All Hail the Mighty Pumpkin!

pumpkin

 

If there is any one fruit that signifies the month of October it’s the delicious, round, and ribbed squash variant known as the pumpkin. And what better time then the month of October to consider just how versatile this amazing fruit is!

 
Pumpkins are native to North America. The traditional pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo) is traditionally planted in the spring, cultivated in the summer and harvested in mid to late fall when the outer skin is a firm bright orange. The flesh of the pumpkin can be boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted to make soup, pies, purees, dessert bars, and hundreds of other recipes. The seeds can be roasted for a delicious and healthful snack. And, of course, the fruit can be hollowed out and then faces can be carved into the shell to create the traditional jack o’lantern that is a big part of Halloween.

jack-o-lantern
Pumpkins also have a wide variety of other uses. Here are a few.

 

  1. Pumpkins can be fed to dogs and cats as a supplement for managing constipation, diarrhea, or hairballs. The fiber provides the bulk matter that aids in proper digestion.
  2. Raw pumpkin can be fed to laying hens to increase egg production in the colder months
  3. Pumpkin phytochemicals and nutrients may have positive biological effects.

 

There are also pumpkin chunking contests where teams build mechanical devices such as catapults and cannons to hurl a pumpkin as far as possible.

pumpkin-launch
So this month, while you’re eating your pumpkin pie, carving a jack o’lantern, or enjoying your pumpkin spice latte, stop for a moment and consider this amazing fruit that can be used in so many ways.

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The Pervasive Power of Poop

Poop, by the strictest definition, is the waste product left over from the digestion of a food source. Call it what you will — scat, number 2, muck, feces, manure, etc. Sure, it can be gross and disgusting, especially when it’s fresh. But our lives would be so much poorer without it, although for some people, their lives are poorer with it, in which case, may I┬ásuggest a laxative? But I digress.

 
As gardeners, we all know how important manure is as a relatively inexpensive source of nitrogen, a critical nutrient, for our garden vegetables. For many of us, if it wasn’t for this “fruit of the cow’s butt” (or horse’s butt or bat’s butt), the fruit of our gardens would be considerably reduced. Ever heard of castings? Castings are another excellent source of critical garden nutrients. They’re also a fancy name for worm poop.

earthworm-castings
When we make cheese, we add a starter culture to our milk. The bacteria in this starter culture will chew up the sugar (lactose) in the milk and convert it to lactic acid. This lowers the pH of the milk and prepares it for coagulation. So you can think of this lactic acid as bacterial poop.

 
When fungi colonize a growing medium, they secrete enzymes to break down the food source. They then absorb the nutrients through their cell walls and excrete waste products. They literally swim through their own fungal poop. Then, when the temperature, humidity, and light are just right, the fungi will produce their fruiting bodies, a.k.a. mushrooms. Then we eat the mushrooms — that came from the fungi that was swimming in its own poop. And speaking of mushrooms and poop, do you like portabella mushrooms? You do? Excellent, because they are grown in a pasteurized substrate which often contains horse manure as one of the ingredients.

 
And last, but not least, how in the world would political campaigns ever even get off the ground without manure to propel them forward?

 
So remember folks, love may make the world go ’round, but poop is the grease that keeps all the gears moving!

It’s Cleanup Time!

Congratulations to you and your garden! Your springtime preparation and planting and summertime cultivation and watering have paid off handsomely. Your refrigerators are filled with fresh produce, jellies, jams, and preserves; your cupboards and pantries are filled with canned vegetables and fruits, and your basements are brimming with fruits and vegetables that have been stored away for the coming long, cold, and snowy winter. (Note to Mother Nature: go easy on us this winter. Please?) Perhaps you even have a fall crop of greens to which you’ve been routinely consuming. Now’s the time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors.

Uhh, not quite so fast. There is one task remaining for you — one that should not be ignored if you want to improve your odds of having a successful harvest in next year’s garden. That task is to remove the cages, stakes, and other supports, clean up the spent plants, and perhaps even apply some compost and turn over the soil.

“Oh, there’s no need to do all that now,” you say. “I’ll do it in the spring.”

No. There’s every need for that. Cages and stakes left to the mercy of the winter can rot and/or rust. Spent plants and other garden debris left in the garden can become breeding grounds for insect pests and diseases that will plague your garden from the get-go next season and leave you with a severely reduced or non-existent harvest. Cabbage worms and tomato hornworms, for example, can overwinter in the pupal stage in dead or decayed leaves and plant parts. If you get rid of the plant debris, you’ll leave theses pests with no place to hide and survive, thereby lessening the odds that they’ll chomp on your plants next summer.

cabbage-wormTomato Hornworm

Turning over the soil in the fall also has many benefits. For starters, any overwintering insect pest pupae will be buried in the soil. The moth will then be unable to emerge (and lay eggs on your vegetable plants) next spring. Any grubs that would normally overwinter below the soil surface will be brought above ground where they can be seen — and eaten by birds and other grub-eating predators. And if you work in some compost, then all throughout the three months (or more) of winter, soil bacteria will break it down. Come springtime, you’ll be off to a good start with healthy and nutrient-rich soil.

So clean up that debris and turn over that soil! You’ll find that a clean garden is a happy garden — and a productive one too!