Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - October 8, 2010

Garden tips for October

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere ...

by Jack McKinnon

One of the great indicators of October is the pumpkins that seem to show up everywhere. There are pumpkins in the fields (if you go over to the coast or to the local community garden); there are pumpkins in the stores. There are even porcelain and plastic pumpkins in stores across the country. I just watched a video on giant pumpkin growers who compete to make big money by growing giant pumpkins.

The love of pumpkins is without a doubt quite curious since they require quite a bit of processing to make a pie or soup but the devotion the growers of the giant pumpkins show is a great indicator of how to be a better gardener. This will be my focus for the October garden tips.

1. Choosing good seed is really important. Some of the best growers select and number seeds from previous pumpkin competition winners and then cross-pollinate the offspring to attempt an even bigger gourd.

2. The pumpkin growers know the value of good rich soil. They cultivate in just the right amounts of compost and keep it fluffy (no walking where there are roots).

3. They don't take vacations during the growing season. In other words, the best growers stay with their gardens and their giant gourds from beginning to end. This can cause problems with soccer games and relationships but I didn't note anything tragic on the video.

4. Many of them used fish emulsion regularly as a fertilizer. The others are keeping it a secret. I have personally seen the advantages of fertilizing (every two weeks) with fish emulsion. It is mild enough to use on ferns and Japanese maples and for vegetables it is one of the best.

5. No weeds are allowed to compete with the pumpkins. This seems like it isn't that big a deal especially with all the fertilizer but there must be something to it. The real lesson here is to get weeds early when they are much easier to pull.

6. The plants are never stressed for water. Not even once. When the pumpkins are putting on 20 to 40 pounds a day they need to always have their stalks moving water from the roots and leaves to the gourd.

7. Rodents or animals of any kind are not tolerated. They get removed dead or alive. There are some very effective solar-powered electric fences these days. I have friends that protect dozens of turkeys in one and there are coyotes, bobcats, foxes and badgers that would love to get one of those turkeys. Do an Internet search under "electric fences for gardens."

8. Sharing the art of gardening is really important. I have never seen a confidentiality agreement signed over a gardening technique. Of course it helps to have some homegrown tomatoes to share as a kind gesture for a tip or two.

9. If the pumpkin doesn't work out for the competition, and it cannot be eaten, then it gets composted. If you have green waste then all the better. Let the city compost your waste, but if you really want to garden well it will be good to learn how to compost.

10. When all is done and the harvest is in then it is time to carve a jack-o'-lantern. A happy face works just as well as a scary one. There is no better reason to play with your food.

Good Gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-879-3261 or 650-455-0687 (cell), by e-mail at jack@jackthegardencoach.com. Visit his website at www.jackthegardencoach.com.

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