Posts Tagged ‘pumpkins’

There are 162 days until Thanksgiving, so you’d better hurry if you plan on decorating this year.  For a cornucopia of color, get your seeds in the ground before the end of June, popping in everything you need to stuff that horn in November.

Start by planting two staples of fall décor – miniature gourds and tiny pumpkins.  These must-have accents nestle into centerpieces and are easy to grow in our hot, dry summer. Each vine produces enough decorative fruit to make any decorator happy, but because they like to ramble, give them room or train them up a trellis. 

Customize your plants to fit your decorator’s style, by planting a mix of orange and white mini pumpkins.  If you favor a flat pumpkin, orange Jack be Little or white Baby Boo is what you need.  But for perfectly round, miniature Jack O’ Lanterns, check out Little October at Botanical Interests .

For a striking red accent, grow Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), an amaranth with long, pendulous seed heads.  Pop in full sun, giving these three-to-four feet tall plants elbow room and a stake for support.  Water, but keep them a bit on the dry side.  Clip mature flowers and hang them in a cool, dark location to dry.  Seeds of change  has this.

Ornamental corn is available in a variety of sizes and colors, from diminutive, two-inch strawberry ears to huge, nine-inch Seneca Red Stalker whose stalks and ears delight in fall on porches, tables, and doors.  Direct sow seeds in full sun, planting at least five rows to ensure pollination.  Water often so ears get large, then wait to harvest until after the silk turns completely brown and the kernels are dry and hard. 

Pluck the ears from the stalk by pulling them down, peel back the husk to reveal the kernels, and then hang upside down in a cool, dry location that is free of mice.  Leave the husk attached to the cob for a decorative look, or peel it completely off before drying the ears.  For a large selection of colors and sizes, check out Seed Savers Exchange .

Normally seen springing up from straw mulch by accident, wheat is an unusual addition to cut flower gardens.  But its spiky, bearded seed heads are gorgeous in arrangements and bundled in sheaves on the table.  Plant it like grass seed by sowing onto a prepared bed, covering it with one-quarter-inch of soil.  Keep the ground moist but not water-logged.  Johnny’s Selected Seeds has black tipped wheat, or try Silver Tip, a wheat/rye cross with huge seed heads.

  Small to medium sized sunflowers are cheerful in dried arrangements, and keep long into the fall once prepared.  Harvest when flowers are partially open, cutting the stem off at the length you want for arranging.  Then bundle the sunflowers into groups of three, making sure the heads aren’t touching, tie with twine and hang them upside down in a cool, dark place to dry.  The flowers will unfurl as they dry.

Try the pollen-less Pro Cut sunflower series; the orange, yellow peach and bi-color blooms were developed for cut flower use. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has them.  

Make your own fall wreath or swag with broomcorn (Sorghum bicolor).  The name is misleading – this isn’t corn – but the seed sprays of this sorghum come in bronze, burgundy, black, and cream.   Harvest after the seed heads have colored up but before the stalk becomes hard and woody.  Cut the stem, then hang the sprays upside down to dry.  But if you want them to have a decorative arch once dried, stand them up in a vase for drying.  Victory seeds has an heirloom mix.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Irish myth tells of Jack O’ Lanterns originating with a man called “Stingy Jack,” who tricked the devil several times and got away with it.  The devil, it seems, was gullible in those days.  But after he died, Jack found that heaven didn’t want his soul and, still snitting over the swindling, hell didn’t want him either. 

Doomed to wander the earth, Jack carried a glowing ember in a hollowed out turnip to light his way.  Thereafter known as “Jack of the Lantern,” and “Jack O’ Lantern,” he and a host of evil spirits roamed around frightening people. 

To stop this menace, people in Ireland and Scotland began carving spooky faces into turnips and potatoes, placing them in windows and doorways to drive off ghouls.  In England, large beets were used, which if you ask our President is a very scary vegetable.

Thus the Jack O’ Lantern was born, and immigrants bringing this tradition with them to the United States found the pumpkin, a fruit grown in the Americas for thousands of years, to be perfect for carving.  Rouge vif d'etamps

Tall or squat, thick skinned or warty, other vegetables just can’t hold a candle to the giant gourd.  It even comes in designer colors of green, yellow, red, white, blue, or tan, if you’re looking for haute décor. 

Take the screaming red Rouge vif d’Etamps, reputed to be the prototype for Cinderella’s carriage, which I don’t understand.  Though large in girth, it’s not a tall pumpkin.  In fact, it looks more like a wheel on its side than a stately conveyance.  But on porches the crimson fruit is a delight alongside ornamental corn, dried flowers and apples.

pumpkinsGhostly white Lumina, zombie-grey Jarradale, or misshapen Red Warty Thing are guaranteed to give your guests a fashionable fright.  Or add a novel touch with Batwing, a small-to-medium sized orange globe with black bottom.  Little pranksters love tiny, white Baby Boo or orange Jack be Little minis, perfect for smaller hands.

 If you grew pumpkins, harvest them when they’ve turned a deep uniform color, and have a hard rind. The skin should be firm and resist denting when pressed with a thumbnail.  Our recent cool down, though it may have killed the vine, won’t harm the fruit but when frost or freeze threatens, harvest all ripe pumpkins.

To keep bugs and disease at bay, cut the fruit from the vine with a pruner, leaving four inches of stem attached to the pumpkin.  Though tempting, don’t carry the fruit by their stems – those squash are heavy and your stem might snap off.  Leave 4 inches of stem

Cure your pumpkins by placing them in the warmest room of your house, leaving them for 10 days to harden their skin.  Once cured, they can be kept in a cool, dry area for up to 3 months.

If you’re shopping one of the delightful you-pick pumpkin farms or farm stands, choose pumpkins that are unbruised, have sturdy stems and are without mold.  Those with flat bottoms sit better for display, but don’t overlook the possibilities for using a listing gourd for carving a lazy goblin.

 Once your pumpkin is picked and safely home, keep it fresh and ready for the big night with these tips:

 Wait to carve it until one or two days before Halloween.

Immediately after carving, smear petroleum jelly over the interior and cut surfaces to lock moisture in.

Pumpkins will wilt in three days; perk yours up by soaking it in water, and prevent mold by adding one teaspoon of bleach per gallon.

 After you’ve carved that gruesome specter, give it a fresh scent by sprinkling pumpkin pie spice on the lid, where heat from the candle or bulb will release the aroma.  Your trick or treating ghosts and ghouls will enjoy the potpourri scent as well as the candy.

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