It’s that time of year for pumpkins, possums
Fall weather has arrived and the hillsides are starting to show some color, but it seems to be beginning later this season than most years. The summerlong drought has most likely caused many trees to turn brown prematurely.
Nevertheless, in about two weeks, we will be treated to our usual won- derful display of reds, yellows, purple and all shades in between. Fall is the favorite season for many local people, but the short days and lingering wet foliage until mid-afternoon are not my cup of coffee.
Right now, I am debating whether or not I will have to mow the lawn once or twice more before it is time to winterize the mower. The grass is growing rapidly again and this is the time of year when grass root systems expand and store reserve food for next year. Raise the mowing level to 3 inches or even 3.5 inches to allow for added root growth. There is still time to add lime if a soil pH test indicates a need for it. Actually, lime can be applied at any time, except perhaps during the midsummer drought.
In general, this is not a good time to fertilize trees, shrubs or perennials. Adding fertilizer now may spur new growth that will make the plants have a harder time entering dormancy. Likewise, avoid pruning any woody plants, as this also forces the plant to deal with the pruning wounds, when it needs to deal with preparing for the upcoming winter.
You can fertilize annuals for a final display before we get a hard frost. Some annuals, such as snapdragons, ornamental kale and pansies are quite hardy and will tolerate some pretty cold weather. Mums and asters can also be fertilized, since they may not survive the winter anyway!
There is not a lot to do in the vegetable garden right now except harvest, but you can still plant winter rye as a cover crop in areas that are vacant. Winter rye is very hardy and will establish a pretty solid cover, even when planted up to mid-October. It is also allelopathic, which means it suppresses the growth of other plants, including many weeds.
It seems like this has been a banner season locally for pumpkins, as the orange globes are showing up everywhere. A few years ago, we had a serious pumpkin shortage, but local farmers and backyard gardeners have more than compensated since then.
I harvested half-a-dozen medium-sized pumpkins in August and I still have a few ripening.
Pumpkins may be harvested at the first sign of orange color and they will still fully ripen off the vine. To make them last longest, try to “cure” them in a very warm (80 to 85 degrees) very humid (80 percent relative humidity) location for about 10 days. This may be accomplished in a car with the windows rolled up and a pan of water inside. On sunny days, it will be 85 degrees or more.
Before curing them, wash with soap and water to remove fungi and bacteria spores.
Possums have suddenly become quite popular, since someone noted that they eat lots of ticks and any critter that eats disease-carrying ticks is a
friend of ours! I have seen ads for possum boxes and plans for ways to build your own.
These toothy marsupials have greatly expanded their range in the past 50 years, mostly heading north and are now commonly found throughout our region. They do not hibernate and may indeed appreciate a comfy box placed in a tree. Canned cat food is one of their favorite foods, but avoid putting out any type of food until the black bears go into hibernation.