Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pumpkin Scraps

Pumpkin Scraps

Here is some more information on growing pumpkins that you might find useful:

Growing From Seed

Pumpkin seeds need to be warm to germinate. And warm does not exactly describe the soil in Northern CA right now. You can plant your seed in small containers and keep them in a sunny window or on a warm porch until they germinate. Or you can hill up the soil over their planting holes and wait for the sun to warm the hills before planting the seed. In any event, large pumpkins should be started very soon, medium sized pumpkins can be started between now and the middle of June, and the miniature pumpkins can be started as late as mid July and still provide decorative excitement for Halloween.


The only real problems I have encountered growing pumpkins are from the infamous and tiny white fly. These nasty little buggers reproduce way faster then rabbits, and can turn a lush pumpkin leaf crispy and gray within a matter of days. Fortunately, pumpkin vines usually grow faster than white fly reproduce. Even if you ignore the infestation, you will probably still get a nice crop from your pumpkin patch. If these tiny creatures are hounding your pumpkins, it is important to keep the irrigation up. Don’t drown the poor vines, but don’t let them suffer drought stress either.

White fly can be controlled with simple organic sprays. Neem, tobacco tea, and insecticidal soap are all effective. Tobacco tea should not be used within two weeks of harvest; neem and insecticidal soap will have directions on their labels. It is best to spray after dark, so you don’t poison beneficial creatures. Avoid soaking the leaves so much that they excessively drip on the soil. Except for the neem, these controls are not healthy for worms and soil microorganisms. Be sure you treat the under side of the leaves, because that’s where white flies live. Last but not least, if you notice lacewings, solider beetles, ladybugs or ladybug larva under the leaves, don’t spay at all. These voracious creatures are your friends. They will seek out and destroy white fly with little or no effort needed on your part.


If you would like to explore more unusual pumpkins than those available from your local nursery check out Johnny’s Select Seeds. They have over 2 dozen different types of pumpkins to choose from. (They also carry Safer Insect Soap.) You can find them on the Internet at: or you can call to request a catalog by phone: 877-564-6697. On the other hand, if a simple medium sized pumpkin that works well for both cooking and carving suits your purpose and free suits your budget here is the perfect offer for you:


Contact me this fall if you would like to see or share some pumpkin recipes. I have some on file and I am thinking of collecting some more. Perhaps the collection could grow up and become a book some day . . .

Mean while, enjoy your garden, but don’t get too sunburned out there!


Friday, May 12, 2006

Orgy Aftermath

The morning after several thousand soldier beetles descended on my ancient plum, I stepped out on to the back porch with some trepidation. I fully expected to find the blood thirsty and x-rated orgy to be in full swing. Quite a different sight greeted my eyes.

Only a handful of sluggish hung-over couch potatoe soldier beetles remained. They were lounging here and there on plum leaves slick with aphid juice and littered with aphid body parts. It had truly been a messy feast. Not only was the plum littered with body parts, the porch railing beneath the tree was strewn with tiny inanimate aphid bits and shinny with their dried up juice.

Not every aphid expired in the massacre. Small isolated colonies huddled here and there in shocked silence. The plum had all ready begin to recover that very morning. Once drooping sprigs were pointed to the sky, once curled leaves had begun to unfurl.

I can only imagine those hordes of solider beetles heading out in the wee hours of the morning in search of moist organic matter rich soil to lay their eggs. I hope plenty of them headed for the hills were gardeners fond of chemicals will not mistake them for the enemy.

I have noticed that the general population of solider beetles has risen in my yard. They are making regular patrols of my plum tree. There are no longer any small colonies of aphids visible on the plum. (Hey guys, check out the fava beans! There are plenty of aphids over there.) Most of the plums leaves are greening up nicely, but a few have turned yellow. They are probably the ones most damaged by the previous aphid infestation.

The next happy chapter in this story, I hope, will be when I report that the soldier beetles larva are decimating the slugs that prey upon my seedlings. Nothing would make me happier. I can not plant a seed of any kind directly in the ground because of those ravenous slimy creatures. But this is a chapter yet to unfold.

Until then I am wishing you all a horde of ravenous soldier beetles . . .

I’ll be back in a few days with some pumpkin scraps . . .
Meanwhile, you can always find me in the garden . . .

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sex and Magic in the Garden

Dear Readers,

Every year, right about now, the ancient plum off my back porch gets infested with about a zillion black aphids. They last through the summer and create a nice cooling mist beneath the plums leafy boughs. Aphids are actually beneficial to fruit trees, as long as their populations are moderate. The honey dew they excrete feeds nitrogen fixing soil bacteria and increases the bio-available nitrogen for the tree.

This year, however, the aphids have been reproducing way out of bounds. Now, just in case you imagine that this is the magical sex I mention in my headline, you better think again. Aphids can be born pregnant, and can pop out pregnant offspring, and can reproduce like crazy all without the benefit of any magical sex. Their story is more about magical asexual reproduction. Not that they don’t also reproduce the more normal way too. Dang buggers anyway.

I had been thinking I was going to have to come up with a plan to reduce the aphid population on that tree. You can tell the plum is stressed. The leaves are starting to curl, the young tip growth is starting to droop, and it is not greening up the way it should. I was thinking a nice stiff stream of water might help somewhat, and if that didn’t help enough maybe a dose of insecticidal soap with tobacco tea. However, about the time I was deciding what I ought to do – I ended up on crutches.

Here I am recovering from a terrible accident – and now on top of the slow brain and the battered shoulder I am hobbling around on crutches. Definitely slows an old broad down. And as if that all was not quite enough, now I have the dang flue too.

A little while ago I drug my fevered self up out of bed - battered shoulder, crutches and all, and headed outside with a big water bottle to check on my seedlings. Once I hit the back porch a herd of hungry cats gave me the evil eye, so I slowed down and fed them. (Not that I was moving all that fast to begin with.) My cats and the neighbors, they all eat both places. Heck, they probably all eat as many places as they can find folks bullied into feeding them by those evil eyes.

As I turned around to retrieve my water bottle an amazing site met my eyes. My infested plum tree is totally animated by an orgy of soldier beetles. It is totally astounding. I have never seen so many beetles of any kind all in one place at one time. And these are the blessed soldier beetles whose larva live in the soil and devour baby slugs. Blessed soldier beetles hoisting gobs of gooey aphids aloft in their powerful mandibles while the rest of their bodies are involved with the act of copulation. Solider beetles clinging and groping and prodding in piles of bugs 4 – 6 deep. The tree itself has a halo of flying solider beetles. It is totally intense. Nearly every leaf of that tree boasts beetles, with more coming in to contribute to the carnage and the copulation by the minute.

As I have mentioned, maybe even a few times, I have been doing some research on beneficial insects, for an article I am supposed to be writing right now. Tomorrow is my deadline in fact. Wish me luck with this dang fever. I have also been doing a lot of research into slug carnivores. Slugs are my main nemesis. I hate the slimy plant decimating creatures. I have been reading about attracting solider beetles to my yard, and now, like magic, with no effort on my part, I have more solider beetles than I ever dreamed possible.

I hope next year I have less slugs than I ever imagined . . .

Wishing you sex and magic in the garden . . .

(As for myself, I am taking this dang fever and tucking it back into bed.)


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jack-O-Lanterns & Pumpkin Pie

Imagine yourself back to another time and place. Long ago in continental Europe parents who wanted to provide their children with Jack-O-Lanterns for Halloween had to grow a turnip patch. These were not the average tender turnips we are used to finding in the market or pulling fresh from our kitchen gardens. Oh no, these were giant turnips of the sort that, in today’s world, might win an award at the county fair. Keep imagining, folks. If you look forward to cleaning out a pumpkin with as much enthusiasm as you would putting your arm into a bucket of slime, think for a moment of those medieval European parents. Not only did they have to grow award-winning turnips; those solid roots had to be carefully hollowed out before they could be carved.

Of course we all know what happened next. Our buddy Christopher Columbus and his comrades got lost and made the sobering discovery that the European’s of that day were not as advanced agriculturally as they imagined. And much like teenagers, who discover unattended pumpkins in the wee hours after Halloween, they began bashing everything to smithereens. Well, every gardener knows what happens when you bash pumpkins. The slippery seeds hiding inside spew forth and spread about. And they have been spreading ever since.

Pumpkins, in fact, began spreading from their sites of origin thousands of years ago. Native Gardeners in Central and South America painstakingly developed pumpkins and other winter squash from wild edible seeded gourds. And, as gardeners do everywhere, they shared and traded seeds of their successful selections with neighbors as well as the traveling seed dealers of the day. By the time our buddy Christopher reached our shores, pumpkins had been bred and selected into myriad sizes and forms. Many Native communities grew several kinds of pumpkins, which in some cases were distinct from the pumpkins grown in the next village. Now that those slippery pumpkin seeds have traveled around the world we have varieties available to grow in our home gardens that have been further selected and bred in places like France and Italy. However, I don’t think we should forget where pumpkins got there start. Nor should we forget the unique Native contribution to the world wide celebration of Halloween.

Besides, who ever heard of turnip pie? Can you even imagine? Pumpkins are actually very versatile in the kitchen. Not only do they make sumptuous pie, cakes, breads, cookies, and pudding; they can be used in a number of other ways. Pumpkin puree makes a flavorful base for a number of savory soups traditional to our Northeast Tribes. Pumpkin can be steamed or baked and served as a vegetable, just like any other winter squash. It is equally good with salt and pepper or brown sugar and cinnamon. Last year, I even found a recipe for pumpkin pickles. I had to give them a try. They turned out really colorful and yummy. And then there is spicy sweet pumpkin butter, which makes a glorious fragrant toasted bagel spread for fall and winter brunches.

The versatile and tasty pumpkin also delivers important nutrition. It is high in soluble fiber – which has been found to be important in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels as well as healthy colon function. Pumpkin is also high in beta-carotene, anti-oxidants, and they area good source of potassium and vitamin C. Tasty and nutritious, what else can we ask for? But wait, there’s more. Whatever you do, don’t throw the seeds away, when you carve or cook your pumpkin.

Right now there is a lot of interest in the beneficial and medicinal properties of pumpkin seeds. They are high in good quality protein and the essential fatty acids necessary for proper brain development and health. They are high in the Omega complex; their oil is often included in vegetarian supplements of Omega 3, which is considered important to heart health. And if this weren’t enough, they are a good source of B complex and they are also being researched for their prostate health possibilities. Pumpkin seeds can be roasted and eaten or used in recipes like nuts. They can also be ground, and find their way into a variety of dishes from baked goods to mole’ sauce.

And then there are the pumpkin flowers. The male flowers – the ones that don’t have the tiny glimmer of a baby pumpkin under the bloom, are a tasty gourmet treat. They can be added to salads before (or after) they open. The barely opened or just closing blossoms can be carefully stuffed and baked, with either a sweet or savory filling. Add it up; one easy to grow plant with a tropical appeal provides you with three versatile foods and Jack-O-Lanterns too. As tasty as Mr. Turnip is, I just don’t think he can compete.

Pumpkins in the Garden

Pumpkins, when well cared for, make large attractive vines. They can be tucked into the landscaping, grown out in fields, or allowed to ramble along the edge of the garden. Just remember, large fruited pumpkins need room to spread. The small fruited pumpkins need room too, but they can spread or climb.

You don’t have to hire a rototiller to grow a few pumpkin plants. A sunny spot, adequate summer irrigation, and a well prepared planting hole will do. Start by digging a hole between 12 and 18 inches deep and 8 or so inches across. If you hit gravel before you get that deep, just compensate by making a broader planting hole. Pumpkins like soil that has been amended with lots of organic matter. Layer eight inches or so of whatever is available into the bottom of your planting hole. Cover this with at least four inches of soil mixed with compost, leaf mould, or processed planting mix. Now you are ready to plant your seeds or starts.

As the weather warms, most nurseries will stock a variety of young pumpkin plants and seeds. It is fun to grow a few different kinds side by side and then save their seed for the following year. Generally speaking, the plants you get from saved seed don’t vary much from their parents. But once in a while you get surprising crosses, which adds to the excitement of gardening, especially for children.

For more information and recipes ask your book store or librarian to order: “Nutrition Secrets of the Ancients,” by Dr. Gene Spiller and Rowena Hubbard, Prima Publishing; “Cooking with Spirit – North American Indian Food and Fact,” by Darcy Williamson and Lisa Railsback, Maverick Publications; and / or “Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal,” by Readers Digest.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, 1,105 Words
Published by the Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, May 9, 2006
Posted here with permission