A Cucurbita Journey of 14 Months

This morning I made pumpkin muffins.  There’s a story here that spans a year+ in time.

The original green pumpkin, 2012

The original green pumpkin, 2012, and Maggie at the front door.

First I saved seed from a cool looking grey-green pumpkin I got at the Farmers Market last October, 2012.  It was a squatty, heavily ridged, a “Cinderella’s coach” shaped pumpkin.  Quite enchanting!

I planted the seeds in spring/summer 2013 and watched them grow.  My intention was to have home grown pumpkins to put by the doorstep in the fall.

The leaves were huge & the 2 vines were about 15 feet long toward the end of the growing season.  The blossoms looks like any squash blossom – large, yellow and attractive to bees.  I only had two nice-sized pumpkins by October, but then I really didn’t need any more than that.  It was fun to watch them grow.

Early July.  The green pumpkin vine is at far right.  At left are the mini orange pumpkin vines.  Front and center, tomatoes & French melons.

Early July. The green pumpkin vine is at far right. At left are the mini orange pumpkin vines. Front and center, tomatoes & French melons.

I did use the pumpkins for fall decoration.

Then last week, after they’d spent time outdoors in the freezing cold, I thought I’d better take the seeds out and pitch the rest in the compost pile.  But when I cut one in half, it smelled and tasted so fine, I decided to cook some.  I peeled & cut it in chunks. The flesh was firm, sweet, and a beautiful orange color.  I saved the seeds for the squirrels, and a few seeds to plant next year.  The remainder went in the compost pile, as originally planned.

I sorta made it up as I went along, hoping for the best.  I’ve heard that the puree you make at home is never like what Libby’s sells in a can, but I found that untrue.  Mine turned out that thick consistency, the same color, fragrance, & taste.  I pureed the chunks by cooking in a pan, atop the stove, with a bit of water, a couple tsp. of sugar, and cinnamon & nutmeg.  It took a while to cook it down til it was almost a paste (like canned pumpkin). Placed it in fridge til I decided what to make with it.

Last night I scoured the internet for a good-for-you pumpkin bread recipe.  Found one at FineCooking.com (olive oil pumpkin bread, using honey, whole wheat flour, and olive oil).

Bright and early this morning I whipped up the batter, using my home grown pumpkin puree.  I felt like an old-fashioned country girl, and very “with it” chick, all at the same time as I pulled the recipe up on my Kindle Fire & parked it on the kitchen counter.  I impulsively added finely chopped pecans and fresh blueberries, too, which was a good decision, and a tablespoon of ground flax seed (which goes in any of my baked goods).  And I made a dozen muffins instead of a loaf of bread.  I ate the first one, fresh and hot with melting butter (so much for healthy)  – but, oh my how scrumptious!!

Muffins from home grown pumpkins, sweet, moist, & delicious.

Muffins, sweet, moist, & delicious, made from my home grown pumpkins.

I have more puree in the freezer.  Next time I’m going to make the recipe with dark chocolate chips, because dark chocolate is good for you!

A pumpkin adventure from start to finish, Oct 2012 til this morning.  And a journey I’m glad I took.  I’m only sorry that I didn’t take more pix to document the entire year.  I didn’t know it was going to be a story.  Maybe next year…

The end of November

11-23-13 shed & plantings6Got (almost) the last of the bulbs planted today.  I think today was the last big Fall push in the new ‘shed gardens’.  Planted 50 drumstick alliums, 8 little crocus chrysanthus (maybe Goldilocks – yellow w/deep maroon stripes), and another pot of 12 red/yellow tulips.  Still can’t find the bag of daff bulbs that is in the garage somewhere…  will look again tomorrow, but it’s really getting too late to plant.  Going down to 21F tonight.  Brrrr!  I just have to face it – what’s not done yet is gonna stay ‘not done’ for this gardening season.

The area around the shed looks really strange (see below).  Sorta polka-dotted.  Everywhere I’ve planted in this new area, I’ve also put down Preen mulch.  It was a way to keep track of where I planted things and where there were still ‘vacancies’ for things yet to be planted.  And Preen because I’ve got 4 trucks-full of fresh topsoil & compost (a 1.3 ratio), and also stirred up the dirt in that area when the stump grinding was done.  Goodness knows what’ll sprout, but you can be pretty sure it won’t be things I’ll be happy about!

The installation of the rain barrels is completed and I’m pleased with it.  Two barrels may look too ambitious for that little patch of roof, but one heavy rain comes close to filling one of them.  I intend to capture as much rainfall (aka – free water) as I can.  The paths in this large garden are emerging as I walk through it, over and over.  Already I’ve got a ‘mistake’ – the path leading up to the shed door is gravel.  NOT a good choice.  Can’t push the mower through it, or the wheelbarrow.  So, come spring, the gravel will come out and pavers will go down.  Live and learn.  I don’t know if it’s just too deep or what?

11-23-13 shed & plantings1

Lots still just staged and waiting its turn (below)

  1. The pallets (5 of them) will be formed into double compost bins at the back right side  of the shed
  2. Pavers, wall stones, and mulch, waiting for their spot
  3. The holding spot for all the old daylilies I saved
  4. All the German Irises, waiting for a permanent home

11-23-13 shed & plantings411-23-13 shed & plantingsThe sweet pink Knockout rose (above), placed at the left front corner of the shed, still has buds.  But I think the cold temps tonight will end that.  I’m really looking forward to it in that spot.  I gave it plenty of room to grow & fill up that corner.  In the front of it I’ve planted a handful of snow crocuses (mixed) and behind is a clump of 15 Narcissus ‘Thalia’.

Below is my ‘infant’ red twig dogwood (cornus sericea, seems to be the native in Wisconsin).  I grew it over the summer from two twigs I snipped when I was in Wisconsin in early April this year.  It was the only color in the late winter landscape and it was everywhere!  I brought them home in my suitcase, kept them in water for a few weeks on the kitchen windowsill, then, with a bit of rooting hormone on the stems, I potted the twigs, which had sprouted tiny leaves.  I put a plastic bag greenhouse over them.  Kept them in a pot all summer and now they’ve moved into their permanent garden spot.  I was pleased to see they were root bound when I dumped them out of the gallon pot.  Hoping they survive the winter.  I look forward to their winter color a year from now.

11-23-13 shed & plantings3I’ve spent most all of my time working in the new beds out back.  Raking, which is always a last choice for me, was really let go this year.  Below, on the left, is my yard covered in leaves.  And on the right is my neighbor’s pristine grass, not a leaf in sight.  I feel bad when the wind blows south and sends all my leaves into his yard.  When I apologize, he says it works both ways…  he’s right tolerant.  One day I said, “Mike, why not get a chair, sit out back, and enjoy all the gorgeous yellow maple leaves drifting down and decorating your lawn”.  But that’s not his thing.  Different strokes.  His thing is raking daily, sometimes two or three times daily.  He’s retired, I’m not.

11-23-13 shed & plantings2I did mow the front yard one last time last Wednesday, so all those leaves are gone now.  Shredded, gulped up into the mower bag, and then added to the compost pile.  I can hardly wait til the compost bins are built.

My Christmas cactus has become a Veteran’s Day cactus.  It looked dreadful this spring, so I threw a little fresh dirt on it with some Osmocote, and put it on the side porch for the summer.  It put out SO much new growth I was amazed.  When I brought it back inside a few weeks back, it promptly budded up (over 30 buds).  The first one opened for Vet’s Day.  It’s still looking lovely and I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

11-23-13 shed & plantings5Today I also emptied all the various outdoor planters/pots and got them ready for winter storage.  Tomorrow I’ll rake leaves…  It’s almost done, almost…

Fall is like…

“We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”.  -Book of Common Prayer

Fall is sort of like those lines from the Book of Common Prayer, isn’t it?

I have a gazillion things to be done outside and it’s a bright, sunny day (but cold & windy), so I should be out there taking care of various fall garden chores…   “left undone those things which ought to have done”.  I know once I get out there working, I’ll get warmed up, but I’m procrastinating.  Maybe after lunch, it’ll be warmer then.

Instead I’m inside, fooling around with all the seeds I’ve collected over this growing season.  And it’s a task that could easily be done on a winter day, long after the fall garden wrap up is complete… “done those things I ought not to have done” (right now, anyhow).

I never want to buy a plant twice – – – which is not the same as not wanting to grow it again, or not wanting to have more of the same.  I just don’t want to spend my hard earned $$ on it again.  It’s about collecting seeds!  Propagation.  I do it avidly in my own gardens and have been known to collect seeds in other places, too (garden centers, public gardens, friend’s gardens, gardens that grow street-side, in the wild… you get the drift, no seed is safe from me).  I save seed from the fruits & veggies I buy at the Farmer’s Market during the growing season.  Oh, and I do actually buy seeds, too, both locally and online.  And I exchange seeds with my Flickr friends.

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Just a small portion of my bags of seeds

Just a small portion of my bags of seeds


Anyhow, I’m working on all these seeds, cleaning, packaging, & labeling.  I get to the tiny 2×3″ plastic bag where I’ve been stuffing the ‘almost ready to pop’ dry seed pods from the annual silky deep red butterfly weed (asclepias ) I grew this summer.  I mean, the unopened pods are stuffed tight in the bag.  There are easily a dozen and a half pods.  I let very few of them open in the garden.  So, I grab hold of the stems and pull them all out… you know what’s coming, don’t you?  If you know what milkweed seed pods look like and how the seed disperses, you know.

flowers and seeds

flowers and seeds

Every one of those pods popped open, simultaneously!  They’d been waiting to disperse their seeds for ever-so-long and those babies were ready, and I mean READY!  And that’s exactly what they did!!  All over my work area in the corner of the living room!  And all over me!  Oh my!  How I wish I had a video of this event to share with you!  And then I started laughing, and they blew around even more!  I’ll undoubtedly have bits of this ‘fluff’ all  over for some time to come!  I did manage to capture most of them and stuff them in a new, larger baggie.



And, yes, I’ll plant those seeds next year.  But next year I’ll collect their seed a bit differently,with a bit more intelligence and understanding of the ways of this beautiful  red and yellow butterfly weed.

My new garden shed with trim not yet painted dark brown.

My new garden shed with trim not yet painted dark brown.

I’m working (or should be) on planting the area where I just had a garden shed built.  And I need to finish painting the shed door and trim (white trim now, will all be chocolate brown when – if – it ever gets done).  All those sale plants purchased end of season will be planted there.
It’s so gorgeous out today!  Fall leaves are just exquisite, showing their crayon box reds and yellows!  I’d best get out there and quit procrastinating…

4:30 PM update – Yay me!  Got out there & got some things done.  Once I get started, I’m a ball o’ fire :-).  And, sure ’nuff, hadn’t been working 15 minutes before I shed my jacket.

Planted and mulched:

  • 1 Beautyberry (callicarpa dichotoma ‘early amethyst’)
  • 10 reblooming German irises ‘Immortality’ (soft white)
  • 2 Ilex crenata ‘Helleri’
  • 1 Pink Knockout Rose (rosa x ‘radcon’ PP#15070)
  • 10 clumps of grape hyacinths (dug up prior to removal of the driveway fence)
  • a handful of mystery crocus bulbs (were mixed in with grape hyacinth bulbs above)
  • a Eupatorium Hyssopifolium (don’t know common name, but reminds me of the wildflower called boneset, which is also a eupatorium).
  • Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ (moved from an unsuitable place; I failed to read the height on the plant tag when I originally planted it and put it at the front edge of a bed).

Also got the gutter guard put on the back gutter of the shed where my rain barrels will be located.  In a climate with below freezing winters, do you empty out the rain barrel in late fall??

And I got the path from the front of the shed to the edge of the grass ready for gravel by putting down the landscaping cloth and placing the pavers at the edges to hold it down.  Now I need to get the gravel, but not today.  Whew!  I’m bushed!

Today’s bouquet & Oct garden update

It’s been a very busy time in the Saint Claire Cottage gardens the last couple months.  I’ve barely had time to wash the dirt off my hands to eat, much less do any blogging!  I’m finally getting to the back yard area of my little quarter acre after 7 years in my home.

This summer I’ve cleared the back of my yard (with help) of the jungle that was there.  The back third was a horrendous mix of 12′ tall kolkwitzia, forsythia-gone-wild, daylilies, nasty dock, bird- seeded rose of sharons, and an ancient buddleia not worth saving (and other flotsam and jetsam of the plant world, aka weeds and ivy).  You couldn’t even see the alley.  I did dig & save a bit of forsythia and a bunch of old-timey daylilies.  What job all this was!  Then the stump- grinding guy came and ground up all the roots beneath the soil, so hopefully none of that ‘stuff’ will come back.  Then I put up an 8×12 garden shed in that area, which had to be painted inside and out…  and on and on…

I had the chain link fence that ran beside the driveway removed (it was, effectively, cutting my back yard in half, from the house to the alley).  So, between the jungle removal and fence removal, my back yard now looks gi-normous, and very empty.

Next week my local garden center is delivering and spreading four truckloads of topsoil & compost to level the area out and raise it up a bit.  They are also planting 5 hydrangeas along the back edge of the yard along the alley (3 limelights and 2 twist ‘n shouts).  Once that’s done, I have plants materials & bulbs to be planted yet.  (Please, ole man winter, hold off a bit longer)!

Sales, OMG, the sales!  I just bought 17 items from a big box store nursery at 75% off, all shrubs except for three heucheras w/dark purple leaves, all for just $29 – and it’s all great looking stock, not dead & dying.  And then one of my fave little garden centers closed forever (retiring) and I missed their big 75% off markdown sale, boo hoo.  But I still came away with 3 shrubs (kerria), a few perennials (veronica & bleeding hearts), pots, books, and some items for a future fairy garden planter, during their last week of business.  They will be so missed (Philip’s Seeds in Greencastle, PA).

So I have all these things to plant yet, not to mention a couple hundred new spring bulbs.  Oh, my aching back (and happy heart)!  Next is to moving all my gardening tools, pots, etc. to the new shed.  Still  have to put up the rain barrels, too.  Sure wish I didn’t work a FT job!

The raised veggie beds have all been emptied and prepped for next growing season.  Hanging out there til the new beds are ready are 30 new bearded irises, a couple dozen ‘saved’ daylilies, and an assortment of other plants in pots.  Um… have we had Indian Summer yet, or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Things remaining on the project list?  An old-window greenhouse (I have all the windows, am working on the design for spring), compost bins from old pallets (have the pallets & the existing compost pile to move into the bins, also for spring), a potting bench for outside the shed (Pinning ideas like crazy, not gonna get done this fall. http://www.pinterest.com/ginnytalbert/garden-shed-ideas/), and the leaves to rake, groan…  So what am I doing in here typing??  It was cold this morn, so I stayed inside, but now I’ve gotta get out there.

Finally, here is today’s bouquet, picked a couple days ago when the forecast was for 29F overnight.  Lobelia, millet, and zinnia angustifolia.  And pumpkins I grew this year, all parked on the dining room windowsill!

Zinnia angustifolia, millet seedheads, and lobelia.

Zinnia angustifolia, millet seedheads, and lobelia.

On a closing note, in September I had the pleasure of vacationing in Maine, my first visit to that state.  Visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  Oh my, it was breathtaking, just splendid, even in late Sept.  I could have stayed for days!  Pictures will follow later.  If you’ve never been there and plan a visit to that corner of the country, please don’t miss it!  I was so impressed!