giant pumpkins

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Every evening, late in the season, we try to make time to watch the sun go down. The light at the end of the day can take your breath away; suddenly, the leaves on the trees are on fire and then, just as quick as it came, the fire disappears and the air takes on a new chill. Usually, this warmth/chill pattern would result in some fine fall tree colors. This year is far from normal and the Big Leaf Maples either haven’t turned yet or have turned a dull yellow. We’ll settle for a few stunning sunsets.

Low tunnels

We’re closing in on the end of the eighth month of this season and as it winds down it’s nice to make time  for these brief, fiery displays. The rest of it is going fairly smoothly–the corn is gone, replaced by new garlic beds, the other beds are mostly ready for winter. We’ve put up new low tunnels over the salad garden to wring as much heat out of these final weeks as possible.

Meanwhile, the apprentices have been busy sowing winter cover crops of rye vetch, wheat and some Austrian field peas. Next week will be the final farmers market and CSA pickup. And then–well, the appentices are already planning for the future (more on this in another post) and running down a final list of field chores to prepare for winter. Our neighbor and uber-shutterbug Bob Dash caught Caitlin yesterday as she dug out some of the last of the old sunflower stalks.

We’re still not finished. Early next month we will kill the lambs–yes, that’s a harsh way of putting it, but this is a working farm not a petting zoo, and we will do it as quickly and painlessly as is possible. Their meat will feed us through the winter and their wooly coats,tanned and fluffed, will make lovely Christmas presents next year.

Lambs in October

On the other side of the ledger we just installed 25 baby chicks in the brooder pen in the barn. They’re spending their first days warming themselves under the heat lamp and are already learning to peck food and drink water.

The New Chicks

These little girls (and a couple of guys we suspect) will stay in the barn for a month or so and then go into the upper chicken run to wait out the winter. Until the spring they’ll spend their time in and under the henhouse. The hens in that run now will get shifted to the lower pasture.

There’s a point to all this shifting around. The young chicks will be protected from the harsh weather in the upper run’s sheltered henhouse. And after the lambs are gone we’ll turn the older hens out onto the sheep pasture where they can forage, pecking out the parasites and larva from the sheep manure.

The hens love that stuff and digest it efficiently, fertilizing the land with their own droppings. At the same time they clean up the pasture so those parasites and eggs don’t find their way into next year’s flock of lambs. We suspect we lost our lamb, Weakie, to worms that infected this year’s flock from leftover manure.

There’s a nice sense of conclusion to all this. And to top things off our giant pumpkins, Zeke and Tink, became birthday presents this weekend. Rebecca offered our neighbor Clara a choice for her personal pumpkin to celebrate her eighth birthday.

Clara & Zeke

Clara chose Tink and her folks hauled both giants over to Wise Acres common house for her birthday party. We held a contest to guess Zeke’s weight with the winner getting to take Zeke home. The guesses ranged from ten pounds to 500 pounds, which probably reflects how you see the world if you are eight years old or 50 years old. Zeke weighed in at 94 pounds and the winning guesser–Elizabeth Unsel–posed for a picture.

Elizabeth & Zeke

So that’s where we are at this late stage in the season. Harvest mostly in, winter fields planted, lambs munching their last grass, chicks keeping warm, apprentices pondering the future, kids growing older–well we’re all getting older–and Elizabeth, she’s trying to figure out what to do with 94 pounds of pumpkin.

The wheel does keep turning.

Persephone

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This just in–take a look at this year’s giant, giant pumpkin here. Looks like Zeke’s got a way to go for the trophy. No mention of a milk diet.

Persephone

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Giant Pumpkin

Everybody’s got to have a way out-there goal in life, right? Some folks aim to run a marathon in under three hours, some want to memorize the dictionary, a few are set on flying into space.

 And then, there is Rebecca. Ask her about her goal and she gets this dreamy expression.

“This year,” she says, with the look of someone headed up Mt. Everest, “I am going to grow a really, really big pumpkin.”

Well, why not? True, these things can get a tad obsessive, but how many of us follow through on our dreams. Lots, it turns out, if you move in giant pumpkin circles. There are whole clubs of these people out there, prepping pumpkins for stardom. And their pumpkin pinup is this 1,725-pound whopper in Ohio last year. (Check it out at www.bigpumpkins.com )

Whatever floats your fantasy. But it turns out growing giant pumpkins isn’t all that easy. It requires focus,  skill, space, a bit of luck and even an occasional administration of pumpkin steroids for those who choose to go that route, we’re told.

We aren’t into chemical additives, but Rebecca has been reading up on growing giant pumpkins–her favorite book, “The Perfect Pumpkin”, is put out by Storey Publishing. For this year’s quest, she planted three pumpkin seeds in May in the squash patch on our lower field. They all came from good stock–Dill’s Atlantic Giant seed company boasts it is the go-to outfit for serious giant pumpkins growers. Rebecca’s plan was to grow the pumpkins to a grotesque size, then hold a guess-their-weight contest with the best guesser getting the massive pumpkin.

She and Joel, our apprentice, named the three little starters Puff, Tinkerbell and Ezekial and right off you could just tell these were no ordinary pumpkins. Even the seeds were huge.

Puff perished early–we’re not quite sure why, but it seemed to be from dehydration. Giant pumpkins drink lots of water and they also like hot weather, something else that has been in short supply around here this year. We did give the other two, known among the farmers conversationally now as Tink and Zeke, plenty of compost and they appear to be doing just fine.

The hard part came yesterday when Rebecca decided to narrow her focus to a single pumpkin as we head into the back stretch of the season. Tink…Zeke, Zeke…Tink…not an easy choice. After some serious back-and-forthing she picked Zeke. (We’re not sure why. These things are intuitive, not always easy to explain.)

Anyway, Zeke it is. And here’s a snapshot of the farmer’s choice. We stuck a gallon milk jug next to him for comparison.

Zeke, the soon-to-be giant pumpkin

 With Zeke’s selection for stardom, Rebecca has begun some serious grooming of her prize pumpkin. For example, she’s snipping off all the plant’s competing female blossoms, like so:

Then there is the compost–we’re using our best stuff on Zeke. But the most interesting tactic is a deft slit in the pumpkin’s stem with a wick attaching Zeke to a bowl of  milk. Okay, that sounds a little off-the-wall. But according to giant pumpkin lore, pumpkins love milk. If it works, Zeke should have a growth spurt soon, kind of like what happens when your five-foot-five teenage boy starts slurping quart cartons of milk out of the refrigerator. Next thing you know, he’s six-foot-four.

Zeke chowing down at the milk bowl

Sadly, for those of us who love pumpkin pie, Zeke is being bred for size, not for eating. With any luck, later in October, our little pumpkin will turn into a musclebound  giant–like a dinner table partner who isn’t much of a conversationalist, but has dynamite abs. We’ll keep you posted on his progress and maybe, when he grows up, you can join in the fun and try your luck guessing his weight.

If you win–and Zeke grows the way Rebecca hopes he will–you can come by the farm and pick up a thousand pounds of inedible, but handsome, pumpkin.

Persephone

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