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Watching a giant pumpkin gain weight for a competition is akin to watching a pregnant woman put on weight to nurture a brainy healthy child. It is so satisfying to witness, especially when it is not you that is tipping the scales.

I guess I should say it is a guilty pleasure, watching another woman put on weight, but it’s not. I have no guilt. Myrtle is my favorite girl these days, putting on inches, putting on pounds, turning her increasingly ponderous back(side) to the Righteous Dieters of the World. I’m loving every bit of this event: the enormous bottles of liquid food poured liberally over the Mother Vine, the soft cushion of blue foam placed tenderly between her southern regions and the dark earth…that disappeared the very next day by the drooping of those joyful love handles, and the steadily increasing reach of Myrtle’s shadow.

It is so much fun to cheer for increase rather than decrease. It feels more optimistic. It feels like…victory.

So, let’s update you on two events in the Growing of Myrtle: What she is eating, and how she is measured.


Alfalfa tea is the trusted tool of MH the grower. Apparently this member of the pea family is considered a powerhouse of nutrients. It has many benefits, including these as listed by the website “yearningandlearning”:


1. Good Source of Minerals

Alfalfa is a good source of nitrogen, along with several other minerals including phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, boron, iron, and zinc.

2. Builds Organic Matter

Its high nitrogen content helps other organic material to decompose. Organic matter also helps to prevent compaction, acts like a sponge and holds moisture in the soil, improves soil structure, and helps to prevent erosion.

3. Feeds Microorganisms

The microorganisms in your soil love alfalfa because of the protein, amino acids, fiber and sugars in its stalk – items they need to thrive.

4. Stimulates Growth

Alfalfa contains triacontanol, a hormone that stimulates the growth of plant roots, enhances photosynthesis, and increases beneficial microbes that help to suppress many soil-borne diseases.

5. Fixes Nitrogen

Alfalfa actually takes nitrogen from the air and holds it as nodules on its roots, a process called “nitrogen fixing”.

6. Stimulates Compost

When added to your compost pile, alfalfa acts as a stimulator. It decomposes rapidly, creating heat that helps the rest of your compost to decompose.

7. Controls Harmful Nematodes

A study in Italy showed that alfalfa pellets significantly reduced infestation of root-knot nematode on tomato plants, and cyst nematode on carrots.

8. Provides Drought Resistance

Because of alfalfa’s sponge-like ability to absorb and hold moisture, it helps plants grown in that soil to be more resistant to periods of low rain.

9. Is a Dynamic Accumulator

Alfalfa roots reach down into the sub-soil up to 8 feet, bringing valuable hard-to-reach nutrients up to the soil surface where they are stored in the leaves of the plant. Using the cut alfalfa in your garden and compost adds these nutrients to the upper layers of your soil where other garden plants can use them.

10. Is a Great Cover Crop

Also known as “green manure”, cover crops are generally planted in the fall and then dug into the soil in the spring to improve soil.


Where to Buy Alfalfa

Bales of alfalfa and pellets can generally be found at feed supply stores such as Tractor Supply.


Here is a photo of MH the Grower using his mix of alfalfa tea:




And here is a recipe for alfalfa tea, from the same website as above:


32 gallon trash can
10 cups alfalfa pellets
1 cup Epsom salts
1 cup fish emulsion

Add the pellets to the trash can. Fill trash can with water. Stir. Cover trash can tightly with lid. For the next three days stir “tea” several times a day in order to dissolve the pellets. Keep covered. On the third day add Epsom salts and fish emulsion. It is ready to use on any vegetable, plant, tree, or bush.  You can omit the Epsom salts and fish emulsion, and the results will be good but not as spectacular.

When all the “tea” is used, there will be enough pellet residue in the bottom of the trash can that you again fill the trash can with water and make more “tea”.


If you are still not convinced by the kudos from “yearningandlearning” and the American Rose Society, “davesgarden” claims the tea also benefits the growth of orchids, roses, delphiniums, and irises.



The wonderfully supportive folks of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest supply regular tips and advice to their volunteer growers. As midcoast Maine is currently suffering a drought, a recent email missive encouraged the growers to “Water, water, water!”

Another encouragement was to measure the pumpkin by two different methods and then estimate the current weight. This is what is known as “creating incentive.” Whatever your goal, it can be encouraging to see how you’re doing. Here are the two methods of measuring giant pumpkins that were offered – both of which MH employed:

Method #1: Measure the circumference of the fruit by running a tape measure around the girth, parallel to the ground. Find the measured inches in a table that the Pumpkinfest provided to find the corresponding estimated weight.

Method #2: Take the circumference measurement, and add to that the number of inches from a side-to-side reading and an end-to-end reading. To measure from side-to-side, a tape measure is held on the ground vertically below the side of the fruit, at its middle, stretched across the pumpkin and over to the other side. To measure from end-to-end, a tape measure is stretched vertically up the stem end, along the surface over the top of the fruit and down to the ground vertically below the blossom end.

Growers were cautioned not to run the tape under the fruit, but instead to run it vertically down to the ground from the furthest extending point.

So, the first step was to remove the shading umbrella and the floating row cover so the measurement could be taken.


MH the Grower took a long look at Myrtle. His guess? “Over 300 pounds!”


The measurements were taken:

Circumference: 103”

Side-to-side: 57”

End-to-end: 65”

Totaling 225


By Method #2, the estimated weight was 241 pounds.

By Method #1, the estimated weight was 286 pounds!  (SO CLOSE!)

As anyone who has ever despaired when stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office knows, there are weights you believe and weights you don’t. Both MH and I believe the correct estimated weight of Myrtle is 286 pounds. I mean, just look at her. She is within 3 pounds of his all-time record, and there are still 4.5 weeks of growing left to go.

Clearly these measurements dictate how MH the Grower will continue to raise this pumpkin. The decision about his behavior? He’s going to keep on keeping on.

This bodes well for both Myrtle and MH. They are bound for Glory.



“If a measurement matters at all, it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behaviour. If we can’t identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.”

― Douglas W. Hubbard, author, “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business”



“Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a member of the pea or legume family and is native to western Asia and eastern Mediterranean regions. The first record of alfalfa was in a book written by the Emperor of China in 2939 BC. The Greeks cultivated alfalfa starting around 500 BC for animal food and for some medicinal applications. Arab tribes named the plant “alfalfa”, which means “father of all foods”. Now alfalfa is widely grown and provides an important food source for many animals including horses, cows, rabbits and other domestic animals.”

— The American Rose Society, http://www.rose.org

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Like every current event, the Growth of Myrtle has historical context. To merrily mix my metaphors (and alliterate [un]abashedly): When it comes to growing giant pumpkins this is not MH the Grower’s first rodeo.

His first entry into the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest Weigh-Off was in 2012, when he actually entered two pumpkins. Why? In his own words, “I didn’t know to narrow the plant down to one pumpkin.” The weights for those two fruits were 133 pounds and 100.5 pounds.

That explains the “Words from Others” quote for this post. MH demonstrated his superior intellect and competitive nature by learning from the past and insuring the future was brighter. He also demonstrated that he is not insane, by not doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I digress. In 2013 MH applied his experience and knowledge and grew what for him would become his personal best: A pumpkin that weighed a whopping 289.5 pounds. The fruit of 2013’s labors:





In 2014, there was no pumpkin entry from MH. He claims “Moving Maelstrom” and as anyone who has moved from one state to another (and I don’t mean from calm to frenetic) can attest, and has focused on the first few days in a new home just trying to find your spatula…. or pillow….because after a few days of being lost you almost don’t care which you rest your head on… moving is all-consuming, and growing a giant pumpkin drops to the bottom of your priority list.

So he took a break that year. 2015 saw another entry, and this beauty didn’t beat his previous record, but 265 pounds is nothing to sneeze at. Here is a photo of that year’s work:



You might note that the pumpkin from 2015, even though lighter in weight, looks larger than the 2013 record-holder. Attribute that to internal density and water weight. Every woman knows the facts about water weight, and that explains the text under this post’s “Appreciating” section. If you’ve never been a dieting female (and no such creature exists), you won’t appreciate the significance of water weight on appearance. Trust me, trust all of us 51%-ers, it matters.

So how is Myrtle doing today, and how does she compare to her predecessors?

MH decided that Myrtle was growing so quickly, that she needed protection from the UV rays from the sun. His concern was that her rapid growth would cause the rind to split. So he lightly covered her with floating row cover cloth, and propped up a special umbrella to shield his girl from the afternoon sun.


And Myrtle is responding to this extra TLC. Here’s what she looked like today.  Note that her girth pushed the umbrella off and to the side :



I don’t care if that size is due to water weight or just good pumpkin genes, but I think she’s on her way (weigh) to topping 289.5! Stand back and stay tuned….



“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

— George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet, (1863 – 1952)



“An estimated 50 to 60 percent of our total body weight is water, and how much we retain fluctuates in response to our eating habits. For example, indulging in salty foods can trigger your cells to sop up water like a sponge,” says Rebecca Lewis, R.D. …. “Similarly, a diet high in sugar can lead to higher-than-normal insulin levels in your blood, which can make your body retain sodium (translation: more SpongeBob action). And when you carb it up (because pasta is delicious), for every gram of carbohydrate that your body stores to use for energy later (known as glycogen), it also stores three grams of water—which explains why you sometimes feel like the Michelin man post-pizza,” she says.



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The title of this post says it all: The pumpkin formerly known as “Powell 1548” has been re-named by MH the Grower. He is proving that he is a good parent by bestowing a name upon the pumpkin that will not elicit teasing as it grows to maturity, by naming her Myrtle. And if she continues to grow at this rate, she won’t be known as “Moaning Myrtle,” the ghost of Harry Potter fame, but “Groaning Myrtle,” as I’m already starting the stress about how we’re going to get her out of the garden and onto the weighing scale. Myrtle has until October 1 to make my fears come true.

Myrtle is a beautiful name! It is of Latin origin, and from the English word “myrtle” for the evergreen shrub. The shrub was said to be sacred to Venus as a symbol of love.

The diminutive is “Myrtie” and while her size won’t encourage that nickname, our deep affection for her spirit and energy will find us calling this pale behemoth Myrtie at every opportunity!

It is also an unusual name. It was first used as a given name in the 19th century – a time when girls were often given the name of a plant or flower.   1918 was the year the name was most popular, with 4,000 babies receiving the name. If you were unlucky enough, or unique enough to be a boy named Myrtle in 2011, you would have been #13,694 in the rankings of popular baby names.  Since 1880, a total of 116 boys were named Myrtle, while 135,266 girls were named Myrtle. Other fun facts about the name:

Are you a numerologist? Me neither. But here’s what the site “sheknows.com” says about the name from a numerology perspective:

“SoulUrge Number: 5

People with this name have a deep inner desire for travel and adventure, and want to set their own pace in life without being governed by tradition.

Expression Number: 3

People with this name tend to be creative and excellent at expressing themselves. They are drawn to the arts, and often enjoy life immensely. They are often the center of attention, and enjoy careers that put them in the limelight. They tend to become involved in many different activities, and are sometimes reckless with both their energies and with money.”


Those predictions work for me. Myrtle is absolutely setting her own pace in life, and is absolutely the center of attention!

So, let me show you what she looks like now. Myrtle is growing by leaps and bounds. The blossom was fertilized on July 19th and  15 days later it looked like this:


And now it has been 29 days, and she looks like this:


The tiny blue piece of foam core is woefully inadequate to cover the bottom surface of this monster. At this pace, I will be posting significant updates about her growth almost daily.

Myrtle, Myrtle, I am groaning already.



“[Exit, pursued by a bear.]”

— William Shakespeare, “A Winter’s Tale”, Act 3, Scene III


During peak growth, the pumpkins can add as much as 50 pounds of weight per day.

  • New York Botanical Gardens

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I was witness to an event that was neither immaculate nor improper, and had nothing to do with storks. Because this post was written by me, it is G-rated. I appreciate science, but when it comes to love, I vote for mystery. I hope you’re not disappointed.

It was time. The Powell 1548 had added enough heft and reach to the Mother Vine that it was time to select The One True Pumpkin, the one that would receive all care, nourishment, love, and admiration. A lot like the first child in every family.

Here’s a photo of the Mother Vine, ready to have her life changed forever:



She sported blossoms of both sex, male…



…and female.


And MH the Grower found the best positioned female blossom along the vine, the healthiest specimen, and gave a thumbs-up (actually, he pointed) to the blossom that would bear fruit:


The first step was to cull all competing fruits. Some of the blossoms had already been pollinated by bees, and so they had to be removed.


Pumpkin vines and fruits are loaded with sap, or chitin. Chitin is a derivative of cellulose and functions in much the same way as keratin. Insects, arachnids, and crustaceans have chitin, and so does Powell 1548. So the broken vines needed to be tied off to prevent them from depleting too much sap from the plant.



MH demonstrated how much chitin is in the fruits themselves. He ran a thumbnail down one of the culled fruits and the sap leaped out. It binds the wound, hardening and protecting the plant from further injury. It’s like a liquid bandage, but doesn’t come with cartoon characters on it:


The next step was to select two promising male flowers and peel the petals back, revealing the stamen, the male organ of the plant.





Once the petals were removed, the two candidates were compared, and one was selected to be the pollinator.


The female blossom was opened:


And the pollen-filled stamen was applied to the sticky pistil, transferring pollen grains.


MH closed the female blossom’s petals around the male stamen, holding the stamen in contact with the pistil:


And tied the blossom closed around the stamen:


The petals firmly tied, the stamen was in place to do its job.



And MH the Grower anticipated the size of the swelling fruit to be in the next few days.Size-With-Hands

He was, as always, completely correct. The next post will show just how correct he was!




“Incidentally the Latin plural for stamen is Stamina, a thread in the warp of human life spun by the Fates. It is of course also the English word meaning endurance.”

— “Stamens and Pistils 101”; Rocky Mountain; National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov



True Pumpkins can be differentiated from other squashes by their fruit stalk: it is hard and polygonal in Pumpkins, but soft and round in other squashes. But varieties within and between the species can cross-pollinate to produce hybrids: hence the great number of shapes and sizes, and the difficulty of strict botanical distinctions.


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The Kraken, legendary sea monster introduced to us by the Norwegians, has nothing on Powell 1548.

The Kraken eats sailors, boats, and whales. Powell 1548 is eating my garden.

I need to catch you all up on the caging, the release, and the explosive growth of this pumpkin plant. It is awesome to behold. My excuse for not posting earlier? I plead Summer In Maine, when residents work feverishly to treat visitors to our spectacular state in the manner they deserve. A stream of guests to our Barn Loft apartment, the stream of visitors to Husband’s art gallery, the frequent art students that set up their easels in my garden – all demand and deserve attention and appreciation.  (If you want info on any of our businesses, contact me by commenting on this post.  We’ll talk.)  It is a busy time of year for us and all Mainers.

That’s the excuse. No more. Powell 1548 is going to require constant updating, because you cannot believe what we’re witnessing. It’s going to take 3 posts to do this. This post will show the growth of the vine, the next post will show the fertilization process, and the third catch-up post will show how The Chosen One is busting out all over, even though it’s August and not June.

Here we go: A few photos to show the growth of tendrils and the growing flower buds:



The tiny cage that was first erected around the vulnerable seedling had to be enlarged to accommodate the growing plant. MH the Grower moved the stakes and used a larger length of wire fencing.




The plant was fed liquid fish emulsion and bone meal. The bone meal came in a cleaned jar of Skippy, and apparently the fragrance could not be contained by a mere blue plastic lid. MacKenzie, the cupcake masquerading as a Labrador Retriever, was entranced:


Full disclosure: My cupcake is also a thief. Shortly after that photo was taken, she uncharacteristically tried to walk off with the jar of bone meal in her mouth. She dropped it on command, but she looked mighty disappointed. A Kraken has nothing over the power of those sad, sad eyes.

Powell 1548 was almost immediately banging on the chicken wire door. Daenerys Targaryen may be George R.R. Martin’s Mother of Dragons, and Breaker of Chains, but the Powell 1548 is the Mother of Vines and Breaker of Chicken Wire. MH the Grower released the Kraken, aka the mighty Atlantic Giant pumpkin plant.

Once the puny wire restraints were removed, Powell 1548 was fed with alfalfa tea:


The plant started to set flowers, the tendrils reached, and the wall was breached:



LargeLeafOnWall_July 18

And off it goes, racing across the garden, roaring with power, intimidating all in its path. My poor kale. It doesn’t stand a chance:


Correction: Not all are intimidated. Enter MH the Grower in the next post. He has the power to choose, and he had his eye on one particular blossom. Stay tuned….



“What a Kraken grasps it does not lose, be it a longship or leviathan.”

― George R.R. Martin, author, “A Feast for Crows”




“As a garden fertilizer alfalfa meal is used to increase organic matter in the soil and makes an excellent fast and effective soil conditioner. The high amounts of carbohydrates and protein encourage beneficial soil microbes and earthworms that are responsible for quickly breaking down the nutrients and making them available for use by the plants… Alfalfa tea can be made from meal, pellets or hay, it can be used by spraying directly on the plant as a foliar spray or as a liquid fertilizer around the base of all types of vegetable plants. Alfalfa tea can be applied every 1-4 weeks or as often as needed throughout the growing season.”


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Powell 1548 is thriving, but there were some tense moment a few weeks ago. The warm weather encouraged the overwintering striped cucumber beetles to swarm over the growing leaves. The beetles had harassed my zucchini and zephyr squashes last summer, and I battled them with weekly applications of Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew:




MOFGA describes the active ingredient, spinosad, in this product as follows:


“Insecticides available for organic growers include pyrethrin… and spinosad…Pyrethrin is primarily a contact toxin, while spinosad acts both as a contact and a stomach poison. But, none of these provides a highly effective ‘knockdown” of beetle populations. Still if the beetles have already gotten out of hand and you need to do something, they will help.– MOFGA.org”


It was effective last year. But not this year. MH the Grower brought out his own concoction that included small amounts of sevin and Dawn dishwashing liquid, and a generous amount of water, and that did the trick. Fewer of these beetles were spotted after the application:




The damage the beetles do is not limited to eating holes into the leaves. The fruit is scarred, and the larvae feed on the tender stems, girdling them. But the most damaging result is caused by the cucumber beetle secreting bacterial wilt from its stomach. The bacteria spreads to the plant’s vascular system, and causes the leaves to wilt. If not treated, the plant will die.


And, as misery loves company, cucumber beetles attract other cucumber beetles. As someone who is phobic about things that swarm, this was a challenging time.


I am happy to report that MH’s method worked, and Powell 1548 is growing! Stay tuned – I will post, very shortly!, about The Chosen One. Yes, one fruit has been anointed and is receiving rock-star attention.  I am already in love.



“Worm or beetle – drought or tempest –
On a farmer’s land may fall,
Each is loaded full o’ ruin,
But a mortgage beats ’em all.”

— Will Carleton, American poet (1845-1912)


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I am intoxicated. Not by love, ingested substances, or the drumbeats of war, but by anticipation. I am suffused with anticipation, awaiting panicles that will bloom and release a fragrance that will fill my garden this summer, enticing hummingbirds and humans alike to breathe in, to drink, to find beauty and solace from the white blossoms. Today I planted a healthy specimen of clethra alnifolia, also known as summersweet.


I first encountered this plant on Martha’s Vineyard, years and years ago. The large shrub attracted clouds of happy, humming bees, and filled the air around it with a sweet perfume. The scent was not heavy or cloying. It was as light as a sea breeze, and as sweet as summer itself. I have dreamed of this plant ever since.


And yet the actual purchase and planting of this shrub was NOT planned. I had recently moved 14 struggling echinaceas out of a spot that was borderline “partial shade” and into the full sun of another location in the garden. The echinaceas immediately responded with better posture and a welcome change of attitude. (Nothing worse than a sulky coneflower.)


So I had this large circular area, UNPLANTED. Can you imagine the effect this had on me?  A section of garden, dug, edged, and…empty. It was almost unbearable.


My first thought was to plant a baptisia, a false indigo. But….at the risk of sounding petulant, I don’t like them very much. I’ve planted them before. They’re members of the pea family, and jeez, there are SO MANY lupines blooming right now. Yes, yes, they’re beautiful, they’re iconic, I love them every June, but how many dark-blue pea blossoms can a girl stand all at once? I’m full up. I am replete with pea plants. (I am also a little bored.)


And then, from the depths of my aging mind, I remembered: summersweet, the shrub that entranced me so long ago with its sweet fragrance and lovely appearance. Would it grow in Maine? Would it grow in this particular spot in my garden? Would it be the right height, the right width? I raced to the internet.


I learned that summersweet is considered “native” to Maine. Oh joy! Oh rapture!


Would it grow in full sun, partial shade, or full shade? Yes. What?! But the cultivation requirements were clear: summersweet will grow under each of these conditions.


It is fragrant and attracts hummingbirds. (Knew that.) This particular variety can grow to be 8’ tall – uh oh. Too tall. Until the garden expert at Moose Crossing (Yes, my local nursery has that charming Maine-appropriate name) said flatly, “It won’t grow to 8’ in Maine. You’ll get a 6-footer…..Maybe.”) Perfect!


It is also listed as being low maintenance (thank you), its season of interest is both summer and fall (also works for me), and its habit is “upright.” Well of course it is. I would bet it’s both upright and upstanding as well.


Here are a few photos of my newest darling:




And finally, the budding panicles:



Fragrance-to-come. Anticipation of intoxication. This summer is shaping up nicely.



“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.”

— (John) Beverley Nichols, British author, playwright, journalist, 1898-1983

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