick

Dig lightly around the soil if you see vine weevils and pick out the small grubs. Drop them in hot soapy water.

3) Clean up Garden Debris

Vine weevils hide in garden debris during the day so it is a good idea to keep your garden clean.

4) Bt

Bt used correctly will kill the grubs.

5) Garlic

Plant garlic near strawberries and other susceptible plants. The odor should repel them.

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Herbs

Myrtle

plants prefer fertile well-drained, acid soils, in full sun. In cool regions the added warmth of a sunny wall is beneficial, or plants may be grown in large pots under plastic. Prune to shape after flowering; dense foliage can be clipped into simple topiary. Propagate from cuttings under glass in summer, or seeds sown in greenhouse in spring.

Watercress

sow in a moist, shady border in spring; divide plants, or root pieces of stem in pans immersed in water in spring. Plant in beds irrigated with flowing water, in tubs of soil and water, or in trenches of fertile moist soil. Water frequently.

Catmint

divide roots in spring or autumn, or take cuttings in summer and grow in light well drained soil in full sun. Also easily grown from seed. Cut back after flowering. Also

called catnip and catnep.

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Brandie

“People are turning to their gardens not to consume but to actively create, not to escape from reality but to observe it closely. In doing this they experience the connectedness of creation and the profoundest sources of being.”

 

 

 

 
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