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Growing Giant Pumpkins and other fall fun

October 6, 2013
Enjoying the crunch of sycamore leaves at Irvine Park

Enjoying the crispiness of sycamore leaves at Irvine Park

It’s fall! Not only are the So Cal trails are perfect for barefoot fun, but it’s pumpkin time. Here’s some “average” pumkins that grew in our garden this summer:

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Here’s a “giant-sized” poem of mine (published in the Fall 2013 edition of the fabulous GreenPrints garden magazine) about a previous gardening adventure with “giant” pumpkins:

Growing Giant Pumpkins

The seed rack held hundreds of packs of promise.
I contemplated all my vegetable
choices for the summer destiny
of my back-yard garden plot, my own Eden,
where piles of trucked-in horse manure ripened
to fabulous compost, the shoveling
all worth it now: O planting time! O spring!
O my—look at these seeds—of some mutant
“Competition Size” pumpkin named “Big Max.”

The brief description on the packet read:
“Huge pumpkins, often weigh 100 pounds
or more, up to 70 inches around.
Harvest 120 days after sowing.”
Four months from now I could be showing off
the biggest pumpkin in my neighborhood—
I grabbed the seeds, along with a few other
packets of practical vegetables: zucchini,
both green and gold, bush beans and early sweet corn.

Once home, I dug a hole the size of half
a Volkswagen, filled it back in with compost,
and tucked the pumpkin seeds into their dark
lovely bed. A sprinkle or two later,
up jumped a circle of such eager pairs
of leaves, I hated to do it, but success
in gardening dictates social engineering,
merciless thinning of the many for
the benefit of the few. I pinched their white
necks, pulled, and threw
all but two seedlings on the compost pile.

The fortunate two remaining Maxes thrived.
I gave them frequent gulps of compost tea
and left the hose to drip near them all day.
(Wet leaves could cause a powdery-mold disaster.)
Blossoms appeared, orange boudoirs where bees frolicked;
the sun ignited little pumpkinettes,
and once again I had to play the role
of despot: time for pumpkinectomies
removing all but one perfect pumpkin per vine.

Each subsequent bright flower met the same fate,
and all this tough love started to pay off:
I stood there on a sunny July day
and watched the teenage Maxes put on muscle,
their swelling nothing compared to my ego.
The other vegetables wilted and sulked
as the compost-rationing might have been tipped
in favor of the headstrong pumpkin vines
now running wild and bothering their neighbors:
the zucchini had finally met its match.

The August sun shone brightly on my darlings:
Max One was huge, his brother, Max Two, huger…
the biggest pumpkins I had ever seen.
And then disaster struck. Max One developed
some sad wasting disease. In only days
he melted into a soggy pile of nasty—
too horrible to compost. So the trash bin
received his last remains. Max Two seemed pleased,
threw out his lopsided pumpkin-chest,
and swelled into a monster cucurbit
to end all cucurbits. I couldn’t budge him,
and when his orange rind hardened to a tough
ribbed ripeness, I finally severed the brown stem
and contemplated my monster. With some help
I figured out a way to measure Max Two’s
greatness on my bathroom scale: ta da!
My summertime obsession weighed a whopping
eighty-five pounds. . . almost my size, but handsomer.

Everyone who saw him was amazed.
And I soaked up the compliments like Max Two
had inhaled all that compost tea, until
one morning I was scanning the newspaper
and read about a backyard gardener
a few miles north of here; his pumpkin
(a variety called Atlantic Giant)
weighed almost six hundred pounds. The story
went on to detail that a truly exceptional
prizewinning pumpkin was usually over half a ton.
One thousand pounds of pumpkin. I looked at proud Max Two
sitting across the breakfast table from me
and was thankful that the poor thing couldn’t read.

More recent barefoot fall adventures:

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Leaping off rocks at Morro Bay

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Look, granny–I can fly!

Bobcat along the Roadrunner Loop trail at Irvine Park, Orange, CA

This bobcat, high in a eucalyptus along the Roadrunner Loop trail at Irvine Park, dropped the gopher he was munching on when I stopped to stare. It landed with a crunch in the leaf litter below the tree. Sorry to disturb your dinner . . .

Rattlesnake weed in full, tiny bloom at Irvine Park

Rattlesnake weed in full, tiny bloom at Irvine Park

Cactus pad blown onto the trail from recent Santa Ana winds.

Cactus pad blown onto the trail from recent Santa Ana winds.

Aromatic yerba santa along the trail at Irvine Park

Aromatic yerba santa along the trail at Irvine Park

Happy (fall, afternoon, barefoot) Trails!

Happy (fall, afternoon, barefoot) Trails!

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