Winter Squash Roundup with the Best Soup Recipe Ever

Butternut squash at a farmers market

Butternut squash at a farmers market

Overflowing my pantry, my winter squash harvest is a treasure that I pluck from when I get the urge to cook something savory and good for you. I have new squash favorites like Kaboucha and Delicata, but I always revert back to Butternut as my go-to winter squash for soups or creamy pasta recipes.

Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste

Kaboucha squash has a nutty taste

Kaboucha, which is a Japanese pumpkin, has a fluffy, chestnut texture widely used in Asia. I would compare it to a cross between a sweet potato and pumpkin. All winter squashes are full of beta carotene, iron, vitamins, and other good stuff.

So many delicious fall recipes lend itself to these versatile tasty squashes, that I have increased the space devoted to growing them in my veggie garden. And yes, it does take some serious space! A sprawling vine, it can spread up to 10 feet horizontally or vertically, but I consider this a well-earned space in my garden as winter squashes are quite prolific and easy to grow.

An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail

An immature butternut is still green; when ripe, the skin turns a golden brown and hard to pierce with your fingernail

When the rinds of winter squash are tough enough to resist being punctured with a fingernail, cut them with a short stub of vine attached, like their cousins, pumpkins. Be sure to wait until they are fully ripened and sit the squash out in the sun to fully cure before storing in a cool place indoors. Keeping for months, squash are handy to pull out from storage when you need something for dinner as a main or side. The only downside to winter squash is preparing them. They are very tough to chop and I once cut the tip of my finger off when chopping one up! To avoid this, you can buy the pre-cut pieces at the supermarket, plus save a ton of time on prep.

Delicata is anouther favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut

Delicata is another favorite, with nutty flesh, which is not as sweet as Kaboucha or Butternut

Butternut squash soup is a favorite during cold months and once you cook up a batch, you can make several tasty meals from it. My absolute favorite soup cookbook, The New England Soup Factory Cookbook has the best squash soup that I have ever tasted, called Butternut Squash Soup with Calvados, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Prosciutto. I have  adapted it somewhat, most notably, adding the sage leaves and using Feta cheese to the garnish.

Butternut Squash soup

Butternut Squash soup

The recipe is below:

Butternut Squash Soup

Garnish

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

6 slices of prosciutto, cut into small chunks

1 green apple, thinly sliced

Handful of fresh sage leaves

Crumbled feta cheese

Cooking up the apple slices, sage leaves, and prosciutto

Cooking up the apple slices, sage leaves, and prosciutto

Soup

4 T butter

2  cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 c diced onions

2 c diced carrots

1/2 c diced celery

1/2 c diced parsnips

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced – a medium squash

8 c chicken stock

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 T Worcestershire sauce

3 T brown sugar

1 1/2 c light cream

2 to 3 T Calvados, an apple brandy, optional

Blend soup until smooth

Blend soup until smooth

Directions

Garnish: In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the prosciutto and pan fry until crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the apple slices and sage leaves and saute lightly until the apples are crisp tender. Set aside.

Soup: In a stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, apples, carrot, celery, parsnips, and butternut squash. Saute for 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about an hour.

Puree the soup in the pot using a hand blender or working in batches with a regular blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot if using a blender and season with salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Add the cream and incorporate. Return to the heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the Calvados right before serving. Top each serving with a sprinkling of Feta. Garnish with slices of sautéed green apple, the prosciutto and sage leaves on top.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

I guarantee that this will be the best butternut squash soup you have every had!

 

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Christmas Wreath-Ordinary to Extraordinary

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Decorated Christmas wreaths are a snap using a pre-made wreath base from a garden center or grocery store. The pre-made wreaths created with basic greens make a fine base but adding some additional greens, berries, and ribbon, takes the ordinary to extraordinary.  Below is my base which I purchased at a local store-basic fir branches wired onto a base. Nothing wrong with it all-just could be better!

Starting with a basic wreath base

Starting with a basic wreath base

After trolling through my landscape which has quite a few evergreens and berried shrubs, I added incense cedar, boxwood, and magnolia leaves which really add a textural improvement. My containers grew a bumper crop of Eucalyptus which I preserved with a glycerin solution and I wired some clumps up for a grey green hue. Some variegated white pine added some additional color and texture. Big difference….yes? Oh, and I hot glued all of this onto the base. No wiring, which takes too much time and effort. I find gluing is efficient and quick.

Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath

Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath

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After these additions to the base materials, it was time to amp up the color with berries and ribbon. Gold is one of my favorite colors for wreaths and other decorations, so I chose this beautiful gold wired ribbon and added nandina berries for color and staying power. A find at my local craft store, the gold leaf ornaments added some glitter and dimension. Again, these were all glued in place.

Christmas wreath

Hung and ready for the holidays

Hung and ready for the holidays

For more ideas on wreaths, go to my post A Tapestry of Holly-McLean Nursery. Below is a masterpiece made to order at McLean, using the signature McLean hollies and winterberry.

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Turnips???

Turnips???

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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For a quick centerpiece idea, go to Thanksgiving Centerpiece

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Deck the Halls-Homemade Decorating for the Holidays

An outdoor arrangement on a covered porch or deck can use beautiful fall foliage and evergreens from the garden

An outdoor arrangement on a covered porch or deck can use beautiful fall foliage and evergreens from the garden

Grab your glue gun, pruners, or pastry bag, and browse your favorite Pinterest boards and blogs. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and I’ll be serving up a hearty helping of crafting inspiration to get your house ready for the onslaught of family and friends. Rounding up my favorite posts on decorating for the holidays and adding new, these are inspiration for anyone who has a mantle, tabletop, or front porch/patio to add some holiday cheer. For a great source of glass containers, lanterns, urns, and other outdoor accessories, go to Arhaus.

Mantels and Living Spaces

Mantel in cobalt blues, teal, and lime green

Mantel in cobalt blues, teal, and chartreuse-Mantel Magic

A well-styled and accessorized fireplace mantel has lots of layers and harmonizing colors. A neutral background helps set it off perfectly. For how-to on creating the perfect mantel,  go to Mantel Magic to see step by step on layering for a lush look as well as some White House examples when I worked at the White House. Arranging a sofa or sectional to create an intimate family space or a place to set your Christmas tree is also important during the holidays. Go to Arhaus to see all the options to creat a cosy and inviting space.

Decorated mantel in the Vermeil room at the White House

Decorated mantel in the Vermeil room at the White House-White House Decorating

A mantel of silver pine cones at the White House

A mantel of silver pine cones at the White House

Miniature House & Gardens

Miniature gardens are fun to create with kids as well as adults and you can accessorize them for the season with tree ornaments or mini village finds at your local craft store. Go to Fairytale Christmas or Miniature Christmas Garden Craze for ideas on gifts for yourself or others on DIY dish gardens or terrariums. Bringing nature in for house bound people, these are always a hit to give and receive. Set one on your desk at work in your cubicle to look at when you need a dose of green, living things.

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Christmas miniature garden

Baking and decorating a gingerbread house every year is a tradition at my house and gingerbread house parties are a big hit with my family. Fairytale Christmas has great examples of Gingerbread creations. Storing my Gingerbread houses in plastic over the years gives me the opportunity to enjoy these all over again.

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White House veggie garden in frosting

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My brother-in-law is very intent on finishing his lighthouse gingerbread house

Gingerbread house with gum drop garden

Gingerbread house with gum drop garden

Succulents

Easy to grow succulents with juicy leaves, stems, and roots have always been fascinating to me as a great architectural touchable plant. Working/crafting with them for Christmas was a natural for me and they make perfect little decorated trees that last and grow as a beautiful miniature tree. For how-to on making a succulent tree, go to Succulent Christmas. 

Succulents are inserted into a moss and wire form and will root and grow

Succulents can be inserted into a moss and wire form and will root and grow

For a different twist on terrariums, try planted succulents, inserted with white pumpkins, cymbidium orchids, ornamental balls, beaded wire, and tiny lights. A wonderful centerpiece for a holiday table or as a entrance table eye catcher.img_0955

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 Outdoor Fresh Arrangements

For fresh arrangements to place on your front porch to greet visitors and last for months, go to Grand Entrance to see how fast you can put together a stunner. Using a base of a pre-made evergreen wreath and other greens, you can simply push the stems into potting soil of old containers from the summer. When the weather turns freezing, the inserted stems just freeze into place and last for months. Here are some examples of fall containers that can transition into winter and can continue to greet guests for months to come.

A beautiful fall arrangement of orange Fothergillia foliage, Nandina berries, Hydrangeas - done by Sally Barker

A beautiful fall arrangement of orange Fothergillia foliage, Nandina berries, Hydrangeas; when the Fothergillia foliage drops, add some evergreen branches – done by Sally Barker

Outdoor arrangement with golden arborvitae, red twig dogwood, seeded eucalyptus, nandina berries, and thujopsis

Outdoor arrangement with golden arborvitae, red twig dogwood, seeded eucalyptus, nandina berries,  thujopsis, white pine

Peach winterberry, magnolia, gold arborvitae, yellow twig dogwood, and red dyed eucalyptus

Peach winterberry, magnolia, gold arborvitae, yellow twig dogwood, and red dyed eucalyptus

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Rose hips (red) are the star here

Indoor Arrangements

Fresh holiday arrangements are easily whipped up in minutes after you gather the right materials for an indoor show. Holidays are a great time to force Amaryllis too. Amaryllis bulbs are inexpensive and in bloom can last for a full month of color. Go to Amaryllis Primer and Amaryllis Planter for more information on forcing these and incorporating the bulbs into arrangements.

Amaryllis bulbs can be inserted in fresh greens arrangements

Amaryllis bulbs can be inserted in fresh greens arrangements

'Red Lion' Amaryllis in full bloom

‘Red Lion’ Amaryllis in full bloom-Amaryllis Primer

 

A growing lemon cypress in a birch container decorated with drieds

A potted cypress in a birch container decorated with drieds in Lemon Cypress Christmas Tree

Fresh and drieds decorate a white pumpkin for Christmas

Fresh and drieds decorate a white pumpkin for Christmas

Boxwood is the ultimate green for decorating at Christmas and the classic piece to create with boxwood is a small tree which at a nursery can set you back $75. If you have boxwood shrubs growing in your garden, trim them up and use the pieces to make a great little centerpiece. Try your hand at making this simple but beautiful classic at Boxwood-The Ultimate Green for Christmas.

Boxwood trees are easy but take a lot of greens

Boxwood trees are easy but take a lot of greens and patience

Stay tuned for new ideas on decorating your outdoor and indoor spaces for the holidays in the next couple of weeks as I unearth my Christmas decorations and cut my greens.

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Bulbs in Pots-Portable Containers for Spring

 

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If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space to plant outdoor bulbs like Tulips, Daffs, Iris, or Hyacinths, don’t despair….Plant them in pots. Easy peasey. So much better to plop your bulbs in nice loose potting medium rather than slaving with a heavy shovel to get your bulbs down to the proper depth in a heavy clay soil.  Frustrating? You bet! But in containers, think of the advantages:

  • You can enjoy your bulbs up close and personal

  • Change the look and appearance of your garden instantly

  • Grow bulbs that require specialized TLC

  • Pop them into containers with other spring flowers

  • Experiment with new varieties. Plus, you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your patio for weeks in the spring when you become starved for color and fragrance.

    For forcing Amaryllis go to

    For forcing Amaryllis inside, go to Amaryllis Primer

Outdoors For Spring Bloom Vs Forcing

Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. I am not talking about “forcing” bulbs which means to accelerate your bloom period so that you have your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. This requires pre-chilling to get the required days of cold that each bulb needs. I didn’t want to fool with forcing this year. So, I decided to enjoy my bulbs in containers by my back door without fiddling with burying the pots and/or chilling bulbs that forcing requires. Go to Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs for more information on pre-chilling and forcing if you want winter color indoors.

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to Longfield Gardens blog 

 

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Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’ is one of the prettiest minor bulbs

Miniature Iris in a pot

Miniature Iris in a pot is also a favorite; this blue variety is a stunner-‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Another use for your bulbs in containers is to use them in mixed spring containers for an instant pop of color.

Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container

Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container-by Leigh Barnes

Creating an enclosed environment for your tiny packages of blooms is easy if you remember a few cardinal rules.

  • Potting Medium-Use a high quality potting medium with lots of perlite or vermiculite for porous well draining soil (not garden soil)

  • Pots-Use flexible plastic pots that give with the changes of temperature (terra-cotta can break); You can slip these into decorative pots when they bloom

  • Spacing-Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. Here is your chance to stuff them in for a huge color show

  • Depth-Pot bulbs are typically planted a little less shallowly than ground bulbs. But try to stick closely to recommended planting depths for best results. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth

  • Layers-For a more abundant lavish look, you can layer your bulbs or stack them on top of each other but it is simpler to stick with one variety per pot for beginners

  • Temperature-In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground where the surrounding soil insulates. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as the outside

  • Water-Check your soil all winter to make sure soil is moist but not soggy. Water infrequently when just started, but later when roots have filled in and top growth has started, ramp it up

  • Presentation-Place grit, gravel, or spanish moss on top to finish it off

Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots

Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots

There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens

There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens

Tulips are also easy in pots

Tulips are also easy in pots

Storing

Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose a good spot for your bulbs sheltered from the killing freeze/thaw cycle, but still able to get the needed chilling for successful flowering. Keeping the pots in a cool shaded spot until early spring growth appears is essential. For me it is an unheated mud room attached to my house once winter weather arrives.

I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house

I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house

I also wrap my pots in insulating bubble wrap and place them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth. I have heard of gardeners even storing the pots in old-fashioned galvanized trash cans with some burlap or other filler stuffed around them. Storing them in cans will avoid the great destructor of bulbs-squirrels, mice, voles and other assorted varmints.

Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs

Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs

If storing in a garage, be careful of ethylene gas emitted from exhaust fumes from warming-up cars. Ethylene gas can cause flower buds to abort and you end up with wonderful pots of foliage only. If you store in an old refrigerator, be aware of ripening nearby fruit for this reason as the ethylene gas of fruit can cause the same problem. Store the pots in impermeable plastic bags to avoid contamination.

Once top growth starts in the spring, gradually move the pots out into the partial sun and as they become acclimated into bright sun and Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.

Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers

Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers, from Longfield Gardens

After Care-3 Ways

Compost the bulbs, leave in the pot/plant in the ground in the fall, or replant in the garden right after flowering and still green are the three ways to handle the spent bulbs. If you replant, be sure to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer as the bulbs have used all those nutrients up at their first burst of flowering. Most times, the flowers aren’t as spectacular as the first bloom so I tend to compost them.

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Don’t hesitate to compost your used bulbs-There is no shame in that!

 

Step By Step

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First layer covered with potting medium

  1. Fill your deep container with a high-quality potting mix about 3-4 inches deep

  2. Plant your bulbs almost as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 3 or 4 inches deep for little bulbs such as crocus and Siberian Squill. Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer first before placing more bulbs

  3.  Water your bulbs well after planting

  4. Plant either pansies or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating help

Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth

Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 15″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run

Place all your bulbs closed together

Place all your bulbs close together; This is the top layer using minor bulbs like crocus, mini iris, and Scilla

Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation

Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation

Hyacinths in containers from Longfield Gardens

Hyacinths in containers from Longfield Gardens

Tulip bulbs planted very close together

Tulip bulbs planted very close together

The sources of bulbs for this post were Longfield Gardens, Brent and Becky’s, and Old House Gardens. 

 

 

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Succulent Pumpkins for the Fall

Finished succulent pumpkin

Finished succulent pumpkin with pods and drieds

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Finished peanut pumpkin with succulents and fresh flowers

A Natural Fit-Pumpkins & Succulents

Pumpkins and succulents-a happy pairing! With some glue, moss, succulent cuttings, and an interesting pumpkin, you can create porch decor or a great centerpiece in minutes. These last for months too. And if you have any extra flowers available, you can stick them in to get a quick color burst for a party or event.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents

Pumpkin decorated with succulents, step by step

Material List

  • A pumpkin or large gourd

  • Sheet moss or sphagnum moss

  • Assorted cuttings of succulents- I was moving most of my succulents indoors to beat the frost, and this gave me the opportunity to trim the growth back. I simply nipped pieces of succulent tips from living plants, trying to vary colors, shapes, and textures

  • Assorted pods, i.e. pine cones, okra pods, lotus pods, milk weed pods, and berries. For one of my examples, I used nandina berries and foliage which dries quite nicely, and okra pods

  • Fresh Flowers for a quick change of color

  • Tacky glue or glue gun

  • Spritzer for moistening moss

  • Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin

    Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin

    Step By Step

  1. Find a wide topped pumpkin and cut the stem off; I used “Cinderella” variety which has a grayish orange color, deep pleats, and  a wide roomy top. For my other example, I used a “peanut pumpkin”(see note below). I think a white or green pumpkin would look fabulous. Also, gourds would be funky too.

  2. Glue moss on top about 1/2 inch thick with a glue gun or tacky glue.

  3. Arrange your succulent cuttings to form a pleasing arranging, making sure that you use the larger chunkier pieces first, and using long pieces to trail around the edges. Stick the stems into the moss with glue so that they adhere. A hot glue gun works best for this.

  4. Add berries, pods, or anything else that goes with the fall theme, gluing in place.

  5. Spritz the moss so that it is moist.

Peanut Pumpkin

Peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin known for its distinctive peanut-like growths adorning the exterior of its pink hued rind. The “peanuts” are actually a buildup of excess sugar in the flesh of the pumpkin giving it its unique texture. Those warty protuberances tell you the flesh is extra sweet for making pies and other dishes.  See some other varieties of pumpkins at Pumpkin Eye Candy.

Peanut pumpkin

Peanut pumpkin

Maintenance

It is best to keep the pumpkin outside in the chilly weather when you don’t want to show it off. I keep the decorated pumpkin out during the week on my front porch under cover, and bring it in on the weekends when we are around the house more. Pumpkins need cold weather to stay firm through the season. A warm house will speed up the inevitable decomposition and I want mine to last through Thanksgiving. Sometimes the succulent cuttings even root in the moss and you have more succulents to pot up.

Spritzing the pumpkin

Spritzing the pumpkin

Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods

Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods

More Centerpiece Ideas

For more centerpiece ideas, go to Centerpiece Ideas for Thanksgiving.

Decorated with fresh flowers

Decorated with fresh flowers

Gourd decorated with drieds

Gourd decorated with drieds

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Growing Gourdzilla Champion Pumpkins

Seen at a local nursery

Seen at a local nursery, Valley View Farms

The Growing

Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. Less than 20 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2016 the one ton mark has been surpassed. That is a lot of pumpkin, not to mention how do you move one that size?? With a fork lift and pickup truck at the very least, so this is not something that any home grower can do without a lot of help.

From Dill's Farm with permission

From Dill’s Farm with permission

But thousands of hopeful growers are hauling their giant squashes into farm and county fairs in search of that coveted blue ribbon for the heaviest pumpkin. Some of the mammoth pumpkins weigh as much as a compact car! The current world-record pumpkin weighed in at 2,323 lb and was grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland in 2014, authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) in Ludwigsburg, listed on Guinness World Records.

A blue ribbon winner from Dill's Atlantic Giant with peremission

A blue ribbon winner from Dill’s Atlantic Giant with permission

Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time. Because now big cash prizes are attached to those blue ribbons.

Imagine moving something this size!

Imagine moving something this size!

Start Right-Good Genetics

The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at just any seed packet display. High pedigree hybrid seeds are necessary which are bought and sold between serious growers, and can cost from $10 to $100 or more per seed. Dill’s Atlantic Giant is the granddaddy of most giant pumpkins, which is  available from Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia. Dills’ Farm is the home and farm of the late Howard Dill, developer of the “Dill’s Atlantic Giant”, the World’s Largest Pumpkin Variety. Three hundred to 500-pound specimens are routinely grown with this variety, but there is a lot of TLC that goes into the making of a champion.

Dills' Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta!

Dills’ Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta! With permission from Dill’s Farm

According to Dill’s Giant Pumpkin website,

DILL’S ATLANTIC GIANT is the grand-daddy of all giant pumpkins. The present day record, for this variety is an amazing 2009 lbs (913 kg) and it is common for the variety to produce 400- 500 pound (180-230 kg) fruit consistently. Used mainly for fall fairs and International pumpkin competitions that are becoming increasingly more popular around the world. Also perfect for huge jack o’lanterns and fall displays! Fruit colours, vary from yellow to orange and the skin is slightly rough. Days to maturity-130.”

Pumpkin in field at Dill's Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission

Pumpkin in field at Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission

Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers such as Dill’s Farm, and on Ebay.

Squash blossom being pollinated by a bee

Pumpkin blossom being pollinated by a bee

Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion

This is an endeavor that starts not in the spring, but in the fall preceding planting your pumpkin. Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins when the leaves start to turn. Full sun with a minimum of 400 square feet is essential and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins are growing, because the plant requires constant tending. This is not simple thing. Among the tasks confronting a serious grower is daily pruning, removing excess pumpkins, pollinating, rotating the gourd, watering, fertilizing, setting up a temporary cold frame over tender plants, soaking and filing the seeds for better germination, applying fungicides and pesticides, and the list goes on and on. Not for the typical sunny day gardener!

There are all types of pumpkins

There are all types of pumpkins

Splitsville, Oh No!

The pumpkin can gain 20 to 40 pounds a day during high summer. And that puts stress on the stem and the biggest calamity of all, splits! Once a fissure or rupture has occurred, the grower might as well hang it up and hope that he has another vine to fall back on. Literally, the grower devotes a whole year of his/her life to this endeavor and the day the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.

A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms

A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms

It’s Expensive

You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive sport – from foliar nutrients, specialized sprinklers, beneficial soil inoculants, miniature cold frames, and other tools to help you grow that record breaker. And once you have a mammoth sitting in your garden, then you have to harvest it and it isn’t just a matter of cutting the stem and bringing the pumpkin into the house. There is a company that markets giant pumpkin lifting rings or slings for “lifting the gold” that can run up to $400. This is not a cheap hobby. However, to buy a ready-made giant can set you back at least $500(see below). My best guess on weight for this is around 900- 1000 pounds. I wonder if they deliver?

I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500

I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500

Final Reward-Winning a Blue Ribbon

But if you are successful at fighting back the weeds, insects, and splits that can attack at any point, you can enter at one of the many pumpkin contests around the country and take home a prize of thousands of dollars. Considering the many problems  and uncertainties that can strike without warning (think hail storm!), I think I will settle for carving or decorating pumpkins. See my post on embellishing pumpkins at Pumpkin Treats.

Angry Pumpkin

Angry Pumpkin

I will stick to decorating pumpkins

I will stick to decorating pumpkins

 

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Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies

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After picking out dead honeybees from a honeycomb frame recently, I pledged to use only plants that are neonic free. Neonics or neonicitonoids have been implicated in recent bee declines as well as other factors, such as loss of habitat and the bee parasite- the varroa mite. There are a number of studies that have conflicting findings and beekeepers aren’t convinced that there is a number one cause. See this article at The Huffington Post and you will be even more unsure what to believe. But I think that limiting the use of neonics will help.img_4460

Many gardeners have contacted me who say they are no longer buying plants from regular retail nurseries and seed companies because there is no way to tell if the pollinator-attracting plants they are purchasing have been treated with Neonicotinoids/imidacloprid, etc. As a beekeeper, I am interested in keeping my property free of these systemic pesticides.

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Honeybees bring back pollen to the hive from flowers that could be contaminated with neonics

 

Plant Nurseries that don’t use Neonics

Some are wholesale and some are retail; the wholesale ones sell to your local nurseries 

Annie’s Annuals – CA

Arrowhead Alpines – WI

Behnkes Nursery – MD, If the plant is listed as Pollinator Friendly, it hasn’t been treated with neonics

Bluestone Perennials – OH

Brushwood Vines – GA

Dancing Oaks – OR

Dawn’s Wild Things – NY

Digging Dog – CA

EcoTulips – VA

Edible Landscaping – VA

Far Reaches Farm – WA

Fernwood Nursery & Gardens, ME

Forest Farm – OR

Greener Earth Nursery – OR

High Country Gardens – NM/CO

Hostas Direct – MN

Iseli Nursery- OR

Joy Creek Nursery – OR

Lazy S’s Farm Nursery – VA

Mountain Valley Growers – CA

Niche Gardens – NC

Plant Delights-NC

Prairie Moon Nursery – MN

Prairie Nursery – WI

Rolling River Nursery – CA

Santa Rosa Gardens – FL

Select Seeds – CT ,They also sell plants

Streambank Gardens – DE

The Tasteful Garden – AL

Tripple Brook Farm – MA

Valley View Farms– MD, Read their policy concerning pesticide use at the link provided

Walters Gardens-MI, this is a wholesale nursery that provides a lot of Proven Winners Plants

Xera Plants – OR

Big Box

Lowe’s garden stores and BJ’s Wholesale Club have agreed to phase out all neonic-treated products on their shelves.  Home Depot has asked its suppliers to label any plants treated with neonics.  Many local garden stores are doing the same.

This is where it all starts-Monarchs mating

Neonics affect all insects, not just honeybees

Should you boycott nurseries that use neonicotinoids?

No! Many trees, conifers, ornamental grasses, ferns, and other plants provide habitat and tremendous wildlife value and don’t attract pollinators. There is no need to throw out the diverse array of plants available from these nurseries.

Every certified backyard habitat has a variety of plants-pollinator attracting ones and evergreens that shelter animals

Every certified backyard habitat has a variety of plants-pollinator attracting ones and evergreens that shelter animals

Neonics aren’t all bad. The application process is safe in comparison to spraying of the old organic phosphate chemicals.  Neonicotinoids are watered in and taken up by the plants roots to treat the plant internally, so when they are applied correctly, there is less potential for agricultural workers to be exposed to harmful chemicals, plus less residue left externally. For a great article disputing that neonics are causing pollinator problems, go to Financial Post. This article says that “Neonics are a minor issue for bee health and the continued false allegations are pulling resources away from stopping the real threat” and that according to an apiculture scientist there are three top reasons for bee colony death and they are “varroa mites, varroa mites, and varroa mites”. These tiny parasite like ticks suck the blood from bees and they can weaken the entire hive.

Pollen is collected from flowers and carried by the bee to the hive

Pollen is collected from flowers and carried by the bee to the hive

Pollen is the problem with neonics. When plants treated with a neonicotinoid produce flowers and pollen, the pesticide is contained within the pollen and bees bring it home to their hive, where even small amounts can build up over time into a concentration that weakens or kills the hive.

Bumblebees are affected by neonics like honeybees

Bumblebees are affected by neonics like honeybees

Many nursery owners who use neonics say they take precautions by not applying them when the plant is in bloom.Though growers who use neonics say they take these precautions, the chemical is still carried through the entire plant system-enough to harm honeybees.

catalog

Some seed companies that don’t use neonics

Seed Companies that don’t use Neonics

  • Adaptive Seed
  • All Good Things Organic Seeds
  • Annie’s Heirloom Seeds
  • Baker Creek
  • Blue River Hybrids
  • Botanical Interests
  • Burpee
  • Denali Seed Company
  • Fedco
  • Goodwin Creek Gardens
  • Grow Organic
  • Gurney’s Seed Nursery Co
  • Harris Seeds
  • High Mowing Seeds 
  • Horizon Herbs
  • Hudson Valley Seed Library
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds 
  • Maine Potato Lady
  • Native Seeds
  • Northeast Seeds
  • Peaceful Valley
  • Pinetree Seeds
  • Renee’s Garden
  • Seed Savers
  • Southern Exposure
  • Sustainable Seed Company
  • Territorial Seed

Other plant sources that are usually safe

Local native plant sales (ask to be 100% sure). Local farmer’s markets ( many growers are not organic and so it is important to ask). If you shop at big box stores and aren’t sure where the plants come from, the grower’s label is usually applied to the pot.

Where Can I Find More Information?

So much has been written on this subject and here is some further reading:Xerces Society

Buying Bee-Friendly Plants

How Your Bee-Friendly Garden May Actually be Killing Bees

A Native Bee Rancher

Beyond Pesticides

Home Depot to Label Neonics

Posted in Plant shopping, Pollination | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Dried Flowers 101

After each growing season in my garden, I assess what I grew, making up a wish list of new things to grow for next year. Planning what new varieties to try is half the fun of gardening! But this time I am going back to growing some old varieties that have fallen out of fashion that I haven’t grown for years, and these include everlastings or dried flowers.

Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon

Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon

A larger variety of Sea Holly

A larger variety of Sea Holly

Air drying flowers or everlastings is simple and a great way to preserve your flower harvest for months to come. Knowing the correct varieties that dry well is key to successfully drying your blooms. I have dried flowers on and off for years; this was in vogue in the 70’s and 80’s and I have noticed a resurgence of interest, but people aren’t sure about which flowers are suitable.

A small colorful dried arrangement

A small colorful dried arrangement

After a recent visit to Priorwood Gardens in Scotland which is known for their dried flower culture and gardens, I was inspired to try this old craft again. Priorwood is a specialist center for the craft of dried flower arranging and has a dedicated drying room.

Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has dried flowers from their gardens for centuries

Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has had dried flowers from their gardens for centuries

A delightful historic walled garden in the Scottish Borders in Melrose, Priorwood is a rustic walled garden where the plants grown are selected for their suitability for drying.  Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, Priorwood is a delight to visit to learn about drying varieties and methods.

The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds

The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds

Priorwood Gardens entrance

Priorwood Gardens entrance

Brimming with old-fashioned flowers such as Strawflowers, Teasels, Cardoon, Ammobium, Statice, Love in a Mist, Pearly Everlasting, and Yarrow, I walked the pathways identifying the ones that I recognized.

A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens

A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens

Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink

Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink

If you are an Outlander fan, I visited Claire’s herb garden in Culross, Scotland where many drieds and herbs are grown also. In the Outlander show Claire walks the pathways gathering medicinal herbs for preserving in her medical practice in 18th century Scotland. Most flowers are fleeting but preserving them by drying extends the beauty and usefulness of them.

Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire's Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown

Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire’s Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown

Claire's Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways

Claire’s Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways

Culross Palace gardens where scenes from Outlander were filmed

Culross Palace gardens

Rose Hips dry beautifully

Rose Hips dry beautifully

Poppy seed heads dry nicely

Poppy seed heads dry perfectly

 

Dried flower arrangements last for months

Dried flower arrangements last for months

Steps to Perfect Dried Flowers

  1. Choose flowers that are not completely open as they will continue to open through the drying process.

  2. Cut flowers in the morning, after the dew has dried using sharp sheers.

  3. Strip off all foliage.

  4. Group flowers into small bundles and gather together with rubber bands. This allows the rubber band to contract and not lose its grip as the stems shrink.

  5. Hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry, indoor spot where air can circulate.

  6. When flowers are done drying, they will feel dry and stiff to the touch. This may take several days or several weeks, depending on conditions and the type of flowers.

    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry

    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry

    Claire's Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown

    Claire’s Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown

    Strawflower

    Strawflower

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    Strawflower

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    Strawflower

     

    Everlastings to grow for drying

    • Sea Holly(Eryngium ) – perennial

    • Winged Everlasting (Ammobium alatum) – annual

    • Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) – perennial (seed pods)

    • Artemesia – perennial

    • Hydrangea- perennial

    • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) – annual or perennial

    • Sweet Annie (Artemesia annua) – perennial

    • Cockscomb (Celosia cristata) – annual

    • Bells-Of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) – annual

    • Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) – annual (primarily the seed pods)

    • Money Plant or Honesty (Lunaria annua) – biennial

    • Yarrow(Achillea spp.) – perennial – perennial

    • Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) – annual

    • Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) – annual; go to Plant Geek Alert

    • Statice(Limonium spp.) – perennial and annual

    • Bachelor’s Buttons or Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – annual

    • Lavender (Lavandula spp.) – perennial

    • Roses (Rosa spp.) – perennial/shrub, flowers and hips (fruit)

    • Peony-perennial

    • Tansy-perennial

      Bachelors buttons

      Bachelors Buttons

      nigella

      Nigella or Love in the mist is grown for its seed pods

      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany

      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany

Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks

Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks

Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age

Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age

Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone

Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone

Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry

Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry

Posted in Dried Flowers, Floral Arranging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Little Prince Eggplant

Patio Baby Eggplant

Little Prince Eggplant

I trialed a new eggplant this summer and fell in love with it! Called Little Prince, it produces quantities of glossy three to four inch ovals that are perfect for stir frying or roasting.

Tiny purple eggplant with flower

Tiny purple eggplant with flower

 Little Prince is a very early and highly productive eggplant with a compact habit, making it a great choice for containers or in small gardens. A member of the nightshade family or Solanaceae, a plant family that includes eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, the term ‘nightshade‘ may have been coined because some of these plants prefer to grow in shady areas, and some flower at night.

Available at Renees Gardens

Available at Renees Gardens

Deep purple, egg-shaped fruit should be harvested at baby size-3 to 4 inches, and are delicious roasted or in dips and salads.  Thornless leaves and calyxes allow for painless harvesting and makes Little Prince child-friendly, too. Plants will continue to produce fruit throughout the entire season.

The eggplants hang in clusters

The eggplants hang in clusters

There are lots of different types of eggplants to grow

There are lots of different types of eggplants to grow

Still susceptible to flea beetles which can decimate the leaves, older eggplants can sail through this but young plants will usually die from the effects.

Flea Beetles

Flea Beetles

Flea beetles, tiny black  insects that pepper the leaves of eggplants with holes can be a problem. A good control is using yellow or white sticky traps around your eggplants to catch the flea beetles. Give the eggplant a gentle shake- the flea beetles will jump off and land on the sticky paper squares. Place several of these around your eggplant for a good trapping system. Praying Mantis take care of flea beetles on my eggplants. It is interesting to watch these voracious bug eating machines go after them.

Praying Mantis on eggplant

Praying Mantis on eggplant

Posted in gardening, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments