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Volume 15, Issue 16 ~ April 19 - April 25, 2007

Springtime Trouble at the Grumpy-Grandpop Pumpkin Farm

We’re like the early worm, best off when tardy

The early bird gets the worm.

Maybe in the galaxy of ornithology the above six words can’t be questioned; the first bird to find a worm gets it. My skeptical son Joel, who bites a coin to be sure it’s real after checking both sides to ensure there is a head and tail, asks:

“And what about the early worm? What does it get? Eaten by the early bird?” Joel likes to sleep late, wait until a deadline is imminent, then work ’round the clock to meet it.

He can do that in his successful business of computer programming, I guess, but not so a hungry robin hopping about the lawn in search of an early breakfast.

Early might be recommended in most things, but with the early worm it’s best to be tardy.

Granddaughter Grumpy, aka Mackenzie Noelle Boughey, and I have just discovered that much to our dismay.

For the Love of Pumpkin

Connect the dots: a long discarded jack-o-lantern, the impatience of a perky five-year-old, a chilly spring, entrepreneurship, pies, a fireplace and Halloweens to come. Here’s the deal:

Last October as Grumps and I were carving her jack-o-lantern, she became curious how pumpkins came about. She loves pumpkin muffins and pies. Being a dirt farm boy until I joined the Navy to get away from the garden, I figured the time had come she learned a bit about agriculture.

I saved six seeds from the pulp of the jack-o-lantern, promising her we’d grow our own pumpkin. We’d put the seeds in a small container on a kitchen shelf to dry, then plant them this spring.

I wasn’t aware they made five-year-olds smarter (and more ingenious) nowadays than my generation. Every time Grumpy visited over the winter, she checked the white dried seeds and insisted we plant ’em. Now!

Her mind was whirling; we would grow pumpkins, Grandma would bake pies and muffins, her mom Heather would sell them — and we’d earn enough to appreciably lighten the shelves of Toys R Us.

I had promised her a spring planting of three plants. As soon as everyone started talking about spring, she insisted Now! Like the early bird and the worm, she hungered for early pumpkins. One can argue only so long with a persistent child.

Spring Planting

Home Depot sold me a pack of a bit more than a dozen seeds for about three bucks, along with a planter to plant them indoors. When we sat down to sow, I tried to slip in the store seeds, but Grumpy quickly noticed they were brownish gray, not white like ones she had been monitoring.

With a bit of double talk, I managed to plant two hills of the expensive seeds along with one from the jack-o-lantern, with the intention of replacing in the indoor planter the failed Halloween seeds, Surely they would fail. Guess what?

The first to sprout several days later were those from last October; less than two weeks later we have an eight-inch plant. There are two plants of about five inches from the fancy seeds. Grumpy is as exhilarated as a farmer during midsummer rain. With me, it’s just the opposite. I’ve hidden the rest of the seeds, just in case. Alas, it might well be just in case.

The Fate of Early Worms

It turns out our endeavor is akin to Joel’s early worm. I had forgotten too much about the art of agriculture the past 60 years. Pumpkins are among the last of spring plantings; even in this climate, they don’t go in the ground until June. Here, at a window in Lois’ computer room, our plants are growing as fast as Jack’s legendary beanstalk.

With the prevailing spring-winter, spring-winter weather, I can’t replant them outside, and I have no friends with greenhouses. What to do?

For a solution, I did what any reader of this newspaper would. I contacted Dr. Gouin whose Bay Gardener column is among Bay Weekly’s regulars. Surely, he could solve our dilemma. Grumpy might lose interest if her first crop fails. This is serious stuff.

The good doctor chuckled at my pickle (I guess he doesn’t have a five-year-old nagging him for early pumpkins). Worse still, he could only come up with suggestions that might work. It’s mighty risky to play early bird with pumpkins; they’re very sensitive to chill, and they’re more than vulnerable to transplanting. Their roots are exceptionally sensitive, don’t take handling. They die.

“So,” said I, “I’ll transplant them now and nightly cover each with a garbage can as frost protection.”

“Won’t work,” responded Frank. “Temperatures as low as 42 degrees will affect ’em, 38 degrees will kill ’em. Sow your seeds in late May, early June.” Obviously, He doesn’t know Grumps as well as he does pumpkins.

As if that wasn’t enough, he cautioned me about another problem the Grumpy-Grandpop Conglomerate could well face. Things that burrow inside pumpkin vines once they grow thick in warm weather. They can kill the plant as surely as frost. We had no such problems in New England when I was a kid.

But, Frank told me, one of the best deterrents for burrowing critters is ashes; sprinkle them around the pumpkin plants close to the vine and the pests won’t come to dine. So, if you’re up this way in the dog days of summer and see smoke curling out of the chimney of a brick rancher, well you’ve found the Grumpy-Grandpop Pumpkin Farm.

For now, we’ll follow Frank’s suggestion: Plant the small vines in a six-inch pot. When the weather gets warmer, cut the pot away and tenderly transplant, keep moist and pray.

Answered prayers are the only thing that keeps farmers in business. Enough said.

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