The Mystery of the Missing Sea Pumpkin

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This spring, I got into seed starting. I don’t sow seeds often really, I generally go for liner or starter plants, but this year it just kind of happened because I had more growing room to do so.

Comstock Ferre in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut is a great place to get various seeds. One afternoon, I decided to go browse their amazing selection. If you haven’t been there yet – they have loads of various seeds in big wooden displays – it kind of feels like a candy store as you look thru each tray or drawer.

Of course, I had to go for the unusual plants. I purchased seeds for a climbing spinach for example which sold out at the market this season because it was interesting. It is called Malabar. I also got various types of lettuce seeds and seeds for unusual plants like giant castor beans.

One particular seed packet which caught my attention were seeds of Italian sea pumpkins from Chioggia (Squash Marina di Chioggia). The seed packet is labeled by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds from Mansfield, Missiouri. The pumpkins are a blue-ish color and shaped like turbans, so I thought – cool, I want to try these.

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

Pumpkins and Gourds in Pots

My attempt of growing them in containers failed.The pots were not large enough, the soil dried out too fast, and the animals visiting my deck ate all the flowers! But before the hungry critters munched on them, I enjoyed the plant’s bright vivid yellow flowers very much, and so did the bees. One plant was situated near some blue flowering Plumbago trailing from another patio pot. The blue flowers next to the yellow pumpkin blooms were bright and pretty.

IMG_4570 IMG_4571

Flowers of pumpkins - bright yellow

Flowers of pumpkins and gourds – so vivid and bright yellow – a delight for my eyes!

By mid-summer, the pumpkin plants in my patio pots got powdery mildew on the foliage – so later, after it was getting worse, I decided to cut them all down and give up growing them in my patio pots.

Luckily, I had also given two seedlings plants to my Dad in early June from my success of growing them from seeds. He has an exceptional vegetable garden and I told him about the pumpkins and asked he grow a few in his gardening space. He said he would take only two seedlings because they take up a lot of space in the garden, which most people know – pumpkin and squash vines spread.

This month, he and my Mom took me to their garden on separate occasions to see two of the sea pumpkins which started growing and are hidden below the large leaves on one plant. It took a little while to locate them.

I think they are BEAUTIFUL. One is especially pretty with a center pattern, and the other is a lighter green color.

Sea pumpkins in my father's garden, August 2015

Sea pumpkins in my father’s garden, August 2015

This whole process made me think how I could never master a big vegetable garden like my Dad does (because I’m too lazy and prefer gardening in containers and patio pots), but how I loved growing plants from seed and sharing them with him to grow in his garden. In fact, growing plants to share, sell, or put in containers is truly my passion, well, if you know me, you know this.

Back to my father. He grows amazing vegetables every season, even as he approaches his mid-80’s. He’s an incredible inspiration and probably why I am fascinated by plants and nature. When we were kids, he didn’t explain much to me on the how to’s – he would just hand me a packet of seeds and say, “Put these in the holes in the soil.”

I remember, and I think I wrote about this before, how big his hands were and how tiny mine were, and thinking at that moment, “No wonder Dad is asking me to sow the seeds, his hands are too big to handle them.”

Bert, my Dad, in the garden getting some fresh goodies for me.

Bert, my Dad, in the garden getting some fresh goodies for me.

We never lacked fresh food in summers when we were growing up. And because I live only a few miles from my parent’s home, I have the pleasure of seeing them routinely when they quickly come by my house to drop off some tomatoes, blueberries, zucchini, cucumbers, etc from Dad’s garden. This is truly a blessing. Each and every time I bite into a fresh tomatoe from a garden, it flushes warm feelings of my Dad’s tomatoes and his love of growing them into my soul.

My Mom told me I could have the two sea pumpkins growing when they are ready – which kind of surprised me cause she likes them too. My brother, who lives next door, asked me what type of pumpkin they are as well and if they are good for eating and baking. He’s admiring them also.

The especially pretty one in the garden

The especially pretty one in the garden

This week my Mom called me to say the pumpkin (the especially pretty one) has gone missing. My reply was she must be having trouble spotting it because of all the foliage. When I saw my Dad a day later, I asked him if the pumpkin is really missing, and he replied that he couldn’t find it either.

Geesh, I thought – “Who would take that pumpkin?!” Seriously. An animal couldn’t have dragged it away, it is getting rather large now.

Another shot

Another shot – Sea Pumpkin in my Father’s Garden on August 2015

I texted Jimmy, my brother, that evening. He texted back that he would check for me. He grows some of his vegetable plants in Dad’s garden too, so he is out there daily when harvesting his peppers.

He was able to locate the sea pumpkins and said if they had gone missing, he wouldn’t know who took them. I was relieved he found them, and excited to hear from Jimmy the vines grew another ten feet. As my Dad noted to me earlier in the season, pumpkins take up a lot of space. His plants are growing healthy and strong.

I placed the packet on the leaf

I placed the packet on the leaf

This pumpkin is noted on the seed packet label as one of the most beautiful and unique of all squash and “a perfect variety for market gardeners.” And it is edible, but I think I will be keeping them for display as part of my autumn decorations. The fruit will weight about 10 lbs each when they are ready.

By the way, my father said there are plenty more flowers on the two plants, so there should be plenty more pumpkins coming – so long as they don’t go missing again.

Cathy Testa
860-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

Me in Dad's hay field

Me in Dad’s hay field – He had some help this year with baling the hay – we usually have square bales – but this year they are round, so I had to take a photo…

Watering your Container Gardens and Patio Pots on Very Hot Days

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During my Container Garden Workshops, held in May every season, I go over watering tips. It is a science and an art – and folks get a little concerned about how to water. One of the best tips is to stick your finger into the soil a few inches down or up to your knuckle, and if it is moist AND the plants look fine, you are probably okay. If the soil is dry and it’s a very hot summer day, it is time to water.

However, we are now in the month of August, and the soil in your patio pots may be a little harder/firmer, the plants may have consumed the soil mass somewhat, and this month can be one of the hottest points of the season, thus our watering routine becomes a little trickier.

To make your plants last well into autumn, it is important to remember to water appropriately when we experience “very hot days” that are well into the 90’s – such as the past two days we just experienced.

Here are 10 tips for those types of hot days at the end of the season:

Join the Early Birds – Get up early to water, if possible. As soon as it is light enough outside to see (providing you are an early riser like the birds) – water your plants before the sun fully rises. On hot days, like we just had which were up to 90 degrees outside, as soon as the sun was above the tree tops, it got hot quickly. So out I went in my PJs to water. There are so many woods around my property, the neighbors did not get frightened, thankfully. If you are able to do the watering routine early, it will keep you cool, plus watering in the morning is usually best for the plants too. It enables the plants to take up what they need before the soil moisture evaporates as the day warms up.

Skip the Heavy Watering Can – Attach a watering wand to your garden hose and drag it to your container garden locations. It is way easier than using a watering can which requires constant refilling and carrying. Also, while you are at it, if you have any extra watering cans or water bottles, place them near your pots and fill them with water at the same time for the next day’s watering to save a step or water on the fly. Another good choice is installing a rain barrel on your deck or patio to capitalize on rain water harvesting to use for watering your plants. I like to recycle the big cat litter jugs as containers to hold water when I need to water container gardens not reachable by the garden hose. They are large and easily washed out before the first use.

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Fill watering cans or recycled jugs and set aside to have next day for watering on the fly

Relocate the Plants to Shade – I actually did this on Tuesday; I moved a couple of my big pots to a shadier location because it was that hot out. It helps with water loss from the soil and the shade will cool the leaves of the plants. Use a hand-truck if you have one to do the moving of the pot in order to avoid injury to yourself. It may be a pain to consider moving your pots, but in my case, it was worth it for one or two.

Use Your Eyes – Look for any plants which are potentially distressed, as in weeping, leaning over, or have leaves which are dropping or wilting. They may be experiencing drought or lack of moisture in the soil. Treat those plants like 911 candidates. When we have high heat like this – go water them first because when moisture in the soil has reached a point where it cannot meet a plant’s need, the plant may die. In these situations, the plants cannot easily recover from their water loss. In the trade, this is known as a ‘permanent wilting point’.

Dip in the Pool – Not the plants but YOU if possible. Okay, perhaps this a luxury because you may not have a pool or the time before heading to work, but if you have a lot of patio pots and container gardens, make sure to take a break to cool yourself off too if you start to sweat profusely out there – I know I did even early on Tuesday morning. Make sure you are hydrated first, or take a break by going inside if you get too hot after visiting all your plants.

Capitalize on Patio Umbrellas – Open a few up if you have them near your patio pots to cast some shade above them. Even the most heat and sun loving plants will appreciate this on hot days like we’ve just had. Especially if it is very sunny out too. While most sun loving plants can take it – if we have a super heat wave, the shade of the umbrellas doesn’t hurt for a day or two.

Snip Off Scorched Leaves – If you have some leaves with dry brown brittle areas, or leaf scorch on the edges, use your “clean” sharp pruners and snip them off. No sense in having a plant expend energy on a bad looking leaf with damage. Plus, around this time of year, August, many plants may look a little tattered anyways, so do some cleanup if you can at the same time as watering.

Water Your Feet – If the sun is so hot, the surface of the deck or paved area where you may have placed some of your patio pots and container gardens is too hot to handle barefoot, water your feet as you walk around – it may not help the plants but it will help you stay cool and feels good. Kind of like your own watering treat!

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Direct water to soil, not on foliage of plants

Water the Soil, not the Leaves – One of the most important tips is to direct your watering wand or watering can to the soil, not the leaves. Sometimes if the hot sun hits a leaf surface with water droplets sitting upon them, it can magnify the situation and cause brown spots on your leaves from burning/magnification. Also, water sitting on leaves on humid days can lead to fungal problems or diseases. Showering the tops of your plants will not get the moisture penetrated into the soil mass where it is most needed.

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Gazing Ball Cracked, Watch Out for Hot Days and Cool Water on Glass Decor

Watch Out for Glass Décor – A gazing ball cracked in one of my container gardens when the cool water hit the hot glass surface on a very hot day while watering recently, and it, unfortunately, cracked. This was a first for me so maybe a bit of caution there for any glass décor on an extremely hot sunny days in your patio pots and container gardens.

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

A cart filled with tops of summer plants after the summer season is over

By the way, if the soil is shrinking away from the sides of your pots – you may be under watering in general; the soil is too dry, or if you are watering a pot which has held the plants for several years (as done with many house plants), maybe it is time to re-pot it with new fresh potting mix soil for potted plants.

Old Potting Soil Is Hard to Rewet

Potting mixes cannot hold moisture well after several years and are difficult to get moist (rehydrate) again over time. If you see crust on the top of your soil, this is usually a sign it is time for an updated soil environment for the plants. The soil has become like an unusable sponge that just won’t retain water anymore, it is exhausted. Take the time to repot it – you will be impressed with the results.

Yellowing Leaves on the Bottom of the Plant Can Be From Ovewatering

Conversely, if the bottom leaves of your plants are turning yellow, this can be a sign of over watering. Overwatering is not better, there needs to be a balance. And if your plants are in a shady cool location, they may require less watering routines, such as every other day instead of every day for those in hot sunny locations. And of course, the type of pot can make a difference in rate of evaporation (e.g., clay is very porous and dries out faster, black pots heat up faster in the sun, glazed pots can get hot too, etc.)

Watering Draining From the Bottom for Hanging Baskets

Many references will say to water your pots until the water drains from the bottom, but I don’t agree on this necessarily for really BIG pots (approximately 25” or over in diameter with about a 2 ft. depth or deeper.) Big pots hold a lot of soil mass, it won’t drain from the bottom immediately as you are watering, like you would see with a hanging basket.

When watering your hanging baskets, watering until it drains from the bottom is needed because they dry out fast. For really big pots, you want sufficient moisture but drowning them is not the answer.

Allow the Soil to Dry Somewhat Between Watering – Let it Breathe

Also, another important note is you should allow the soil to dry between watering routines. There needs to be a balance because the plant’s roots need both water and oxygen. If the soil is constantly wet all day long, this can lead to problems, even root rot over time. Think wet feet in sneakers, not a good situation. Good soil mix specifically for container gardens and patio pots helps to provided the balance in the root area from the start of the season, which is one of the “Cathy T’s 5 MUST DO’s for Success“.

Bottom line, there is a ‘yin and yang’ to watering plants, but you will get it sooner or later – and more of this is covered every year in my workshops because it is something of utmost importance to my attendees and the plants in their beautiful container gardens.

As the fall approaches when the days start to cool and are shorter, the watering routine is reduced and eventually subsides. You won’t need to water every day as you have been doing in the summer months. Things will calm down and soon it will be the time to take down your container gardens.

Storing Tropical Plants Demo in October

By the way, my demo day on how to take down plants for winter storage is posted under the “Nature with Art Class Programs” on this blog’s menu bar. It will be held Saturday, October 17th, at 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, CT. You may sign up via the links above where you will find the “contact form” or by visiting my business Facebook page. Private sessions at your home are available also. The session is listed under the EVENTS. Just click to sign up.

Thank you,

Cathy Testa
960-977-9473
containercathy@gmail.com

P.S. Watch out for spiders – They seem to be hanging around quite a bit lately!

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet

Spider Hanging Around on Faucet