Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer Garden Harvests

With fall approaching and summer harvests at their peak, I hope you are enjoying the fruits of your labor.  If you have experienced some success and some frustrating disappointments, don't worry that is part of the garden experience.  Gardening has lots of variables from weather, drought, pests, neglect, etc and adapting to those variables is part of the experience.

Thomas Jefferson, whose most intimate passion was horticulture, said,

"Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one thro' the year.  ....I am still devoted to the garden.  But tho' an old man, I am but a young gardener."

I hope that you too are still devoted to the garden and the abundance it has the potential to bring.  Where ever you are experience wise in the adventure of gardening there is always the hope of a better season. 

Most years are favorable to cucumbers.  If you are a beginning gardener they are a good choice to start with.  Cucumbers need a trellis.  They are climbers and keeping the fruit off the ground is helpful.  

This year I inter- planted with snapdragons and nasturtiums. I really like the combination.  I use hog fencing for a trellis.

There are different types of cucumbers:  slicing (for fresh eating), pickling, and specialty varieties like lemon, English or Armenian.
My favorite slicing is Summer Dance and Armenian.  Almost any pickling variety is prolific.  

Be sure to give them adequate water.  Drought stressed cucumbers with be misshapen and bitter.

Trellising cucumbers allows for good air circulation to prevent fungal disease and allows the fruit to grow straight.

 The pictures below show pickling cucumbers and Armenian.  Armenian cucumbers are actually in the melon family but taste like a cucumber.  I think they have incredible flavor and crispness, for a cucumber, and everyone who tries them decides that cucumbers are actually good.

 Root crops like beets and carrots are another great choice for the beginning gardener. This picture below is Bull's Blood Beets which are great for greens with the added benefits of antioxidants of betalins and not anthocynains in the leaves.  This unique antioxidant provides support in different ways than other antioxidant-rich veggies.  Forms of this antioxidant are found in the roots of both red and golden beets.  Golden beets are my favorite they are much sweeter. 

Carrots are another easy crop to grow.  They need a soil free of rocks with lots of organic matter.  They can be tricky to get to germinate.  If at any point they dry out the seed or seedlings will die.  I always hand water a freshly planted bed or carrots in both the morning and evening.  You can lay a weed block or row cover fabric directly on the ground over the seeds to help hold in moisture but be sure to remove it when they begin to germinate.  Another problem gardeners have with carrots is planting the seeds too deep.  Carrot seeds just barely need to be covered.  You can sprinkle the seeds and brush the area with your hand and that's about all you need to cover them.

Both red and golden beets are easy to grow and can be succession planted throughout the season. In most zones you can even get a fall crop.  Always direct seed beets

Carrots are delicious eaten fresh but roasting them with beets, potatoes, rutabagas, and onions is one our families favorite meals.

Peppers have actually struggled this year and are finally coming on.  Our summer has been rather cool and unfortunately not to the finicky tomatoes liking.  My tomatoes are all still green but the peppers are now doing great.

Green beans are about done for the season.  My favorite green variety is Slenderette which is a hybrid.  The heirlooms I include Royal Burgundy and Yellow Pencil Pod.  I am allowing them to produce seed for next year.

Regularly harvesting green beans is critical to having a long harvest.  Also pull off any misshapen beans. If you have a lot of small curled beans they are probably water stressed.  Only harvest when the leaves are dry.  Harvesting wet can easily spread disease.  The only real disease issue is mosaic viruses.  There are different viruses but in most causes it causes a mottled discolored leaf.  They are spread by vector insects so pesticides are ineffective.  It is best to pull and destroy any plants that may be affected.

Watermelon and summertime go hand in hand.  There is an exciting world of melons for the home gardener.  One of my favorites is an orange fleshed variety so try something along with old time favorites.  Everything you need to know about growing melons is in this link:


Nothing is better than a homegrown muskmelon.  Muskmelons can have netted skins or be smooth.  They can be ribbed or non-ribbed.
The American melon with the ribbed skin and orange flesh is what most people know as a cantaloupe.  

The French Charentais melon is smooth grayish color with only faint ribs.  The flesh is orange and absolutely heavenly. I highly recommend trying these French gems. 

What would summer be without corn on the cob?  I have two gardens, one for field crops and a garden of raised beds.  Corn needs to be planted in large blocks of at least 5x5'  for good pollination. A good portion of the field garden is devoted to corn. I have a link for more info on growing sweet corn. 

 There are other options besides sweet corn.  There are dent, flour, flint, and popcorn.

Dent corn is characterized by a depression in the crown of the kernel caused by unequal drying of the hard and soft starch making up the kernel. They are the typical field corn used for animal feed, cornmeal, and fuel. (Bountiful Gardens)

 Flint corn, containing little soft starch, has no depression. Popcorn is considered this type as are the colorful Indian or ornamental corns. Flint corns are more cold tolerant. (Bountiful Gardens)

 Flour corn, composed largely of soft starch, has soft, mealy, easily ground kernels. Sweet corn has wrinkled, translucent seeds; the plant sugar is not converted to starch as in other types. (
This year I'm growing Blue Hopi Flint corn, Floriani for cornmeal and flour, and a popcorn.

I like planting winter squash and pumpkins on the outside rows of the corn.  They like to climb the corn stalks and being on the outside still get plenty of sunshine.

This is a mini butternut.  I love the size which is good for 1 or 2 people.  This is perfect for me because I'm the only one in my family that enjoys winter squash.  This variety also seems to produce more fruit than larger varieties.

My grapes did great this year.  I always feel like I'm battling a beast when it comes to controlling the growth of grapes.  To get a good crop they need to be pruned heavily.  I honestly feel if I stood still too long by the grapes the vines would entangle me and I would never get free.

The biggest challenge I have with grapes is keeping the birds and wasps away.  A radio tuned to talk radio works fairly good with birds.  Homemade traps with wasps have helped somewhat.  I've tried tulle but the birds just get stuck inside.  Sadly I always lose some of my crops to both pests.

I grow both table grapes and Concord grapes for jelly and juicing.

A little cooler summer was great for broccoli and cauliflower.  I plant a large spring crop and a small late summer crop to be harvested in the fall.  Above is Graffiti which is just a gorgeous color.  It loses its color if steamed but retains it better if roasted.

Cheddar is another favorite variety of cauliflower.  If you grow brocolli and cauliflower through the summer be prepared to deal with aphids and caterpillars.  There are effective organic methods to deal with these troublesome pests.

This is our field garden.  This year we put weed block cloth down and shredded bark in the paths to make weeding easier.  I usually rotate corn, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, and melons in this area.

I tried tomatoes in the field garden and they weren't very happy. They weren't very happy with the cool summer either and are still showing there disgust by staying green.  But " the failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another."  Blackberries loved the weather and I had a huge crop that is still coming. My little grand daughter is pretty happy about that!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pie Pumpkins or Sugar Pumpkins

"For pottage and puddings and custards and pies
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies,
We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkins at noon,
If it were not for pumpkins we should be undoon."
Pilgrim verse, circa 1633

History of Pumpkins

The pumpkin is thought to have originated in the Americas.  The original pumpkins were not the round,bright, orange varieties we think of but the crook neck varieties.  They were cultivated along the river banks with beans and sunflowers.They literally prevented starvation in the long winter months.

The Indians used the flesh in numerous ways:  roasted, boiled, parched, and dried.  The dried pumpkin could be ground into flour.  They also ate the seeds and used them for medicinal purposes.  The shells could be dried and used as storage bowls.

Pumpkins were at the second Thanksgiving feast and the pilgrims depended on this crop to survive the winter.  The original pumpkin pie had no crust but was cooked in the shell.  The pilgrims cut the top off, scooped out the seeds, and filled the tureen with cream, eggs, honey, and spices. They put the top back on and buried it in ashes. Delicious!

Stewed Pumpkin or Pompion 1672 Recipe

8 cups peeled diced pumpkin
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
salt to taste

This would have been a standard way pumpkin was prepared in New England.  Put 2 cups of peeled diced pumpkin and 1/4 c water into a pot and cook gently over low heat until they sink down.  Keep adding more pumpkin until you have used all 8 cups.  When cooked, the pumpkin will be soft but will keep its form.  It will resemble stewed apples.

Do not add more water.  Remove from the heat and add butter, vinegar, brown sugar and spices.  Stir gently and serve.

 Meet the Pumpkin

All pumpkins are considered a winter squash.   They are part of the cucurbit family along with squash, melons, and watermelons. There are four species.  Cross pollination only occurs within the same species.  Pumpkins are c. pepo species.  They have hard, woody furrowed stems.  Summer squash, field pumpkins, and acorn squash are also in this family.

Sugar pumpkins are smaller than the typical Jack-0-lantern pumpkins.  They are 6-8 inches in diameter and often have nettled skins instead of smooth outside skin.  The sugar or pie pumpkins is the best choice for roasting or making pumpkin puree.  The flesh is sweeter, less stringy, and has less moisture than larger pumpkins.  The can be prepared like any other winter squash.  They need 105-120 days to mature and time to cure so plan accordingly.

The larger field pumpkins are best for carving and decorating.  Their flesh is watery, stringy, and less flavorful. They were breed to have thicker rinds and thus more stability when carved. But what would a fall garden be without Howden, Kuncklehead, and Connecticut Field pumpkins.   They can also be used as a hollowed out tureen for fall soups.  Your chickens will love these pumpkins as a fall treat and the deer also enjoy them.

There are also unique varieties of pumpkin to try that also make delicious pie puree and are good roasted.  Any Cinderella pumpkin such as Rouge Vif'd etmapes, the cheese pumpkins, and red kuri.

 Types of Pie or Sugar Pumpkins


Winter Luxury

At the top of the list is the heirloom variety, Winter Luxury, that has been around since 1893.  This beautiful pumpkins is a perfectly round 4-6 lb variety with a nettled skin.  This variety supposedly tops the blind taste tests.  Winter Luxury always has a place in my garden.  I grow plenty to share with family and friends.

Orange Smoothie Pumpkin

This is another heirloom variety that I love.  It has a beautiful deep, smooth orange outside skin. They are 4-6 lbs and slightly ribbed.

Cinderella Pumpkins

Cinderella Pumpkins are a French heirloom more accurately call Rouge Vif'd etemptes.  Not only are they enchanting they are delicious and the larger size gives you lots of puree.  This is my second favorite pie pumpkin.  This is thought to be the pumpkin used at the second Thanksgiving so definitely give it a try on the holidays.  These are absolutely enchantingly beautiful pumpkins for decorating.  Their unique shape is most definitely that of Cinderella's carriage.  If only you had a fairy God mother to complete the magic.

Growing Pie Pumpkins

Pie pumpkins are easy to grow.  They need full sun and lots of room to grow.  The vines can grow up to 8-15 feet long.  They like a soil rich in organic matter.  I plant my winter squash, corn, pumpkins melons and potatoes in a field rotating the crops every year. Do not over crowd pumpkins you want good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew.

I dig out a hole at least 1x1 foot.  Mix in lots of compost and a good organic dry fertilizer. This puts the fertilizer at the root zone. Fill the hole in and plant 2-3 seeds 2 inches deep.  I would thin it to the two healthiest plants. I leave an indentation because the warm winds tend to dry out our soil.  Once the plants are up and true leaves appear apply more mulch and give them a drink of fish emulsion and kelp. You can give them more fish emulsion when they begin to flower.

Dry Organic Fertilizer Mix

When to Plant

Wait until your soil warms to 70 degrees before planting.  To warm the soil you can put down black porous mulch cloth.  In my zone, I plant on Memorial Day and into June depending on the maturity date of the variety I'm planting and when I want to harvest.

They should germination in 5-10 days.  Pumpkins seeds can be stored for up to 6 years.


Keep the weeds under control.  Once the vines are large enough they tend to shade out weeds.  Keep the weeds down while the vines are small because  it is difficult to get to weeds without damaging your vines once they mature. Any organic corn gluten weed control is helpful in controlling weeds.


I believe many garden problems are result of poor watering habits.  Overhead watering is never a good idea.  Water in the morning.  Invest in a good water system but always monitor your plants and make adjustments.

 Pumpkins are 80-90% water.  Even moisture is the key to productive, healthy plants. How frequently you water will depend on the amount of organic matter in your soil, rainfall, wind, and your method of watering.  Poke your finger a couple of inches in the ground.  The soil should be cool and moist.

 Mulching around plants  helps maintain even moisture and adds organic matter to the soil.

You can see the developing fruit at the base of the flower.


The first flowers that appear are usually male. They produce pollen that attracts the bees.  The female flowers often only open for a day.  The native squash bee is usually responsible pollinating pumpkins.  Learn good cultural practices to attract and maintain Native Pollinators.

To distinguish between male and female flower look at the base of the stem.  The stem of male flowers are straight.  Female flowers bulge at the base.


Powdery mildew is a problem for pumpkins. It is a fungal disease that first manifests as circular talcum looking spots. It looks like a dusting of powder on the leaves.  Certain conditions need to exist for powdery mildew to colonize.  It needs dense growing conditions, humidity, dry leaf conditions, and ideal temperatures of 70-80 degrees.  It seems to begin after fruiting and in older plantings.

Always monitor your pumpkins for powdery mildew. Begin monitoring in July.  Check 5 or more leaves in the upper and lower canopy.

Organic fungicides include Serenade, Neem Oil, and a .5 percent solution of baking soda (1 teaspon of baking soda in 1 quart of water)  The plant needs to be sprayed thoroughly both the underside of leaves and the top and all leaves in the canopy.  Fungicides stop the colonization or spread of the fungus.  A preventative program is helpful.  I add Serenade to my spray rountine for squash bugs.

Cultural practices make a huge difference in preventing disease.  Look for resistant varieties.  Provide good air circulation by spacing pumpkin vines 4-6 feet apart.  Be sure to remove all plant debris at the end of the season. Leftover plant debris acts as an inoculate the following year.




 The first indication you may have of an infestation of aphids is that the tender young leaves start curling and wilting.  If leaves regain tugor after watering usually you have aphids or thrips sucking the sap from the underside of leaves. Upon close inspection you will see thousands of these tiny insects on the back side of the leaves. They can do a lot of damage to female blossoms too.  They will even appear on developing pumpkins.  Insecticidial soap, Neem oil, or pyrethrin for an out of control infestation will all help.  If you monitor you plants regularly a good spray of water will knock aphids off and no pesticides are necessary. 

Usually lady beetles will appear and their larvae will help with an aphid problem. 

Squash Bugs

The menace of pumpkins in my area are squash bugs.  I use a preventative spray program for squash and pumpkins.  Remember there are a couple generations so you have to diligent.  I've included the link to help you.  It uses only organic soft sprays and it works.

Controlling Squash Bugs

Harvesting and Curing Pumpkins

How do you know when your pumpkins are ready?  The stem hardens, the color dulls, and when you press the skin with your fingernail it is hard. The vines begin to die back

Cut at least a 3-6 inch stem.  Turn off the water and leave the pumpkins in the field to cure unless it is very moist and wet.  If a hard frost (below 27 degrees) is coming you will want to move them in cool garage.

Store pumpkins in a dry area at 50-55 degrees.  Spread out on a wood surface or on newspapers so the pumpkins are not touching.  Do not store on concrete.

Frequently check for weeping and soft spots.  You can cut out soft spots and use the good portions of the pumpkin.

Pumpkins store for about 3 months.

Chocolate chip pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin puree.

Making Pumpkin Puree

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise.  Scope out all the strings and seeds. Turn cut side down in a tray and place in a 350 degree oven.  Add about an inch of water.  Cooking time will depend on the size of the pumpkin.  The small sugar pumpkins take about 45 minutes.  Check with a fork.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Scoop out the pumpkin into a blender or bowl.  You may have to add a small amount of water.  I prefer to use a stick blender.  Puree until smooth.  Put in clean glass canning jars or freezer containers and freeze.