Planting the Perfect Pumpkin

We all want that giant, magical pumpkin come harvest time.  Here are a few tips to get you there.  Pumpkins are related to cucumbers, melons, summer squash, zucchini, and winter squashes and all of the vegetables in this family will benefit from this treatment. Warm soil. In Vermont wait until early June to put out the plants--a good rule of thumb is to wait until we have had a few nights above 50 F degrees. Transplants do better than seeds since you will have a head start on the season and don't risk having seeds rot in cold soil or be eaten by the local rodent.  It's best to keep two plants together when transplanting since the larger volume of foliage will help shade out weeds later in the season.

A raised bed or mound. This will help warm the soil and improve drainage.  It also gives the plants' shallow roots a place full or looser soil to spread without strain.

Lots of fertility. Compost is a  must for successful pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and melons.  At home, we use rotted donkey manure (thanks to Pokey and Rosy) mixed with well composted yard debris (leaves, grass clippings) and food scraps.  More can be learned about compost at the Vermont Compost Company website.  A little granular fertilizer can be used as well if you do not have access to good compost and/or very poor soils.  A soil test is always a good idea, and can be done easily at your local extension office.

Adequate water. One inch a week.  That means that if it does not rain, you should gently pour about 3 gallons of water at the base of your plants.  A slow drip irrigation system or soaker hose is a great option as well.

Full sun. There is no compromise on this one.  The plants must have at least 8 to 10 hours of full sunlight.

Lots of room.  Plants (actually, groups of 2 plants) should be at least 3 feet apart. They need that much space for proper ventilation and so that the flowers and foliage are exposed to pollinators and sunlight.

Pollination. Plant a few bee friendly plants such as calendula, borage, mint and salvias around your garden to attract bees and other beneficial insects.  Cucurbit plants have male and female flowers on each plant and have to be pollinated by insects.  Welcoming bees to your garden will help yields since more female flowers will become pollinated--the only way for them to produce fruit.

Harvest at the right time. Winter squashes and pumpkins should be harvested when the skins are hard and cannot be pierced by your thumbnail.  Summer squashes and cucumbers and zucchini should be harvested at whatever stage you like to eat them, from baby to baseball bats.  Watermelons are harvested when the tendrils on either side of the attaching stem are dead and the yellow spot on the bottom of the fruit (where it rests on the ground) is a deep yellow, and when thunking the fruit with your knuckle produces a hollow sound.  Cantaloupes are ready when they slip off the vine with a gentle tug (called the "half slip stage").  Melons take a little trial and error to learn to harvest at the right time, but a good rule of thumb is "if in doubt, wait."

The Autumn Garden: Time to Gather and Restore

With these colder days also come a chance to produce a few more late season greens in the vegetable garden. These include lettuce, kale, parsley cilantro, arugula, mustard greens and spinach. Here is a simple system that can be followed by anyone wishing to extend the fall and winter harvest.

Julie's Introduction

If you ask me, September is the best month in the garden.

The warm season crops are still doing well (in theory) and the colder season crops are starting to come back, thankful for the cooler nights.

The harvest basket seems to just fill itself up the minute I step into the straw mulched paths, pausing for a moment to ask if I should eat the raspberries before or after I do a little grunt work.

But while all of this pastoral musing seems idyllic enough, there are some other thoughts in the nether layers that I need to reckon with.

First of all, why is my garden so big?

Why is it that every April, the month of good intentions, I decide that this is the year I will finally find time to keep everything weeded and tended?

As we slide from April to September, my good intentions are slowly eclipsed by my desire to spend summertime in places other than the garden. I love to bike, hike, swim, row, travel, read in the hammock, and yes, I love to cook, hence the garden. But gardening feels like work when it is 95 F and the weeds are scratching my neck.

I used to feel guilty about all of this, but now I have learned to cope with the ebb and flow of my gardening enthusiasm-- what I am working on now is gardening without guilt.

While it is true that I am very passionate about gardening, I realize that there is a seasonal drive to every aspect of this hobby. Every gardener must come to terms with his or her own type of engagement in the garden. There is no right or wrong way to garden. There is beauty and purpose in every type of garden and what matters most is that a garden meets the needs of the gardener, not the other way around. Gardens without guilt are places of liberation and revelation....a place to accept both our shortcomings and our successes.

The food coming out of my garden this year is bountiful as always, and I have managed to learn a few things which have made the garden easier to manage in spite of its size. Over the next few months as we go through another autumn and winter cycle, I will reflect on what gardening means to me, what I do with the food from my garden, and how I go about deciding what to grow at Red Wagon Plants.

As I share these thoughts with you, I encourage you to share your notions about The Garden. What works well for you? What are the disasters? How does your garden fit into your life? This garden journal is a collective effort between the people of Red Wagon Plants and the family of customers created by all of those young plants going out into the world of our gardens. We hope you will share the thoughts you glean this season and keep the conversation going until we see you again in the spring.