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My Book!

I wrote a book about preserving food. The same step-by-step instruction and full-color photos you find in my blog. Buy it at Yes, You Can 

Links to planters at selected vendors:

Small Kitchen Garden Store

Nature Hills Nurseries

Garden-Fountains.com

Krupps.com

Farm & Home Supply Center

MasterGardening.com

 

 

Sprouts

Amazon.com is a terrific source for certified organic seeds intended for home sprouting. Dress up salads, stir-fry, sandwiches, spreads, and other dishes with homegrown sprouts of all kinds. Follow this link to order your sampler or to find home sprouting kits.

 

Small Kitchen Garden Store

Find the perfect gift for any kitchen gardener--or find products to help get the best from your own small kitchen garden. To save you time, we've selected products from Amazon.com that received the best customer reviews. Click here to visit our store and pick up the perfect gifts for any small kitchen garden enthusiast.

 

 

 

 

First Crocus, 2015… and Figs

First crocus of 2015

Perhaps as hardy as the other crocuses in my yard, this one sneaked under my fig tree lean-to and managed to get a head start on spring.

This is an awkward “first crocus of spring” post. The photo dates back to March 9, but the crocus plant it shows cheated.

Overwintering Figs

In late fall of 2014, I had two young fig trees I’d bought at the end of a garden center’s retail season. These had been in containers on my screened porch and I wanted them in the ground before temperatures plummeted… but I didn’t want them to freeze back to the soil if we had another polar vortex like the one in winter 2013-2014.

So, I built a lean-to. I leaned a “trellis” against the wall and draped very heavy plastic over it. Bricks hold everything in place. This lean-to would keep the wind off the fig trees and most likely keep the temperature around the trees at or just below freezing on the coldest winter days.

Temporary lean-to greenhouse

It’s not pretty, but it’s practical: There’s a section of wooden fence under that plastic. I leaned the fence against the wall, draped it with plastic, and held the plastic down with bricks. Though I live in USDA hardiness zone 6b/7a, I expect the two young fig trees inside my lean-to had a zone 9 kind of winter.

On March 9, I peeled back the plastic so the trees wouldn’t overheat on sunny days. The first crocus blossom of the year in my yard was growing strong inside the tent—it had benefited from the shelter while the other crocus plants shivered under snow.

Crocuses have arrived

For days I wrung my hands: Should I reward the cheater? How could I feature such a softie as the FIRST when so many others had faced the elements and were only days behind?

The other crocuses are now in bloom, and the first crocus blossom has faded away… except for in the photo on this page. Sure, it had life easy this past winter, but it gave me a chuckle when I found it blooming away alongside its sleeping fig tree sheltermates. So, there it is; it’s spring!

 

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Unlikely Starters in my Kitchen Garden

Ice on the rain garden

It’s still cold enough in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for ice to form on the water in my “rain garden.” I use quotes because I dug a hole several years ago and it has been wet only in spring thaws and heavy storms—it’s dry most of the year. Haven’t yet decided what to plant in it.

Being a garden writer has changed me. Before I posted my first blog entry, I’d plant almost exclusively things intended for my stomach. I’d joke (and I still joke) that if the plant doesn’t come with a recipe, I won’t waste energy growing it.

There were exceptions. For example, I came across zinnia seeds that were supposed to be special and I planted some. They weren’t special. I also planted poppies year after year until finally two plants survived to adulthood. They met their demise under the lawn mower when my wife sent my oldest child with it into an unkempt flower bed.

How Garden Writing Changed Me

Through blogging I got to know other garden writers and a group of them in New England organized an outing to a public garden in very eastern New York… I have friends in that area I’d actually already met in person, so I used the outing as an excuse to visit.

Sedum sprouts as snow melts

A cluster of leaf buds sits on the soil line between stems that supported last year’s blossoms. I bought closeouts at the end of the season in 2014 and “healed them in” in my vegetable garden. I’ll transplant these into the rock garden I expect to create in April.

It was a most terrific day. I toured a gorgeous garden with people I had known only as avatars and Twitter names. As those people became “real,” my change began.

My friends all were giddy about the garden and it was easy to understand why: Textures and colors intertwined in displays I’d never have conceived. Gorgeous arrangements of rocks, wood, water, and living plants drew us from one themed area to another. The weather was perfect. The light was perfect. The people were perfect.

Ideas accumulated in my mind. Ornamental gardens around homes in central Pennsylvania are, for the most part “shrub-and-mulch” monstrosities (set shrubs and young trees throughout a planting bed and spread mulch). I don’t recall seeing mulch in the public garden (it was probably there, but I simply didn’t notice it); each themed area combined hardscaping and a variety of plants to interest a visitor looking up, forward, or down. Plants provided the ground cover that mulch provides in central Pennsylvania!

Hens and Chicks

Hens and Chicks were on sale at a yard sale late in 2014. I bought two for a dollar apiece and heeled them in in the vegetable bed next to the sedum. They’ll also move to a new rock garden in April.

I’ve resisted the change, but each subsequent visit to a show garden has provided more inspiration; more examples of ornamental garden design done well. And there’s another factor:

Whenever I attend a GWA event or a horticulture industry conference, it seems I bring home seeds and plants to try in my garden. When those aren’t edibles, I imagine my yard some day rivaling the many show gardens I’ve visited.

Am I close? Do I know what plants will look good together when they grow up? Do I have any ability to design an attractive ornamental garden? Does this paragraph contain enough questions? (No. No. Maybe. Do you think it contains enough questions?)

What’s in my Kitchen Garden Now

Last autumn, I grabbed a whole bunch of hardy succulents at a garden center—marked down to a fifth or less of their “in-season” prices—Tall-standing and ground-hugging sedums, and Hens and Chicks. I had also picked up some sedum roots at Cultivate ’14 and had nursed most of them into seedlings.

Hellebore bud in late winter

I fell in love with hellebores when I first saw their fleshy white flowers poking out of a snow bank. Prices for these plants always seemed high until I found a friend selling native plants at a local garden show last spring. I bought one from her and she generously gave me another. They went in the garden in early summer and spent a lackluster season there. Despite drawing full shade until late afternoon, one hellebore was already putting up flower stalks by the time the snow melted off of it as spring approached.

As gardening season ’14 ended, I simply ran out of time to install the planting bed I want for these succulents. To increase their chances of surviving winter, I “heeled them in” in my vegetable bed. They’ve been covered with snow for months, but it melted off while I was away last week. They look spectacular! Photos complete the story.

Given that the ground is still firm with surface frost and frozen through in some places, it’s astonishing to find so many plants looking alive and ready for spring. I’m ready to go; I wish the climate felt the same.

Horehound in late winter

Horehound doesn’t belong on this list. I added it two seasons ago, technically not as an ornamental element—its and herb. I included the photo because the plant is remarkable. Last season, the horehound emerged from winter dried up and burnt; all growth in 2014 came from the roots. This winter brought at least one month-long stretch where the temperature never rose out of the teens; it seemed colder overall than the previous winter. Still, snow melted away to reveal healthy, beautiful leaves on the horehound plant… it’s so true that snow insulates plants from winter cold.

 

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2015 Seed Giveaway: Grand Prize Winner

My (nearly) annual seed giveaway closed on February 15. Seeds are almost in the mail! Here’s where things stand:

Packing tomato seeds

I’ve laid out seeds to fill 50 envelopes for winners of this year’s seed giveaway.

  • My wife and I selected the grand prize winner!
  • I contacted people who nearly almost kind of entered the giveaway but might have missed a critical step (no mailing address received here).
  • I designed, printed, and applied new seed envelope labels – more than 160 envelopes.
  • I’ve packed 80 seed envelopes with 80 still awaiting attention.
  • I wrote (am writing) this post to let participants know their seeds are on the way.

Corona tools pruners

The grand prize, two pruners supplied by Corona Tools, go to Maggie Towson whose winning comment appears below.

The Corona Tools Grand Prize

My wife and I reviewed the comments that qualified participants for a shot at the grand prize (Two Corona Tools pruners). We loved the stories! Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to share.

Several comments gave me a chuckle, and a few were very poignant. The winner scored on both sides with a story that seemed especially fine-tuned to the judges’ sensibilities. It involved not only gardening, but also a dog behaving exactly as dogs do: being ever so helpful in exactly the worst possible way. I had warned that a story about a garden failure may not entertain the judges, but OMG, a PUPPY!

Congratulations to Maggie Towson, and thank you for the wonderful picture you told about Luna. If not for my garden fence and a deep distrust I have of Nutmeg’s (my dog) gardening sensibilities, this could be our story! Your pruners should be in the mail before the snow melts.

And the Seed Giveaway

I hope to fill the remaining 80 seed envelopes tonight. Here’s what’s left after that:

Maggie Towson’s Winning Story

The first summer after our 2nd dog, Luna, joined our family revealed the unfortunate truth that in this yard two gardeners is one too many. The beginning of this revelation was the day I first decided to transplant some seedlings into the main garden. The dogs did dog things in the yard while I worked my way down the first garden row. Part way down the row, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned in time to see Luna, seedling in mouth, paw at the grass, toss the seedling joyfully into the air, watch it fall on the ground, and pounce on it. Several of the seedling’s brethren had been stolen and ‘replanted’ in similar fashion and littered the backyard in various states of smashery. Ever the optimist, I thought it would be cool to teach her to gently plant seedlings. I don’t even need to illustrate for you the many ways in which that was a stupid idea. So I decided to teach her to pull weeds. She was great at this and really enjoyed it! Unfortunately, she really stinks at distinguishing weeds from not weeds and sees no reason to wait to be instructed to pull something. Not my Luna. She’s proactive! These days, she is banished from the garden (she ignores this rule) and is only allowed to play with the weeds I toss to her (she ignores this rule too).

  • Printing and applying mailing labels
  • Writing and printing a letter about the seeds I’m mailing
  • Stuffing envelopes
  • Visiting the post office to get stamps and mail things out

If all goes well, seeds should be on the way on Friday, February 27, or Saturday, February 28.

It’s hard to express how much I enjoyed your comments. I hope you have great luck with the seeds. I’d love to hear from you once or twice through the season about how things are going… it’d be especially awesome if you’d post a photo of plants producing, of tomatoes, peppers, or squash you harvest, or of all of the above. If you wish, email a photo and a comment or two about your experience and I’ll feature it in a blog post during the growing season. If you blog and write a post about how these seeds work out, let me know and I’ll post a link.

Just 20 days until we’re supposed to plant peas in our gardens in central Pennsylvania. I’ve never planted peas in snow… could be interesting.

 

Amazing Green Sausage Heirloom Tomatoes

Four month old Green Sausage heirloom paste tomatoes

For at least four months after harvest, these tomatoes got moved around in our dining room until I noticed they’d started to wrinkle. These are Green Sausage tomatoes—an heirloom paste tomato that remains green when it ripens. It also, apparently, creates a hermetic barrier between its innards and the rest of the universe.

In late January, I ate a fresh homegrown heirloom tomato harvested from my outdoor garden. This is remarkable because by early October of last year, those of my tomato plants that hadn’t been killed by blight had been frozen by an early frost.

Green Sausage, the variety of tomato in question, had proven particularly susceptible to blight and I had pulled four apparently unripe fruits from the desiccated plants in mid-to-late September. These went to the ripening table in the dining room but I wasn’t convinced they’d ripened by the time I folded up the table at season’s end.

So, four Green Sausage tomatoes spent at least four months “ripening” in our dining room. Finally, in mid January, I noticed they had started to wrinkle. They weren’t soft or blemished as a spoiling tomato gets. They were simply wrinkling.

What’s a garden blogger to do? I took pictures, I made video, and I cut open one of those 4+ month old fruits. I was dismayed at what I found. The photos tell the story; the video captures my reaction “live.”

Sliced four month old Green Sausage heirloom paste tomato

When I cut open one of these well-aged tomatoes, it looked fresh and juicy inside.

Inside a four month old Green Sausage heirloom paste tomato

Cut lengthwise, the 4-month-old Green Sausage tomato (an heirloom variety) revealed plenty of juicy flesh. It begged me to taste it; my reaction is in the video.

 

Don’t Freeze Ya Freesias

NOT Freesia season

The coldest days of winter and a typical central Pennsylvania snow reaffirm the area’s USDA hardiness zone rating. Freesias would not survive this winter outdoors.

Freesias! I took a flier last spring and bought a package of freesia bulbs on closeout. I’ve never grown freesias. I couldn’t have identified them had someone led me to a freesia patch to harvest a few for a bouquet.

Knowing so little about them, I planted twelve freesia bulbs according to instructions on the package: buried many inches deep in a 12-inch container. In a few weeks, exactly two plants emerged. Eventually they blossomed and I fell in love with their fragrance; freesias smell like flowers, but not like any I’d sniffed previously.

By summer’s end, the two freesia plants were done. The temperature dropped, a few weeds sprouted in the freesia planter, and one day three new freesia sprouts appeared. This was an aha moment! Freesias, apparently, draw motivation to sprout from a mild cold spell. The package had identified freesias as annuals in my hardiness zone, so I suspect a freeze would have killed the bulbs. But they were far from dead; there had been no freeze.

Still knowing little about freesias (you’d think I could read something), I guessed that sprouting in autumn and then being put into cold storage would overtax the bulbs. Now that they’d sprouted, I figured they’d need to mature and recharge themselves to make it through a dormant period.

Being uncommitted to ornamental plants, the most I was willing to offer was a place on the sill of a south-facing window. The freesias have persevered! Seven bulbs sprouted and have grown gangly leaves that hardly hold themselves upright.

I’ve watered occasionally and broken off a dandelion whose tap root has a death grip in the soil. Other than that, I paid no mind.

Until last week.

Freesia blossom

It’s so dark in the basement where my freesia pot sits on a windowsill that there’s barely enough light to take photographs. Still, the plants are abloom and the basement room is redolent of spring.

Freesias in Winter

Two weeks ago I brought an assortment of plants back from MANTS, a horticulture industry trade show in Baltimore. I set the plants on our ping-pong table which catches some light from the south-facing window where the freesias sit. As I was setting up electric lights for those plants about five days ago, I noticed the scent of spring! Sure enough, there was a blossom on one of the freesia plants.

My freesia planter sports two sun-starved flower stalks laden with buds. Five days after the first bud opened, a second is about to burst. It seems likely the blooms will continue until it’s safe to move the planter outside.

The lifecycles of my freesia plants, I’m sure, are severely screwed up, but that will remain their problem. I’ll move the planter outside in spring and back in autumn. If the plants eventually synch with the seasons, I’ll give them a cool, dark corner to winter over next year. Otherwise, I suppose they’re doomed each year to grow gangly and watch from my south-facing window while the snows fall.

http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/gardening/dont-freeze-ya-freesias

 

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Vegetable Seed and Corona Tools Giveaway 2015!

Please note this giveaway is closed. Follow this link to learn who won the prize.

The Quickest Way to Enter

The quickest way to enter the giveaway:

  • Leave a comment on this blog post that shares an entertaining gardening experience.
  • Send an email that includes a mailing address and the email address you used on the comment form. Click this link to send the email.

Read the rest of the post for instructions on how to increase your chances of winning the tools and receiving free seeds.

This giveaway ends on Friday, February 15 at midnight.

2015 Seed giveaway

This year’s seed giveaway once again features the chili-pepper-shaped paste tomatoes descended from two fruits given to me by an area farmer some seven years ago. These have very little liquid and they taste great raw or cooked.

Winter break is OVER! From Thanksgiving until last weekend it seems I made at least two road trips a week. We had kids returning from college, kids heading off to other countries, kids returning to college, and kids coming back to school in Lewisburg. I also visited my Dad in Ithaca along the way, and participated in a few trade shows. I hope your holidays were as fulfilling!

And now for the annual seed giveaway – with a chance to win two excellent pruners from Corona Tools!

My Food in Your Garden

I love to share things that grow in my garden. To that end, I’ll package and mail seeds to as many people as I can – until I run out from last year’s harvest. I’ll write about the seed varieties in the box titled, A Seed Set Package. Happily, this year I’m also giving away two pruners from Corona Tools. Corona generously gave me these pruners and It’s great to be able to pass them along to one of my readers.

Corona Tools pruners

Corona Tools is very generous and engaged with the online gardening community. They provided me with several sets of pruners, and I’m happy to be able to pass some along to readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden. I use both styles – always slipping one into a pocket when I head out to the garden – and would recommend them even without the generous gift from Corona.

Here’s how to enter the giveaway:

How to Enter the Small Kitchen Garden 2015 Seed and Tool Giveaway

There will be multiple winners of the seed giveaway but only one winner of the Corona Tools pruners. Each winner of seeds will receive a set of seeds as explained in the box titled A Seed Set Package. Between January 22, 2015, and February 15, 2015, I’ll build a mailing list of people who request seeds. After February 15, 2015, I’ll mail seed sets to each qualified entry according to the list order until I run out of seed sets. Entrants influence the list order by participating according to instructions under the title, The Rules below.

The Corona Tools prize will go to the person whose comment most entertains the judges – the judges being Daniel and his wife. Note: Stories about failed or damaged crops risk being seen as sad rather than entertaining. Just sayin’.

Completing steps 3 and 4 are critical for entering the giveaway!

Neck Pumpkins included in the 2015 Seed giveaway

Neck pumpkins are popular in central Pennsylvania. These are essentially giant butternut squashes though with a slightly milder flavor. The one in front weighs about 18 lbs and is a descendent of a squash that weighed 20 lbs. The giveaway includes five seeds from this family line of squashes.

The Rules

1. This giveaway ends on Friday, February 15 at midnight. As of February 16, no new entries or mailing list “bumps” are valid.

2. To enter the giveaway, complete items 3 and 4. That’s all it takes; you can stop there if you don’t want to read the rest of the rules (though all the rules apply whether or not you read them).

3. Secure a spot on the seed mailing list and enter to win the Corona tools by leaving a comment on this blog post (use the comment form below). Share an amusing gardening experience in the comment – the more amusing the comment, the better your chances of winning the tools (note that stories of crop failures and other gardening losses may sadden the judges rather than amuse them). The Corona Tools pruners will go to whatever garden story most amuses the judges (Daniel and his wife Stacy). ALSO COMPLETE STEP 4!

4. Send an email with a mailing address AND the email address you used on the comment form (so I know which is you). That’s all you need to do for a chance to get seeds and to win the tools! Click here to send email.

If you’ll be “bumping” (explained below) your free seeds entry, include your twitter handle and/or facebook name in the email so I can spot your bumps. If you decide to post on your blog (see below), include a link to your blog so I can have a look.

There is one prize of Corona Tools pruners. Submitting a comment and emailing your address enters you to win the tools; no further activity affects your chances of winning that prize. Read on if you want to improve your chances to receive a seed set.

2015 Sweet Pepper seed giveaway roulette

Sweet pepper roulette! I grew terrific orange bell and sweet Italian peppers in 2014 (the photo shows that even the bugs liked my peppers). I saved seeds, but the labels got mixed up so the only way you’ll know what type of peppers they came from is to grow some to maturity. Fun, yes?

Doing steps #3 and #4 gets you onto the end of the mailing list for seeds. With no further rules, I’d deliver first-come-first-served until I’m out of seed sets. That’d be too easy. Here are ways to improve your odds of getting a seed set (again, doing any of these things in no way affects your chances of winning the Corona Tools pruners):

5. Tweet a link to this giveaway (on Twitter) that includes the hash tag #skgseeds15.

6. Post a link to this giveaway on Facebook and include the hash tag #skgseeds15.

7. Post a link to this giveaway on Google+ and include the hash tag #skgseeds15.

A single daily post on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ moves you up one space on the mailing list. So, posting on all three services in a day moves you up three slots; you cannot move up more than three slots in a day except for a one-time bump explained in item 8:

8. On Pinterest, Pin the photo of the tomato from the top of this post that includes the 2015 Seed Giveaway title. Include the #skgseeds15 hash tag in the pin’s description and you’ll move up 2 slots on the mailing list. THIS IS A ONE-TIME BUMP. While I’d love for you to pin the photo on multiple boards, I’ll count only a single pinning within the giveaway period toward your position on the mailing list.

2015 heirloom tomato seed giveaway roulette

This table was covered with heirloom tomatoes in my dining room all summer; I harvest tomatoes when they just start to ripen and let them finish indoors. For each seed set I mail, I’ll select one variety from this table and include at least eight seeds. I especially like the Moonglows, the Emerald Greens, and the Stupice tomatoes and will try to write about them soon in another post. I also have a story to tell about my Cherokee Purple tomatoes (one of my plants produced red tomatoes last year) and another story about green sausage tomatoes.

I’ll monitor the #skgseeds15 hash tag on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. If I can match your posts to the email address in your original comment on this blog, you’ll move up on the mailing list.

8. Here’s a shortcut: Invite your blog’s readers to this seed giveaway with a link from your blog, and you’ll have my gratitude. Also, I’ll move you to the front of the mailing list after any other bloggers who have already posted on their blogs. I’ll mail seeds to all bloggers (in the order that they post) before I mail to anyone else on the list.

At Least Get on the List!

Sure, it’s complicated… but not so hard if you stick to steps 3 and 4: leave an amusing comment here, and send email with your mailing address. TO RECEIVE SEEDS, YOU MUST PROVIDE A POSTAL ADDRESS!

Keep in Touch

After I mail out seeds, I’d love to hear from you. Please take photos or write descriptions of what you grow and post them in a comment—or link to them, or email copies. With your permission, I’ll share your progress updates with my readers.

This giveaway is open only to people in the United States and Canada.

A Seed Set Package

A complete seed set for the giveaway described in this post includes the following:

Paste Tomatoes— At least 8 seeds to grow exceptional chili-pepper-shaped paste tomatoes. Some six years ago, a local retired farmer gave me two of these unusual tomatoes. He told me to save and plant the seeds and I’d be glad I did. I am glad, and I enjoy sharing these delicious and versatile tomatoes with anyone who will grow them. These may be Cornue Des Andes tomatoes.

My Choice of Tomatoes— Have a look at the photo of tomatoes on a table (above). I’ll select one heirloom variety from among those tomatoes and include at least 8 seeds in a seed set.

Sweet Pepper Roulette— My seed labels got mixed up so I don’t know which of my saved seeds are for Sweet Italian peppers, and which are for Orange Bell peppers. I’ll include at least 8 pepper seeds in each seed set. The seeds may produce all Orange Bells, all Sweet Italians, or some combination of both. Either way, they grow delicious sweet peppers.

Neck Pumpkin— Five seeds to plant one hill of neck pumpkins. These are descended from a 20 pound squash I bought five years ago at a farmers’ market. Also called Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash, Neck Pumpkin resembles butternut squash on steroids. It’s a regional favorite in central Pennsylvania and favored for pumpkin pies.

 

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Happy Birthday, Bren!

Brenda Haas's front flower bed

The part of our visit that most resembled a formal tour began with the flower bed in front of Bren’s house. It was instantly apparent Bren’s garden plan preserves habitat for felis catus, the domestic cat.

If you spend any time online and you’re serious about gardening, you’re likely to have heard of Brenda Haas. The curator of #gardenchat, Bren is a garden photographer and a social media guru.

I got to visit Brenda at her home earlier this year and I wrote about the experience in a post titled Visit in Brenda Haas’s Garden. There you’ll find information about #gardenchat and how to participate. Here, you’ll learn just a bit more about Brenda.

Garden Tour through the Lens

One great joy of visiting with a fellow gardener is the inevitable garden tour. Bren’s garden didn’t disappoint. We spent several hours, and I captured many, many photos.

To celebrate Brenda’s birthday (December 2), I selected from those photos a set of distinct images that get to the very core of Brenda’s motivation and inspiration.

I hope you’ll have a look and celebrate Brenda’s birthday with me. Happy Birthday, Bren!

Bren's garden attracts cats

A theme quickly emerged during out garden tour. Bren has 70 or 80 cats (she told me a number, but I can’t remember), and the cats have assigned one the job of monitoring humans… or, perhaps on this day a particular semi-rock-colored cat drew the short straw.

Semi rock-colored cat

Semi rock-colored cat? This intended to be a photograph of delightful ground cover… I suppose it does capture ground cover.

Deep-thinking angry cat

We might have stumbled into a part of the garden visitors aren’t supposed to see. If this cat is deep in thought, I’d hazard the thinking is about injustice, spite, revenge, or all three.

Lounge chair cat

When Bren and I reached the pond I was pleased to see our shadow cat inspecting one of the lounge chairs. No way would a cat lie down under a defective lounge chair.

Bird bath cat

Bren’s garden features a strategically-placed bird bath.

Bren and cat

Bren and I were chatting in her vegetable garden. I looked away down a row of tomatoes and when I turned back, there was a cat! Despite much coaxing, the cat refused to look at the camera—or was it turning an evil eye on the horse next door?

Happy Birthday cat

For 10 minutes or so leading up to that photo of Bren and cat (above), there was caterwauling at my feet. These were the loudest meows I’ve ever heard in Ohio. I used my cell phone to record, and I ran the meows through Google translate. Google failed to auto-detect the language. I guess they’re still working on that feature. I’m sure if her cat spoke Human, it would say, “Happy Birthday, Bren!”

 

Crazy Squash Story

Neck Pumpkin on the vine

You could describe a neck pumpkin as a megagigantic butternut squash. This one is about 30 inches from stem to blossom end. At harvest it weighed 19 pounds. In central Pennsylvania, people favor neck pumpkins (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash) for pumpkin pie. This same squash appears (ripe) in two other photos in this post.

I had some fun with squash this year. Actually, I had a series of fortunate unlikely accidents. Each one was minor and seemingly unimportant, but when I think it through, the accidents together make a story worth sharing.

I present the accidents in the order they revealed themselves to me… but I’ve numbered them in chronological order. I hope that makes sense.

Accident #3: Windy Wipeout

I “acquired” a small section of one of our ornamental beds in 2013 to grow beans and zucchini. That worked so nicely that I used space the same way this year. As soon as the soil was warm, I planted a hill of zucchini seeds and mulched around the hill with autumn leaves that hadn’t broken down over the winter.

Whenever I checked the garden (daily when I was home), leaves had shifted to cover the hill. I’d brush them aside, but wind would move them back again and again. As seedlings emerged, I wasn’t home enough to keep up with the wind, and eventually leaves smothered the young plants.

Accident #2: Hedging Bets

I’ve been developing a “rain garden” and set new perennials along the bank in early spring. Among my plantings, several seedlings emerged that were obviously of the cucurbitaceae family (the Gourd Family). These would have to be volunteers from squashes I’d grown in past years, but I didn’t know which: Butternut, Neck Pumpkin, Blue Hubbard, Fairytale, or Zucchini. I decided to leave to seedlings at least until I figured out their variety.

Accident #4: Bad Redo

Hybrid winter squash vines

Before producing their first fruit, my hybrid squash vines had overtaken a huge swath of an ornamental bed. The plants were supposed to be zucchini which are very compact as squashes go so the behemoth hybrid winter squash plants were totally inappropriate. From the farthest squash leaves in this photo to the nearest is more than 20 feet. The mountain of leaves rising to the window is a stand of trellised climbing beans. Beneath them and a four foot stretch of squash vines is an azalea bush that puts out red flowers in spring.

I re-planted the original hill of zucchini seeds. At least that’s what I thought. I used seeds I’d stored in an unlabeled, folded paper towel. I was fairly confident these were zucchini seeds I’d collected over the winter from a very mature fruit I blogged about here: Summer Squash is a Choice You Make.

Soon, the volunteer cucurbitaceae seedlings near the rain garden revealed themselves to be zucchini. For a week or two I pondered removing the second planting of zukes from the ornamental bed; we’d never eat so much zucchini!

And then it became obvious that the plants emerging from my second planting of zucchini seeds weren’t zucchini plants. I was intrigued: What had I planted?

Accident #1: Cross Pollination

Turning back the clock to mid-summer of 2013 gets us to a defining moment for this year’s squash crop. I had Fairytale squash, neck pumpkins, and butternut squash growing strong, but the plants were still young.

Hybrid squash on the vine

The first fruit from my hybrid squash vines hung among the branches of a butterfly bush. I tried to imagine it was a weird neck pumpkin, but it hardly changed shape as it grew—it just got bigger.

One morning, a beautiful female blossom was prominent on a neck pumpkin vine, but there were no corresponding male blossoms. There was a male blossom on the Fairytale squash vines with no female fairytale blossoms to pollinate. I hated to lose a squash fruit, so I used the Fairytale blossom to pollinate the neck pumpkin. Had no idea if this would work, but I hoped it would at least fool the fruit into developing.

That and several other neck pumpkins eventually matured. We ate squashes, I preserved squashes, and I collected seeds from squashes. In fact, I gave away neck pumpkin seeds to readers of this blog.

Back to This Summer

In June of this year, I started two planters each with 4 neck pumpkin seeds on my screened porch and I set the seedlings in the garden in early July. From markings on the leaves of the “not zucchini” plants in the ornamental bed, I guessed they also were neck pumpkin plants. And then those “not zucchini” plants produced a fruit. It wasn’t a neck pumpkin.

Neck Pumpkin and Fairytale Squash

My hybrid squashes grew from seeds of a neck pumpkin (the very long squash in this photo is a neck pumpkin). In 2013 in a pinch, I had pollinated a neck pumpkin flower with one from a fairytale squash plant (perhaps from the very plant that produced the fluted round squash in the photo). Apparently, I collected seeds from that cross-pollinated fruit and, thinking they were zucchini seeds, planted them in spring of this year. Note the 12-inch ruler tucked under the fairytale squash. These are very large fruits!

The mystery squash plants grew aggressively, covering an azalea bush, climbing into a butterfly bush, stretching 20 feet along the wall through the rest of the ornamental bed, and five more feet into the herb garden. The plants, I realized had to be the result of that fateful cross-pollination in 2013: I was growing a hybrid of my own creation.

Photos reveal my hybrids are a sensible shape and color to have emerged from the cross. The fruits ripen to a creamy tan, just like neck pumpkins and fairytale squashes. The shape isn’t what I might have predicted, but it’s easy to imagine it as a morph between the two fruits. The fruits are bulky—reasonable considering neck pumpkins sometimes get to 20 or more pounds and fairytale squash might make it to 30 or more pounds.

Next Season’s Squash

I’ll collect seeds from my hybrid squashes and plant at least one hill next summer. If I can control it, I’ll pollinate these only with flowers from the hybrids themselves… which is what I did this year. It will be interesting to see the characteristics of progeny from the hybrids—I could get neck pumpkins, I could get fairytale squash, and I could get a variety of fruits that fall somewhere in between.

I hope the neck pumpkin seeds I mailed to readers weren’t hybrids. I know I collected unadulterated neck pumpkin seeds last year because the plants I started on my porch and moved to the garden produced neck pumpkins. I suppose if my readers got hybrids, I might have heard about it from someone by now.

Neck Pumpkin, Fairytale Squash, and hybrid of both

And hybrid makes three. I chose the cutest of my hybrid squashes for this pose. It’s not the largest of the lot, but it weighed in at a hefty 12 pounds. I’ll post about it again when I butcher it for a meal, pies, and what-not… a squash that size goes a long way.

 

Bloom Day After Freeze

Pea flower after frost

My pea plants have been in bloom for four weeks, but cool autumn temperatures have slowed growth. I’d bet many blossoms are all of four weeks old and still looking fresh. The few pods that remain from blooms that have dropped petals haven’t even hinted at thickening. I might have harvested them to eat as snow peas, but I couldn’t spot even half a dozen on 28 foot-rows of plants. A two-night deep freeze has finished off the pea plants.

Just last night we experienced a deep freeze—down to about 24F degrees. It was cold enough to wipe out almost all the annuals I grow in my kitchen garden except for lettuce; the lettuce still looks happy. The cold damaged my pea plants, however, so I definitely won’t get a fall harvest from them. Next season, if I do a second planting of peas, it needs to happen three or four weeks earlier than this year’s second planting.

Despite the cold damage, the pea plants are still in bloom. After that, I had to step out of the kitchen garden to find flowers for today’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post. There’s not much left, but some of it is beautiful. Please enjoy the photos.

Frost-killed cosomos

Still within my vegetable garden, every cosmos blossom woke up five days ago looking like this. It was a light frost, but the temperature reached about 30 degrees. There are cosmos in my garden because someone once told me to plant cosmos with corn and the corn wouldn’t attract ear worms. In two seasons of growing the combination, no ear worms… but that could be simply because the pesky insects haven’t yet discovered that I grown corn.

Petunia flower

Four feet away from my vegetable bed is an ornamental bed in which my wife planted petunias. Despite 24 degree nights, the petunias are in prime condition.

Rose in late autumn

I once returned from a trade show with some 24 young rose plants. Many survived under lights for three months until I could plant them outdoors. This blossom is on one of three plants in my herb garden. The plant is covered with beautiful pink blossoms and bright orange hips. I suspect a few more nights down to 24 degrees and the plants will finally shut down for winter.

Violet flower

I featured violets in my September Bloom Day post and am impressed that the plants are still in bloom. These are the over-performers of the year: they put out blossoms in early spring and kept at it through the entire season.

Forsythia in fall

There seem to be confused forsythia blossoms every fall and this is no exception. I found several dozen blossoms on my plants. I guess they’re anxious for spring but I’m glad to see most of the buds holding tight; I’d rather they join the show in March.

 

Wordless Wednesday at Autumn’s End

Autumn cornfield in central PA

 

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