Gardening With Tony
UNITED STATES—Pumpkins are both the biggest of the common fruits, and also the most wasted. So many of us bring at least one into our homes for Halloween, only to discard them afterward. Not many of us actually bake or make pies from 'used' pumpkins. However, those of us who like to can or freeze fruit and vegetables can really take advantage of this tradition by politely collecting jack o' lanterns from neighbors, or getting unsold pumpkins from markets for very minimal expense. (Pumpkins are 'low acid' fruits that need to be canned with a pressure cooker.)
The somewhat small brownish 'sugar pie' pumpkins that are sold for pies are of course the best, with the richest flavor and meatiest shells. The common bright orange pumpkins used for jack o' lanterns are not as meaty and lack flavor, but are certainly worth the price if they are free. White pumpkins can be just plain bland; but with enough sugar and spices, can make decent pie. The deeply furrowed green or gray pumpkins might likewise taste better than they look, but who knows? I certainly have not tried one yet.
Because the jack o' lantern pumpkins have such thin shells, my neighbor and I prefer to cut them into pieces and steam them before peeling them. It is a messy job, which is why she has me do the peeling part of it. Before steaming, she cuts out any parts with candle wax (on the bottom) or soot (on the top). Once peeled, the pulp is ready to be pureed, and then frozen, canned or baked directly into pies.
Those of us who do not indulge in freezing, canning or baking of 'recycled' pumpkins can either give our pumpkins to neighbors who do, or must otherwise dispose of them. On the compost pile, pumpkins should be chopped up and spread out so that they do not mold and rot as much as they would if left intact. Chopping them with a shovel should be adequate. By now, there should be plenty of fresh leaves on the compost pile to spread pumpkin parts out over.
If fireplaces or wood stoves have been used already, the resulting ash can be spread out with chopped pumpkin, to inhibit mold in compost piles. Ash also deters snails. Just be certain that only dead ash gets scattered, without any embers, and that it gets spread thinly enough so that it does not become a mucky mess that actually inhibits composting.
Tree of the Week: Black Oak
Though native mostly to the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges between San Francisco and Oregon, California black oak, Quercus kelloggii, also inhabits isolated colonies in lower mountains as far north as the southern half of the Oregon Coast, and as far south as San Diego County. It actually occupies more area than any other hardwood tree in California. Wild trees competing in forests can get more than a hundred feet tall and live for five centuries. Well exposed urban trees may take their first century to eventually get about half as tall with trunks as wide as four feet.
Even while young, California black oak is a distinguished tree, with a broadly rounded canopy and elegantly arching limbs. The smooth silvery bark of young trees eventually becomes dark and uniformly checked with maturity. The distinctive deeply lobed leaves are about five inches long, and turn gold, soft orange or even brownish red before falling in autumn.
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