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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:

 

Captain_Jacks

 

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:

 

Cucumber_Beetle

 

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.

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“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)

 

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:

 

SS_InPlace

View_Greenhouse

And finally, the budding panicles:

SS_Buds_CLose

 

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

 

WORDS FROM OTHERS

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

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

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