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The seedling was a Pierpont, and its parent weighed-in at a whopping 1,196 pounds. And sometime within its first 24 hours in my garden, in the dark of night, a villain stole in, dug in the rich soft dirt, and killed the seedling. Pierpont is gone.

 

MH the Grower (formerly blogged about as Michael Horst) responded: “It is what it is.” And he gamely went back to the Pinkham Plantation nursery…

 

MH_Seedling_Greenhouse

 

…and selected one of the few remaining seedlings left. A Powell, this time. And one whose parent weighed 1,548. A more impressive lineage and perhaps the reward for perseverance.

 

MH_Powell1548

 

Another reward for this second attempt was that I was present to document The Planting in complete, possibly excruciating, detail. Let’s start with The Digging of the Hole:

 

MH_digsHole

 

Note the incredibly dark rich organic compost that will be the home of this lucky Powell 1548. (I like naming it that. Alpha + Numeric = the pumpkin version of an R2D2 or a C3PO.)

 

The hole was dressed with a fertilizer called Bio-Starter, an organic multi-component mix that includes mycorhizzae, a beneficial fungi. Those little white bits? Evidence of the addition of Bio-Starter. Let there be no doubt.

 

The Hole

 

Next, one modest tablespoon of Superthrive, mixed with a full gallon of water. Superthrive is a hormone-type plant growth stimulator. Trust that MH the Grower is not interested in cultivating an “Oh, isn’t that a cute little pumpkin!” No, he’s going for a Powell 1548 – an Atlantic Giant. A monster. This is, after all, an entry into the Pumpkinfest Weigh-Off in October, so there’s no messing around. Superthrive it is.

 

WaterHormone

 

And in it goes, a robust healthy pumpkin seedling with its first set of true leaves, one of which is large and points in the direction that the main stem wants to grow.

 

MH_PlacesSeedling_Hole

 

And my dog MacKenzie watched from afar, content to be near all of us, happy that she’d found some shade, and not quite certain what all the fuss was about.

 

Plant_MacInBack

 

MH paid full attention to this leaf and its demonstration of intent. The seedling was planted with the leaf facing the greatest area of open space in the reserved portion of the garden. That vine will have nothing in its way for at least 20 feet. For the purpose of humor, I wish the seedling was facing west, but it isn’t. It’s facing north, and so I must say, “Go north, young seedling! Go north!”

 

Here’s a photo of the open area, the wide wilderness that the Powell 1548 will explore:

 

TheRange

 

Because this was a do-over, the decision was made to protect the seedling from nighttime marauders. I offered my stash of tomato cages, but that proved both ineffective and silly. MH decided that four stakes, a roll of chicken wire, a length of rope, and a recently unearthed brick would do the trick. Here’s the entire sequence:

 

StakesInstead

StakesInPlace

CircleWithWire

TieWithRope

 

And the result:

 

Caged

 

This photo is comforting to MH and myself, and we hope it is deeply disturbing to the assassins of the night, the ones that care not for infant pumpkins and care more for the grubs, worms, and other burrowing creatures they are certain reside deep in the compost. They will not get the chance to try again. The Powell 1548 is caged. For a day or two, at least. That baby’s gonna grow, and FAST.

 

Stand back, and stay tuned.

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”

 

— George A. Custer, Cavalry Commander (1839 – 1876)

 

 

And so it begins, another rollicking edition of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, and I am more than just a delighted spectator this year. I made a grand bargain with neighbor and friend Michael Horst: I’m giving him a sunny 20’ section of my garden and he’s giving me permission to blog about this enterprise to my heart’s content. And, whose heart wouldn’t be content to follow the progress of the growing of an Atlantic Giant pumpkin?!

 

This event involves the entire community. Adults and children volunteer to grow the pumpkins. The pumpkins are grown and then weighed, prize money is awarded, the pumpkins are deployed throughout the town, and artists decorate them with wild abandon and enthusiasm. Some people turn their giant pumpkins into boats fitted with outboard motors and race them in the harbor. (That’s the “Regatta” part of the event.) Businesses and non-profits support the event, sponsor the artists, organize parades, hire street musicians, arrange for giant slingshots to hurl pumpkins great distances, and set up giant cranes to drop pumpkins from great heights. It is a lively time.

 

Pumpkinfest takes place over Columbus Day weekend, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This past Sunday was “Seedling Sunday”, when 600 Atlantic Giant pumpkin seedlings were given away to Squashbucklers (formerly known as “Volunteer Growers”). The seedlings were distributed at Pinkham’s Plantation, a local nursery, and the Squashbucklers were also given growing instructions and five gallons of compost to give the tiny plants a healthy start.

 

Sponsors of the event were present, including the Maine Maritime Museum that arrived in this audacious ride:

LobsterCar_WithSign

 

LobsterCar_HeadOn

 

Other notables included representatives from the sponsoring Farnsworth Art Museum, the Boothbay Railway Village, and local media personalities.

 

The real draw for the Squashbucklers, though, was the lure of the seedlings and the expert guidance of the Pumpkin Posse, the volunteers who assist in every phase of this 6-month long event.

 

PumpkinPosse_Sign

 

Here is what greeted Michael as he entered the greenhouse:

 

Banner_left

PickUpTent_LongShot
 

The seedlings are donated by the previous year’s growers, who are ferociously proud of their hefty pumpkins and the genetics that produced them. Each seedling is marked with the grower’s name and the weight of the pumpkin from which the seeds were harvested.

 

Much like a champion racehorse, you can select your seedling by its breeding and its trainer (grower). This seedling was grown by Powell, and came from a monster weighing 1,355 pounds.

Seedling-_Powell

 

My friend selected a “Gabourey” seedling, and a “Pierpont” seedling, which was grown by last year’s winner of both the Pumpkinfest weigh-off AND set a new record for the state of Maine at 1,727.5 pounds. Michael’s “Pierpont” seedling came from a pumpkin that weighed 1,196 pounds. An impressive bloodline, for sure.

 

Seedling_Pierpont

 

He was instructed by an expert about what to watch for in Vine Direction. The orientation of the fruit to the vine is critical. More on that later.

 

Mike_Expert_2

 

Michael prepared the planting site in my garden. It has been dug, de-rocked, and a half-yard of fluffy, gorgeous black organic compost is now in place. Soon either the Gabourey or the Pierpont seedling will be planted.

 

Stay tuned! This blog will carry photos and commentary on all aspects of this particular seedling’s moment in the sun.

Pretty Peas

What’s Up in the Garden?

 

Well, not the peas. Yet. They’re doing their thing in the dirt under a blanket of chopped leaves and snow. I’ve planted Sutton’s Harbinger, and Green Arrow, both from Seed Saver’s Exchange.

 

At the ready, two trellises: one made of mullein stalks, and one made of leftover lattice:

 

IMG_1295

IMG_1296

 

The snow melted in two days (thank you, Lamb-y March), and I’m watching patiently for those first seedlings to emerge.

 

Seeds are planted in my office, and my greenhouse is bracing for the planting of almost 500 seeds.  Photos and text to come!

 

Autumn is upon us and winter is coming. That means I’m looking out the windows and loving the burgundies and golds and stubborn greens on the trees. It means I’m reconnecting with the guy that plows our driveway, and I’m annoying Husband by insisting that we drain the hoses and bring the lawn furniture into the basement BEFORE it snows. It also means I’m looking forward to growing food in my greenhouse. Say what?!

Thanks to Eliot Coleman, I think my greenhouse will not just serve as a solarium during the winter. I think it’s going to produce food for us even when the nighttime temperatures dip below -10 degrees. I’m going to take the principles outlined in his “Four-Season Harvest”, and put them into practice.   Coleman gardens in Maine. He is the essence of Yankee ingenuity and Maine practicality. He believes in low-tech, in no guilt, in low cost. If I weren’t already married….

Book,Coleman,FourSeason,hori

The principle of the four-season garden is that you grow plants that are cold hardy, and you start them early enough in the year that they have reached maturity when the frost arrives. In that way, you aren’t growing in the frozen season, but you are still harvesting. The way this is done is to have your plants under multiple layers.   He uses hoop houses that then have covered low tunnels inside.

In Coleman’s own words:

“Our four-season harvest is based on a simple premise. Whereas the growing season may be chiefly limited to the warmer months, the harvest season has no such limits. We enjoy a year-round harvest by following two practices: succession planting and crop protection.…only the harvest season and not the growing season, needs to be extended. The distinction is important because the harvest season can be extended with cool-weather vegetables and simple crop protection.”

Coleman states that every layer of protection increases your hardiness zone by 1.5 zones. So, outside my Maine greenhouse it is Zone 5. Inside the greenhouse it is zone 6+ and I’m now in New York. And under the next layer of protection (my covered seed table), it will be Zone 8 and Georgia. Can I grow winter greens in Georgia? I trust Eliot Coleman and so I’ll say yes.

My greenhouse is built on a gravel base, and so I cannot use his low-tunnel technique of planting directly in the ground. What I am doing is using the wonderful seed table Husband built me to hold the seed trays and then covering that table.

I started planting two weeks ago. I chose 4 plants: claytonia (which my Boston-based daughter tells me is on the trendier menus in Boston restaurants!), mizuna, tatsoi, and mache. Here is what that first planting looked like in the greenhouse. Note that I’m only using the top shelf of the table at this point:

FirstPlanting_TopShelf

Following Coleman’s recommendation of succession planting, I started a second wave of seedlings this past weekend. I was concerned that the wire mesh that forms the surface of the two levels would allow cold air to come up underneath the trays and freeze the seedlings. (Ladies, think of the canyons of New York in January, when you’re wearing a skirt.)

BottomShelf_Before_Insulation

So Husband took some unused pink foam-insulation boards and cut them to size for me. I was working out in the garden, went to the basement workshop to remind him of my desperate need for pink planks, and found this waiting for me outside the garage door:

Insulation_Waiting_Garage

I emptied both levels on the table, and pushed the foam insulation into place:

BottomShelf_Insulation_SetIn

Then I set all the seed trays on top of the insulation. Here is the before and after photos of the trays, empty and planted:

2ndPlanting_Top_Bottom_Prep_Best

2ndPlanting_Top_Bottom_Planted_Best

Here is what I’m hoping to harvest in about 4 weeks:

Claytonia (montia perfoliata): Coleman says claytonia “should win the winter salad sleeper award for being both unknown and irresistible.” It is also known as “miner’s lettuce.” It is the hardiest of the winter salad crops and it’s so pretty it’s “almost ornamental”. I read that I’m never to thin the plant, but instead I should grasp the leaves and cut the stems below them. By doing this, claytonia keeps producing new leaves throughout the winter.

Mizuna (brassica rapa nipposinica): This is billed as a mild and delicate Oriental plant, with a slight flavor of mustard. It has fringed leaves and I read that it will yield over a long period if it is cut back to encourage new leaf production.

Tatsoi (brassica rapa rosularis): Also known as spinach mustard or rosette bok choy, this is another Oriental vegetable. I hear that it even looks nutritious because of its dark green shiny leaves. It is supposed to survive the coldest weather.

Mache (valerianella locusta): This is also known as corn salad, forming a small rosette of tender leaves. Coleman says, “It is to winter what sweet corn is to summer: a plant adapted to its season. It is the queen of vigor and robustness.” The recommended harvesting technique is to cut the whole plant at soil level and serve it intact in a salad without cutting it up.

Here are two photos of the first seedlings to emerge, on the top shelf: mizuna and tatsoi:

Mizuna_Seedlings_Horiz

Tatsoi_Seedlings

You’ll notice that the plants look identical! That’s because all you’re seeing right now are the cotyledons, the first set of leaves. The plants will differentiate when they push out their first set of true leaves.

What’s next? We bought 4 wire rods yesterday at the hardware store, and Husband is going to drill holes in the top shelf frame of the table. We will bend and insert the rods that will act as wickets. Then I will drape floating row cover cloth over the entire table, securing it with clothespins. Another advantage of planting indoors is I don’t have to worry about wind lifting up the floating cover. Coleman’s book advises having the cloth in place well above the plants, as contact with the plants will allow frost to grab and kill the tender seedlings.

So, Part Two of this post will be the installation of the wire wickets and the floating cloth. Photos will accompany, and hopefully I will have photos of the emerging plants to share with you soon!

PumpkinFest 2015

It’s that time of year again, when the streets of Damariscotta are filled with parents, children, and giant decorated pumpkins!  It is a crowded, noisy, cheerful celebration of autumn, and I just love it!

Here are a few photos of the pumpkins on Main Street.  Note:  This is just a cross-section — there were pumpkins on side streets and in far-flung corners of town that I just didn’t have time to get to.  But this selection will give you an idea of what everyone in town enjoyed!

Sometimes the art was more about assembly than painting or carving. This is a lobster rendered in pumpkins.

Sometimes the art was more about assembly than painting or carving. This is a lobster rendered in pumpkins.

Over the rainbow, or over the pumpkin?!

Over the rainbow, or over the pumpkin?!

A minion atop a crowded phone booth. Baffling message but interesting concept.

A minion atop a crowded phone booth. Baffling message but interesting concept.

One of my favorites this year: a hermit crab.

One of my favorites this year: a hermit crab.

Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo.

An ice cream cone outside the local soda fountain.

An ice cream cone outside the local soda fountain.

Another one of my favorites: a chickadee!

Another one of my favorites: a chickadee!

A Halloween witch?

A Halloween witch?

PFest_15_HideYourFace

Glen Chadbourne, of Stephen King-bookjacket fame, had a little baby crawling into his pumpkin this year -- suitably creepy!

Glen Chadbourne, of Stephen King-bookjacket fame, had a little baby crawling into his pumpkin this year — suitably creepy!

My vote for Best Pumpkin this year.

My vote for Best Pumpkin this year.

Mother Goose: The cow jumped over the moon!

Mother Goose: The cow jumped over the moon!

Monarchs.

Monarchs.

A spider atop the flowers.

A spider atop the flowers.

Carved alewives, overlooking the Damariscotta River.

Carved alewives, overlooking the Damariscotta River.

Flounders.

Flounders.

A lobster purse complete with zipper!

A lobster purse complete with zipper!

Swimming seals!

Swimming seals!

Paddling!

Paddling!

Sunflower.

Sunflower.

I’m looking forward to next year.  I’m hoping to be one of the Volunteer Growers, contributing my own giant pumpkin to the cause, and….possibly working with Husband on crafting our own pumpkin for the festival? Stay tuned!

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

— Henry David Thoreau

It is a world of imagination, where dreams come true. Where you appreciate the past, look forward to tomorrow, and fill your life with color, form, and fantasy.

Disneyland?   Nope. This magic kingdom is the annual Fedco Tree Sale in Clinton, Maine. If you’re a gardener, this event makes Disneyland pale. Yes, it is that good. Here is how I spent my day in Disneyland – I mean, in the Fedco warehouse:

It started with my placing an order for perennials in the last dark months of 2014. I ordered two roses, 6 yarrow, 3 echinacea, 10 liatris, 6 hollyhocks, 3 lavenders, and 6 butterfly weed. This was a separate order from the seed order I’d placed with Fedco a few weeks earlier. The seeds came to my local food co-op, as they offered their members the opportunity to place a group order and so receive a discount. The idea that a $1.50 packet of seeds required a further discount was almost laughable – but I have learned that Maine and its businesses often surprise me in the nicest way. So I accepted the additional discount with this group order and sent up yet another silent “thank you” to Fedco.

This perennial order was not part of the group order. I could have had the plants shipped to me, but I knew I wouldn’t be ready to put them in the ground for the April delivery. I opted to drive 70 minutes to Clinton to pick them up at the warehouse. What a happy choice that turned out to be!

The day before our planned trip, I received a call from a woman in the warehouse. She wanted to remind me that my order was ready for pick-up, and that I could only come that Friday or Saturday. I said I was counting the minutes until Friday morning, and she laughed. The morning of the pick-up, my GPS wrestled with me, and told me that despite the address on my order pick-up form, the warehouse was NOT in Waterville. Husband suspected it was in Clinton. I called the warehouse to ask if that was true. It was. I told the woman on the phone that I would be there at 10:58. (GPS is nothing if not precise) She laughed. It seems that everyone that works for Fedco is happy.

I had a pleasant drive with Husband on that sunny cool Friday morning in May. As we exited the highway, I saw the blue warehouse, with the huge “SALE” sign out front. We were waved into the parking lot by this gentleman. Sorry kids, but he was much more appealing to me than Mickey. He works for Fedco, and so naturally he was happy:

Fedco_SombreroMan

We pulled into the parking lot…

Fedco_WarehouseEntrance

…,and entered Disneyland for Gardeners. The air was cold in the warehouse and it smelled like wood and green leaves. The first sight was of wheelbarrows filled with damp sawdust, customers waiting patiently holding bare-root fruit trees, and workers wrapping those trees in the sawdust and clear plastic. (And note the milk jug “scoops” in the sawdust — Fedco uses milk jugs creatively. Read on to learn more.) The reason for the long line of customers: the fruit trees were offered at 2 for the price of 1.

Fedco_WrapTreesBetter

Now THIS is a shopping aisle that speaks to me:

Fedco_FruitTreeAisle

There were several areas for shopping. The first was the open warehouse with trees, roses, and shrubs. There was an interior room with small tables and small boxes filled with treasure. One table held tea, garlic, oils, and smudge sticks — hyssop and sage wound with bright string.

Fedco_BowlofGarlic

Even the signage in this room was true Fedco: The illustration was happy! Who needs Minnie Mouse? I had this gal:

Fedco_SelfServiceSign

I found medicinal herbs that I’d only read about and have never seen, such as black cohosh, and plants that frequently appear in literature, such as Solomon’s Seal:

Fedco_SolomonSealSign

Asclepias incarnata? You are indeed the personification of milkweed:

Fedco_AsclepiasSign

An outside area had more perennials, and yet another use for milk jugs:

Fedco_AppleMintJugs

Despite having already placed an order for roses and perennials, Husband encouraged me to go into their greenhouse, and I emerged with 4 hot pepper plants for him, and three varieties of thyme for me.

Back into the warehouse, we found grape vines, and Husband immediately made plans for the stand of Nuisance Sumacs (I have just made that an official variety) in our yard. I think he dreams of being a vintner.

Fedco_GrapesSign

I picked up my order, feeling like I’d taken every ride at Disneyland without waiting in any long lines, feeling like I’d emerged from a gift shop with something way better than a Tinker Bell necklace, and feeling once again that I much preferred the company of Mainers to that of really really big stuffed animals. I was happy.

On the way out, we saw this beautiful wreath on the wall. Made of plant labels and a plastic wrap bow, it was the sign pointing me to my own personal World of Tomorrow – a bountiful garden filled with blooms, pollinators, and charmed visitors. I’m working on making it the Happiest Place on Earth. Thank you (again!), Fedco.

Fedco_LabelWreath

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

–Plaque above the bridge as you enter the Main Street of Disneyland

Oh, how I wish this WERE a fable. But it’s not. It’s a true story of yet another victim of the winter of 2014-15. The story goes like this:

The former owner of our house was quite a gardener. She planted lovely perennials, trees, and shrubs, and very few of them were to my liking. (But to be fair, she didn’t plant them for me.) I am living with most of her choices because I do recognize her skill, and the health and vigor of the plants. This includes two dwarf Japanese maples (acer palmatum) that flank the driveway-side of our house.

These two trees met the winter in a similar way: healthy and fully clothed in bark. But sometime, during a dark winter night before the first blizzard, a porcupine (erethizon doratum) started snacking on the bark of one tree. When the snow receded, the extent of the damage became clear. And I now know why this critter’s Latin name is so apt. “Erethizon doratum”? Your translated name is “quill pig” and that’s about how I’m feeling towards you right now.

Witness:

The one maple tree that survived unchewed:

RedMaple_Safe

And the stripped maple tree that was far enough from the doorway to escape our notice so that the cowardly rodent could pig-out:

RedMaple_Chewed

Here is a close-up of a chewed branch. Note the teeth marks:

RedMaple_ChewedBranch

Am I upset? You betcha. But perhaps not for the reason you imagine. Husband is very very upset that we have lost a beautiful tree. Me? Not about that. Remember, this wasn’t my favorite inherited planting. I’m more upset that we have a porcupine close to our house and to our two dogs.

I am not alone in my dismay about these prickly beasts. They have been referenced by comedians, poets, and Communist leaders alike, and all seem to agree: These are tough customers. Two more quotes to accompany my “Words from Others” widget:

“If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you.”

  • Nikita Khrushchev (Russian politician, 1894-1971)

“The porcupine, whom one must handle gloved, may be respected, but never loved.”

  • Arthur Guiterman (American writer and poet, 1871-1943)

Lest you think that I am a heartless, unfeeling porcupine hater, I will share two facts with you that prove that even porcupines are creatures that a mother could love (a Quill Pig mother, I mean).

Fact #1: Baby porcupines are called “porcupettes.” (awww)

Fact #2: A baby porcupine’s quills are ready to use 20 minutes after they are born. (It is that 20-minute delay that earns them a mother’s love.)

The snow has finally retreated, and the full extent of this winter’s damage is known. I’m hoping this is the last hurrah for our porcupine neighbor. If I have to write a blog about rushing our dogs to the vet in the middle of the night for Quill Removal, you can bet I will not be including any cute facts about these little prickly pigs at the end of that post.

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“I’m a little hoarse tonight. I’ve been living in Chicago for the past two months, and you know how it is, yelling for help on the way home every night. Things are so tough in Chicago that at Easter time, for bunnies, the little kids use porcupines.”

— Fred Allen, (Comedian, 1894-1956)