There’s a lot to love about the Minnesota State Fair, but the contests have always been on my Top-10 list. Across the fairgrounds, everything from pies and jellies to seed art and orchids compete for praise and ribbons. Standing in front of the brightly lit cases and displays, it’s not always clear why one chocolate chip cookie beat out another, or why the dahlia on the left is superior to the one on the right when both were displayed singly in empty Michelob bottles.
But when you get to the Horticulture Building and enter the vegetable room, things become much more straightforward . Sure, there is still some head scratching to do over the difference between, say, the award-winning red potatoes and the losers. But it is immediately clear how the winner of the “Largest Scalloped Squash” contest nabbed that title.
And the same is true of the “Largest Banana Squash” and the seemingly vast yet strangely uncrowded category of “Largest Squash (other than banana or scalloped).” The rules are simple: You are the biggest; you win. Giant pumpkins don’t have it so easy. In the world of pumpkins of unusual size, weight is what matters, and the biggest pumpkin isn’t necessarily the heaviest.
I know this because I just finished reading Susan Warren’s Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever. If the subtitle sounds hyperbolic, let me assure you, it isn’t. Warren, who is a deputy bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, spent a season with a handful of the many enthusiastic and, okay, obsessive people who grow giant pumpkins all over the world.
Dick and Ron Wallace, a father and son team who have been growing giant pumpkins in Rhode Island for years, are the main duo we get to know. But there are other endearing growers at the center of this book, and Warren followed them all as they endured bugs, heat, rain, lightning, rot, ulcers, varmints, foaming stump slime, financial pain, jealousy, heartbreak and more in hopes of growing the world’s heaviest pumpkin in 2006.
It sounds weird, I know, but the ups and downs of the growing season were so suspenseful, I honestly couldn’t wait to get to the end of the book and find out who wins. Now all I need to do is check to see if there are any giant pumpkin weigh-offs going on around here yet this season. If I’ve missed them, I am definitely going to get to one next year. The results of the 2012 Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth weigh-offs are still coming in. But you can check them here if you’re interested. In 2011, Jim and Kelsey Bryson of Ontario won the world record with a pumpkin that weighed in at 1,818.5 pounds. Check out of photo of them and their otherworldly pumpkin here.
It’s been awhile since I posted anything about my ongoing experience with having a worm bin in the house, so I thought I’d offer an update for those who are interested in such things. If you’d rather do just about anything than read about worms, how about checking out Paige Johnson’s wonderful Garden History Girl blog. Paige has a master’s degree in garden history and her blog is well- researched and packed with great historical photos and illustrations. I’m looking forward to interviewing her soon for a future post.
Okay, for those who are still with me, let’s talk worms. I started a worm bin back in late February. I went the less expensive route with one of those large plastic storage totes from Target. But after a few months, I opted to move all those little red wigglers into a new condo-style bin with trays. I was warned by more than one experienced vermicomposter that the tray systems can be a hassle, and they advised me to hang on to my big, cumbersome tote. I stowed it away in the garage, but I’m not going to go back to it.
I like my stackable Worm Factory 360 because I can see the worms much more easily when they’re eating the food scraps that I add to the top tray every other day. For instance, I now know that they really like banana peels, coffee grounds and orange pepper bits. But they aren’t as keen on kale, tomato chunks or onion skins. I wouldn’t know these things if I were still using the tote, which was so deep, it was hard to see the worms much at all. For me, being able to actually watch the worms in action as they eat, mate, lay eggs and just crawl around makes having a worm bin in my dining room worth it. (The basement’s too far away and there’s no room in the kitchen. I swear we have no issues with fruit flies or smells!)Read More»
**NOTE**A correction to this piece was made in my October 2, 2012 post.
You might recall that earlier this year Scotts Miracle-Gro pled guilty to charges that they had illegally used insecticides known to be toxic to birds and wildlife in two brands of bird seed: “Country Pride” and “Morning Song.” According to prosecutors, the Ohio-based company knowingly coated the seed with these insecticides because they wanted to protect it from insects pests during storage.
Millions of bags of toxic seed were manufactured and sold over two years. And even warnings about the toxicity of the pesticides from two of the company’s own employees did not stop them from selling it. The products were recalled in spring of 2008 and, eventually, Scotts was fined $4.5 million.
This incident certainly isn’t the first time Scotts has behaved in a manner that has surely earned its executives a nice, toasty seat in hell. But it’s a good one to call out when talking about the company’s history of asshattery, including making it nearly impossible to buy a freakin’ bag of soil that doesn’t include its products. What are they up to now? you ask.
Check out this post by Amy Stewart on Garden Rant: “Dear Scotts: Just Try, One Time, Not to be So Shitty.” It’s about how Scotts’ lawyers nabbed and quickly trademarked a phrase that garden writer C.L. Folinari came up with as part of a goodhearted campaign to get people excited about gardening and growing different types of plants.
Oh, and Scotts also went public in June about their $200,000 donation to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney. The donation made Scotts one of the first public companies with a well-known brand to contribute directly to an election campaign following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision on campaign funding.
Scotts has made its corporate character very clear. It’s up to gardeners like us to do the same.
If I could somehow go back in time and give my new-gardener self just one piece of advice, it would be this: Use the lasagna method when starting a new garden bed. Of all the tough gardening chores, removing old weed-infested sod (or any sod, really) rates right up at the top of the This-Really-Bites list. Oh, how I wish I had known that I could just smother stuff rather than wrestle it out of the ground—the sheer force propelling me off to the chiropractor to fix my aching back once again.
There is no such thing as maintenance-free gardening. But gardening doesn’t have to be on a mission to kill you either. This is the beauty of the lasagna method. The goal is to keep light and, to some extent, air and water, from reaching the weeds and turf. There are no exact rules for this process, so I’ll explain what I do and you can modify the strategy as you see fit.Read More»
I’ve never grown potatoes. But when I got the opportunity to test Gardener’s Supply Company’s Potato Grow Bag this summer, I thought, why not give it a try? The fabric bags come in several colors, but I went with black so it wouldn’t stand out so much amidst the rest of the containers in our garden. Our potato starts came from our friends at Bossy Acres: three fingerlings and 2 blue heirlooms. Thanks Elizabeth and Karla!
The planting process was similar in some ways to the type of hilling you do with potatoes when you plant them in the ground. Following the instructions on the Grow Bag packaging, we put the bag where we wanted it in the garden and filled it with a 4 inches of pre-moistened, organic potting mix. (Gardener’s Supply sells a mix that you can buy, too.) Next, we placed our potato starts on top of the mix, being careful to space them evenly apart. As instructed, we covered the little potato pieces with another 3 inches of potting mix and watered everything well.
The plants grew fast and we followed the instructions to add 4 inches of potting mix for every 8 inches of growth until the bag was completely full. One thing to note: The instructions didn’t say this, but because we have problems with voles, we put a small square of hardware cloth between the bottom of the bag and the ground before we filled it to keep the critters out.Read More»