Life is Gourd

Back when I was a kid and there were “only” 3 channels to watch on TV, we would wait with great anticipation for “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” to make its seasonal appearance. The initial broadcast took place on October 27, 1966 preempting the long running classic sitcom “My Three Sons” that night. I would have been 6, just a few weeks shy of my 7th birthday so I had to be part of their prime demographic target as an audience. I remember being struck how Lucy picked out a large pumpkin and then made Linus carry it. He is dismayed upon learning Lucy intends to “kill it” by making it a Jack-O-Lantern. It being fall, has to include Lucy’s continued antics as she entices Charlie Brown to kick a football with less than supportive intentions. Linus meanwhile is writing his annual letter to the “Great Pumpkin” despite mockery, laughter, Patty calling it “fake news” and Lucy’s threat to “pound” him. Only Sally who is smitten with Linus believes him.


Despite the struggles 2020 has thrown at us, it appears to be a good year for pumpkins. To celebrate I thought I would carve out some interesting facts for what some call a fruit and others call a vegetable. And I am the “Pun-king” so to speak. From Peter Pumpkin Eater to Cinderella, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and yes….Charlie Brown, pumpkins have a rich harvest of legend, lore and history.

Let’s get “glowing”

Pumpkins are as much as 90% water.

Sorry, at the original Thanksgiving feast of 1621the Pilgrims did not have pumpkin pie. The Pilgrims did like Pumpkin beer. It’s not exclusive to the recent craft beer craze as at that time there were a lot of pumpkins around and they served as an easily fermentable sugar. Use Pumpkins like a Sugar Pie pumpkin variety for making pumpkin pie not the varieties bred for size and carving.

Pumpkins despite taking a lot of ground space to grow are efficient in that all parts are edible….skin, flowers, pulp, seeds and even the stem.

Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about

Pumpkins originated in North America and are a “home-grown” fruit as an important food staple for Native Americans.

Pumpkin seeds make a great snack and the average-size pumpkin contains about 1 cup of seeds. A good size pumpkin can have as many as 500 seeds.

Pumpkins have guts

Pumpkins grow almost everywhere around the world including Alaska. Don’t look for them in Antarctica however. It is argued that Illinois, specifically Morton Illinois is the pumpkin growing capital of the world.

Pumpkins are technically a fruit but why argue? If they are savory to the taste many people want to call them vegetables. They are a winter squash in the family Cucurbitacae which includes cucumbers and melons.


Fall is simply Mumbelievable for gardening

People ask me…..Rick why do you always say Fall is one of your favorite times of year to garden? Well first…. I like Autumn….that makes me the fall guy. But a more important reason is it is one of the most efficient and effective times of the year to plant. It’s also a time for the Mumbelievable, playful Pansies and fabulous foliage. That’s why they call it Awwwtumn. And Mums the word for instant color! Mum Ma Mia! Chrysanthemum is coined from Greek words chrysos meaning gold and anthos meaning flower. They are Mumbelieveable!

For instant color they are simply Mumbelievable!

1. Plants in Fall put their efforts into establishment (roots) instead of a focus on top growth (spring)
2. In Fall the soil is warm compared to spring making it easier to work with….and again great for root establishment.

Fall is for planting (click on image to enlarge)

3. You can effectively feed woody plants in Fall. Even though air temperatures drop the soil stays warm often all the way to Christmas! Hoe Hoe Hoe. The plant can take in the fertilizer and will get next spring off on the right foot!
4. We generally get plenty of natural rainfall in Fall. That’s why they call it rainfall!

Fall is a great time of year for perennials

5. Autumn provides great comfortable weather for people to work in the yard.
6. You can often get end of season bargains in Fall.
7. It beats watching your favorite football team frustrate you….again.
8. It’s the perfect time to fix your lawn….September and October is the ideal time to seed a new lawn or reseed or repair an existing lawn.
9. An ideal time to control weeds! Winter annual weeds (like Henbit or our friend Harry Bittercress) are establishing in the yard so get them now before they bloom next spring and produce seed. Perennial weeds (Dandelions) are like the trees shutting down for winter so when you spray them with an herbicide it is more effective getting into the root system for total kill versus the top kill only you often get in spring. Take me to your weeder!

Fall is the perfect time to establish or repair a lawn

10. Bulbs! Dig drop and done. Bulbs are easy and when the tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, allium, crocus and more bloom next spring you’ll be glad you invested in Fall!

Fall is for planting Spring Flowering Bulbs!

11. It’s a great time of year to move plants. Cooler temperatures means less stress AND a moved plant gets a dormant time of rest (winter)…..not like a spring planted plant that has the heat of summer to follow.

If you’re going to move some plants Fall is a great time to do it

12. You don’t want to leave roots above soil level (in pots) so get them in the ground. The plants may be winter hardy but the roots will freeze if left in the pots above the soils surface. If you don’t have the planting area yet, plant them pot and all temporarily to be moved next spring.
13. You can even plant “Annuals”. Ornamental Kale, Pansies, Swiss Chard, Snapdragons will tolerate frosts to bloom this Fall.

Plant some annuals for Fall color like Ornamental Kale
Fall General

To be or not to be is really not a question

As October presses on, the leaves of the trees make their descent to the earth and the cycle of life continues. As you stand in the yard with leaf rake in hand it’s enough to make anyone wax philosophical. I think on the words of the famous writer William “Rake”-speare:

To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Whether tis nobler in the yard to suffer
The foliage piles of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of leaves,
And by opposing them.

Well to be or not to be is really not a question. You’re going to have to do something about those leaves. Or are you? You could wait for favorable winds to make the leaves your neighbor’s problem. You can’t burn them anymore. I remember those days as a kid when all the neighbors would rake their leaves to the curb and light them on fire. When it came to being groundbreaking hip my Dad would compost in the garden in fall when everyone else was burning leaves curbside. I remember the eerie smoky haze throughout that old neighborhood in late October as neighbors would rake leaves into the street to burn them against the curb. Piles of smoldering leaves looked like the wreckage of some urban battlefield conflict as we navigated our bikes through the acrid and dusky streets. The smoke would swirl blocking the sun at times and burn in your eyes. Evenings spent navigating those streets had to be equivalent to smoking a pack or two of non-filter cigarettes.

I instead say take the approach that money grows on trees. The foliage is nutrient rich and organic. On our lawns we blow, bag, tag and rake them until we have rid the “problem.” But the woodland floor is happy to receive them as the cycle of life continues. A considerable quantity of plant nutrients are taken up annually by tree roots and a proportion of this is returned to the soil as leaf fall each year. The dry weight of leaves in a forest stand is approximately 3,000 pounds per acre of richness including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus and nitrogen. That is why I tell people if you’re going to feed a deciduous tree do it when the leaves are falling off the tree. The soil stays warm even though the air temperature drops. The roots will be able to absorb supplement nutrients October through December. Not a bad idea to help out the trees in your yard considering we vacuum the turf of this natural available replenishment we call leaves.

Money does grow on trees! Leaves add organic matter and nutrients to your lawn and gardens including the colorful yellow leaves of this Ginkgo tree.

Leaves left matted under the cover of snow can damage a lawn. But do we need to rid ourselves of all the leaves? The answer is no. To be or not to be….well maybe. You see in the late 1990’s Michigan State University did a three year study on whether or not you could simply mow over the fallen leaves. Mowing the leaves finely back into the lawn proved beneficial for turf health. Lawn areas that received the organic goodness of pulverized leaves were healthier than those without the leaves. Research indicated that “mulching leaf litter into existing turf grass provides benefits for the soil and turf by adding nutrients, retaining soil moisture, loosening compaction and reducing weed growth.” The best time and way to do this is with multiple passes to pulverize the leaves when you can still see some green grass through the fallen leaves rather than letting leaves gather too quickly. In other words make sure to practice this over a period of weeks in October and November. Not just one time when you have to plow through a pile of leaves. Microorganisms will break down the leaves releasing nutrients and adding to the organic matter profile of your turf.

Leaf it to “Rake”-speare to create dramatic results.



You Auto Be Outside This Fall


Be a bright spot in a dark place

Be a bright spot in a dark place. Well rooted advice. Fun-Guys add some luminescence in Autumn.

The Fall season with some rain means the “fun-guys” come out to play. Many fungi have bio-luminescent tendencies and stand out in the dark of the woods.  They add drama, color and light to the woodland floor. Not only “fun-guys” they have radiant personalities. Not “mushroom” for improvement there! The analogy for me when I walk through a hollow and see their luminescence is how “fun-guys” can light up a dark place just by their presence. Nature always teaches us a lesson. If a hollow is a depressed or low area, then we need more “fun-guys” that deliver the bio-luminescence. Besides, a walk in the woods is very healthy for you as I explain in my book I Just Wet My Plants. Morels get all the publicity in spring but fungi put on a show in fall to compliment the fall foliage. Do NOT eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely sure of its identity. All photos taken by Rick Vuyst 2019.