Photo and story by Donna Iverson
It's the Great Pumpkin time of the year. Like he does every year, Linus will be out in a field somewhere awaiting its arrival. Hoping that 2019 will be the year that the Great Pumpkin appears on Halloween with presents for believing children. He's been waiting a long time. Since 1959 in fact, when the first Shultz cartoon appeared featuring the Great Pumpkin. Followed by a classic TV special in 1966 called "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown."
While he waits, smaller, lesser pumpkins are springing up all around us. ..in our gardens, in our stores, on our steps, and decorating our living spaces. We can't seem to get enough of the lesser pumpkins.
But this year, Michigan residents may find those local carvable pumpkins harder to find. Farmers and gardeners report our pumpkins are not turning orange but remaining greenish orange due to a wet summer. And prices may be higher.
Looking into the history of the pumpkin, it turns out to be one of the oldest cultivated vegetables and is native to North America. Pumpkin seeds have been found as far back se 7000 BC in Mexico. Native Americans used it as a staple in their diet, as did the early colonists who cooked pumpkin stew, baked pumpkin bread and created pumpkin pie.
A member of the gourd family, along with cucumbers, cantaloupe, zucchini, and watermelon,
pumpkin is a good source of Vitamins A and B as well as potassium and iron. Planted in late May, it takes 120 days to fruit. And biologically, pumpkin is actually a fruit and not a vegetable.
It is grown on all seven continents, except Antarctica. And the way things are going, it may soon find a home there.
Several Midwestern states are the top pumpkin growers in the country, including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. ..all a zone warmer than Michigan.
As for size, the average pumpkin weighs about 7- 18 pounds. The record for the worlds' largest pumpkin is held by a Belgium man, with a Guinness World Record weight if 2,624 pounds. The US record is held by a New Hampshire man, with a pumpkin that weighed in last year at 2,528 pounds.
As for me, I will settle for a pumpkin latte, made at my favorite corner coffee shop.
Fall Color: Purple Asters
Story and photos by Donna Iverson
Something about plants with purple flowers have always attracted me ...whether it's a wildflower, like purple trillium; a weed-like creeping bellflower or a spring-flowering bush, like lilac.
About this time in late summer, it's New England Aster that catches my eye as it has escaped to the wild and can be found in the most unlikely places. Of course, I love the cultivated variety of aster too, especially when it appears in my garden bed unexpectedly like the one pictured here. I imagine it's seeds blowing in the wind and steering their way to my community garden bed.
But my first love when it comes to asters, is the native New England Aster. This year, I found it flowering along the Lakeshore Bike Trail which follows an abandoned railroad track. New England aster signals that fall is near, along with goldenrod and the ubiquitous chrysanthemum.
Although it is a wild native plant, you can grow New England Aster in your garden. Like most native plants, it is drought resistant and can tolerate less than fertile soil. Plant it in full sun if possible. While you can start it from seed, it is probably best to buy small plants from your farmers market or plant nursery. Seeds can take up to three years to produce flowers. It would be at home in a wildflower garden, rock garden, border or even a formal garden as an accent plant.
Deer avoid it and it isn't toxic to horses or dogs, although it is poisonous to cats, so probably not the best plant to grow if you have felines.
As for pollinators, New England Aster is a winner in this category too. It attracts butterflies including the Monarch, bees and goldfinch who eat the seed. Often it is the last flowering plant of the growing season, providing much-needed nectar for pollinators and a burst of color before winter sets in.
Checking on its range, it turns out to be winter-hardy in lower Michigan and is found throughout New England, the Midwest and even the Southwest.
Foragers seek out New England Aster as it is leaves and flowers are edible, They can be added to salads or brewed into tea. And again, the Native Americans are ahead of us on this, harvesting New England Aster as a food crop hundreds of years ago.
Other cultivated plants in the aster family include marigolds, chrysanthemums, calendula, and zinnias. In fact, the aster family is the largest family of flowering plants in the northern latitudes.
In ancient times, it was considered an enchanted flower and it scent was believed to drive away evil serpents. Yes, serpents. Aster is also the talisman of love and symbol of patience. For those of you born in September, it is your birth flower.
The POW Camps in Our State
Michigan POW Camps in World War II at Fremont Library
Live @ the Library, a series of events including author visits and writing workshops is welcoming Greg Sumner to the Fremont Area District Library to present an interactive slide show about his book Michigan POW Camps in World War II which will feature the camp in Fremont.
During World War II, six thousand German and Italian war prisoners came to Michigan. They picked fruit in Berrien County, harvested sugar beets in the Thumb, cut pulpwood in the Upper Peninsula and maintained parks in Detroit. While the work programs were not without their flaws, many of the prisoners established enduring friendships with their captors. Author and U-D Mercy history professor Gregory Sumner tells the story of these detainees and the ordinary Americans who embodied our highest ideals, even amid a global war. This free program will begin in the library’s Community Room on Tuesday, October 8th at 7:00
Story and photos by Donna Iverson
So what's new in gardening? Turns out, quite a few new trends are emerging.
For example: According to the National Gardening Association, gardening has reached an all-time high, according to their 2019 survey. Thirty-five percent of us have either home gardens or are members of community gardens ..that is 1 in 3 Americans.
Other facts and trends include:
1. There is a growing interest in potted succulents, like cacti and aloe, in cute pots. These succulents can be grown indoors or outdoors, are low maintenance needing little water and make attractive displays. You can find numerous vendors for these plants at any farmers market.
2. There is a rise in Millennials gardening compared to the Baby Boomers, with these younger gardeners being more interested in organic growing and sustainable practices. But the Baby Boomers are the biggest spenders averaging $500 a year on gardening plants, supplies and tools.
3. Urban farms now account for 15-20 percent of the world's food and urban farms a growing trend in all 50 states. This is really nothing new. During WWII, backyard gardeners produced 40 percent of this country's food in their Victory Gardens. There is also a growing interest in front-yard vegetable gardening, although I haven't seen evidence of it in this part of Michigan.
4. According to the Farmers Almanac, more of us are interested in Wild Gardening, letting a portion of our yard grow wild, to provide habitat for pollinators and native insects
5. There is also a growing interest in native plants, those plants that evolved in the local area. In Michigan, these include Black-eyed Susan, Columbine, Bee Balm, Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflower, Primrose, Wild Rose (Rosa Rugosa), and Astilbe.
6. Technology is making gardening inroads including the use of smart watering irrigation systems, solar lightning, home weather stations, gardening apps of one kind or another, and robot lawn mowers and weed whackers.
7. People are gardening in even the smallest of spaces, like fire escapes (see photo ) and any nook and cranny they can find.
8. Interest in Moon-phase gardening, just won't quit. Moon-phase gardening is an ancient agriculture practice whereby you plant and harvest by moon phases. This also includes planting moon gardens with white or light-reflective plants or night-blooming plants like evening primrose.
9. The color most popular right now with gardeners is mint green. This explains the trend toward people buying more and more ferns as indoor house plants. And even the appearance of lots of mint in the garden, which can be used for cooking, drinks, as well as food for pollinators, repelling mosquitos, and reputed healing benefits.
10. The increasing popularity of farmers' markets, which are opening more and more days of the week in more and more towns and communities, and offering everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables to morel mushrooms (in season) and other foraged edibles.
Have some fun this fall and shoot away….with your camera! Newaygo County is prime country for that perfect fall photo. Take your best shots and enter the NCCA-Artsplace Fall Photography Contest. The contest is an annual community event that anyone can enter and showcases the fall beauty of our area. Entry deadline is Tuesday, October 1, by 5:30 p.m.
This free competition is for all ages and all levels of skill. All entries must have a fall or harvest theme. Participants may submit up to two entries. Each entry must be an 8”x10” unframed photograph.
All entries will be on display October 3 through October 26 in the corridor gallery at NCCA-Artsplace. First, second and third place ribbons will be awarded on Thursday, October 3 at 5:00 p.m. during Fremont’s Fall Harvest Festival.
Registration forms for the competition are available at NCCA-Artsplace, 13 East Main Street, downtown Fremont or call 231.924.4022. The guidelines and forms may also be printed from www.ncca-artsplace.org.
Story and photos by Donna Iverson
"Arugula persists in quiet superiority as the best tasting, most versatile and easiest to prepare salad green," writes Amanda Moll in the Atlantic magazine. I would have to agree with her.
I have been growing arugula for a number of years and enjoying it's tangy, peppery flavor in salads. And I always find myself nibbling on its tender leaves whenever tending the garden bed. Recently, I read it's good on pizza, and may try that very soon.
Although slightly bitter, it is high in nutrients like other wild salad greens including: endive, escarole, purslane, watercress, radicchio, mustard greens and Swiss chard. In fact, the more bitter a lettuce green, the more nutrients it has. These nutrients include something called phytonutrients,as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and folate.
My first introduction to arugula was in a fancy restaurant, where it was served with a sweet dressing on a very expensive small plate. A few years ago, arugula seeds were not easy to find, but today they are sold in most seed catalogs and a few grocery stores.
A native of the Mediterranean, arugula is popular with Europeans, especially the Italians. And it is getting more and more popular in this country as gardeners find it easy to grow and enjoy it as a flavorful addition to salads or as a salad in its own right,
Like most lettuces, it prefers cooler temperatures, so plant it in the early spring and then again in early fall. The leaves can be harvested on a regular basis, although as they grow larger, they become too bitter for your tastes. Once the plant flowers, it is time to let it go to seed and let the pollinators enjoy it for the rest of the summer. Or pull it out, until the next planting season.
As for preparing it for eating, it is definitely easy ..just wash the leaves and add your favorite dressing. No "massaging" it like you have to do to kale to make it edible. And It doesn't get limp or soggy I see the heaviest dressing.
A member of the mustard family, your fall-planted arugula will survive a light frost. You will have edible leaves in about 6 weeks and the fall crop will be the most flavorful.
While arugula may be a "nontraditional green," you may find it a favorite both in your garden and on your plate.