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Let’s talk about fall gardens and pumpkins!

It’s August which is the hottest and wettest month for us in SW Florida BUT for us fall lovers it’s also basically the start of the ending of summer (wishfully) and definitely time to think about our fall gardens.

I’ve had a few people asking me WHEN do we start planting for fall in our area?? This is something I have asked myself (and answered myself wrongly) for years in the past. I tried so many different planting dates, usually going off of internet resources on when to plant in our area.. here’s the thing.. the internet is not accurate here! My mom lives 15-20 minutes from me and her micro climate in her yard is so completely different than mine, that if I planted when she does or vice versa, we would fail.

Let me tell you a cute story that I read in a blog years ago. I really wish I could remember their website, but I cannot for the life of me. So it was about a young woman who married a young farmer. She knew nothing about farming but was excited to live the life and help him in every way. They prepped their fields for fall planting during early summer. And then she waited… and waited… everyday she asked him “Is today planting day?” and she grew concerned because he never seemed to know. Then one day he woke her up with a start and said “Today is the day!! Let’s go plant our pumpkins!!” She asked how he suddenly knew and was so sure that today was the day. He said, “Because the other farmers are out in their fields planting!!”

I thought that was such a cute story, and a simple answer to the question of when to plant for fall. Watch the other farms near you! Follow them on Facebook, drive by or stop by and check out what they’re doing, and most importantly STOP AND ASK THEM. All farmers know the importance of growing your own food and will probably be thrilled that someone is interested in starting their own gardens too. You can even talk to your neighbors and let them know your plans, they may know about it or even want to help you grow. Also, a lot of older people have a wealth of knowledge on gardening because not too long ago EVERYONE had a garden!! (I plan on writing about victory gardens in the future too!)

The best fail proof way to know when to plant (if you don’t have local farms near you) is by trial and error.

Prep your garden area first, WELL in advance:

· Order seeds

· Till the sod and mix it in

· Add compost, manure, or amendments

· Wait a week or two and till it again

· Wait another 2-3 weeks

· Build mounds for planting pumpkins

Check your seed packets on when to plant and more importantly how many days until maturity. If you want pumpkins for Halloween and your seed packet says 80 days until maturity, that means that you have to have them planted at least 80 days before Halloween! Get out your calendar and count backwards from the day that you wish to be harvesting.

You do not have to plant all at once! Plant a new row of pumpkins each week and keep track of which ones do the best. Then, the following year you will know exactly when you want to start your fall planting.

Now that we’ve covered when to plant, I’d like to give some tips on growing pumpkins, since that is what I am most excited about for this fall. I always have a BIG Halloween party and this year the theme is PUMPKINS. Ahhhhh, I can’t wait!!!

I grow everything organically which sometimes is complicated! Here are some ideas on how to be successful with growing pumpkins:

1. Add compost or organic fertilizer at least once a month. My “soil” is essentially sugar sand, so I fertilize every two weeks. Jason is really good at making compost tea (I'll include his recipe at the end of this blog), then we add it to a sprayer for application. I also compost our microgreens leftovers, kitchen scraps, and goat pellets together so sometimes I will just side dress the pumpkin mounds with that.

2. Organic neem oil once a week! It is very important to read the instructions, dilute the neem, and only apply it in the evenings so as to not burn your plants. Neem is a pretty versatile organic pesticide and usually does the trick.

3. When it comes to pumpkins, melons, squash, and cucumbers… You NEED BT. I apply BT weekly also (not same night as the neem). Pickleworms are dominant in our area, and can totally decimate your crops in ONE NIGHT. BT is a natural bacterium that kills worms (it’s also awesome for tomatoes). It will kill caterpillars so don’t use it near your butterfly garden.

4. Again apply the pesticides at night so it doesn’t burn your plants and so that the bees and butterflies are less likely to be affected.

5. Sometimes bugs (like squash bugs) are persistent jerks… Take a 5 gal bucket with soapy water and hand toss those turds into the bucket! This can be a fun activity for kids… I’m not joking

6. ASK FOR HELP. Sometimes the garden is overwhelming... weeds take over, new unidentified bugs show up, crops fail for no apparent reason… Please ask friends, family, neighbors, and local farmers. You never know who may have secret knowledge or previous experience with it

Here are some photos of possible pumpkin issues in your garden.

1. Problem: The flowers aren’t producing pumpkins

Answer: A) Wait it out! The picture is showing male flowers only. The male flowers appear first to attract pollinators. After a few days you will see female flowers with a little bulb just beneath the flower (on the same stem). The pollinators will then do their job and once the female flower falls off, the pumpkin will begin growing!

B) If you have both male and female flowers, but no pumpkins are growing after the flower falls off… You have a pollination problem! Companion plant to attract pollinators OR hand pollinate. I have used a toothpick to remove pollen from the male flower, and insert it into the female flower.

2. Problem: Worms (As mentioned earlier)

Answer: BT is your BEST FRIEND!!

3. Problem: Spotty, yellowing leaves

Answer: deficiency... Fertilize!!

Please don't hesitate to message me if you have any other problems or questions! I may not have all the answers, but I enjoy learning new solutions and I will gladly help you figure it out.

Jason’s compost tea recipe:

· 5 gal bucket

· Aerator for small fish tank

· Compost (can purchase organic compost at Walmart, tractor supply, or Lowe’s/Home Depot

· Fish emulsion

· Molasses (if preferred)*

Place aerator in bucket first. Then fill the bucket 1/3 of the way full with organic compost, then top with water until almost full. Add 1 C fish emulsion, and ½ C molasses (this helps the fertilizer to stick to the leaves). Stir with long stick or old broom stick. Turn on aerator. Stir once a day for several days. Your compost tea will now be ready to add to a sprayer or use in a watering can to spread around veggies.

*There are articles/YouTube videos out there that say molasses is bad… do your own research and decide for yourself. This is what works for us!

I hope these tips help you to grow amazing pumpkins! 🎃🎃

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