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Galveston Monthly

Gourds, Pumpkins & Mums

Oct 31, 2019 10:42PM

The extreme heat of August and September made it difficult to get motivated, but finally the first week of October allowed thoughts to turn to the garden and the tasks awaiting therein. Although temperatures may remain somewhat warm well into the fall months, they are tempered by cooler breezes and the garden centers beckoning with the latest in annuals, perennials and bulbs.

  When thinking of fall blooms, chrysanthemums or “the flower of November” is a good place to begin. Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as a flowering herb in the 15th century BC and then in Japan around the 8th century AD. The Emperor of Japan became so enamored of the chrysanthemum that he adopted it as his official seal and a "Festival of Happiness" continues to be held to celebrate the plant.

  Chrysanthemums have a wealth of meaning associated with them: fidelity, optimism, joy, and long life. The red chrysanthemum conveys love while white symbolizes truth. Chrysanthemum flowers bloom in various forms - daisy-like, pompons, or button-shaped - and the blooms encompass a wide range of colors including white, purple, yellow, orange, and red.

  The two basic groups of chrysanthemums are garden hardy and an exhibition type. Garden hardy mums are perennials capable of being wintered over in the ground in most areas; exhibition varieties are not as sturdy. Garden hardies are defined by their ability to produce an abundance of small blooms without staking and an ability to withstand wind and rain. Exhibition varieties often require staking and over-wintering in a dry cool environment.

  Plant chrysanthemums in full sun in well-draining soil but do not overcrowd; good air circulation reduces the chance of disease. The faded blooms should be removed regularly to help prolong flowering.

  Fall months also bring the appearance of gourds in garden nurseries, grocery stores, and craft centers. Gourds are a part of the Cucurbitacae family that includes pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, and melons. Generally about twelve to fifteen inches long, gourds are found in Mexico and areas of the United States as well as around the world. Gourds mature in colors of orange, brown, green, and variegated.

  Peruvian and Thai archaeological sites have noted gourds from many thousands of years ago. Gourds found in the Americas are thought to have originated from subspecies of African or Asian species.

  Gourds have been used in nearly all cultures in a large variety of ways. Bottle gourds were used as birdhouses to attract birds that feed on offensive pests, while other types were transformed into musical instruments such as drums, and woodwinds like the flutes popular in the Pacific nations.

  Gourds have also been fashioned into food and kitchen utensils, boxes, bottles, and other containers. Some gourds are edible and can be found in recipes for curry, spaghetti, tacos, and salads.

   Decorating with gourds has been a popular pastime since gourds have a hard shell when dehydrated, useful when creating jewelry or furniture and can be carved or burned for decorative ornaments and embellishments. Gourds are naturally associated with Autumn décor because this is the season they are harvested, although technically, they are a warm season crop like squash, cucumbers, and melons.

  They are a fun and interesting plant to cultivate with endless varieties. There are large hard-shell types and many ornamentals. Choices can include swan gourds, bottle gourds, dipper gourds, penguin or powder-horns, even one called a caveman club.

  Plant your crop in a sunny location in well-draining soil, the use of a trellis or a climbing structure is invaluable as the vines can take up a lot of space if left to wander on the ground. Young plants will require plenty of water if rainfall is insufficient but mature plants require less.

  They should be left on the vine until tendrils and stems begin to brown; an indication that the moisture inside the fruit is evaporating and that the pulp is drying. As the gourd dries it becomes increasingly lighter in weight. Removing a gourd from the vine too early will cause rot. Contrastingly, one cannot leave a gourd on the vine too long (generally speaking).

  When removing from the vine, leave a length of vine or stem to use as a handle, store in a dry space for the gourd to completely dehydrate; this may take a month or longer. Wipe off any mold with a weak solution of bleach. If you are using the gourds for crafting, they should be hard and dry (the seeds should rattle inside when shaken).

  Growing chrysanthemums and gourds are relatively easy projects but what about pumpkins? It does take some extra work and pumpkins need a lot of space so gardeners without substantial farmland or acreage usually opt to pick some at the local grower.

  For those up to the challenge, pumpkins will grow in most well-draining soil that has been tilled and fertilized. Sow the seeds after May 15 once the soil has warmed from the winter and spring seasons.

  Shallow cultivation is recommended in rows of hills about four feet apart with two or three seeds per hill. A profusion of blooms will follow but only two pumpkins per vine will be produced.

  Pumpkin problems include wither and rot soon after flowering due to a variety of factors such as water, temperature, insects, disease, overcrowding, poor pollination, and others. If plants do become infected, remove them immediately and discard. Do not add to compost piles as the diseases can survive and will infect another crop or other vegetables nearby. 

 Gourd Maracas

  Gourd maracas are the perfect choice for teaching early gardening to children, especially when their small beginner garden comes with the added aspect of creating a fun craft project after the harvest.

  Choose a medium sized gourd, an adult should cut a small hole in the bottom about the size of your thumb. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from about 2/3 of the interior of the gourd. Let the gourd dry out overnight, fill the maraca with small pebbles or uncooked rice.

  Insert a smooth wooden dowel into the hole and seal with glue but the addition of tape, wound around the handle and opening will guarantee a more secure seal. Decorate your maracas with non-toxic paint and polyurethane to preserve it.

 More About Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are one of the most popular flowers in the world, next only to the Rose.

Australians traditionally give their mothers chrysanthemums on Mother's Day.

The Chrysanthemum is the official flower of Chicago.

The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is a Japanese honor awarded by the Emperor.

Chrysanthemum plants have been shown to reduce indoor air pollution by the NASA Clean Air Study.

In Chinese cuisine, the yellow or white chrysanthemum flowers are boiled to make tea while the leaves are steamed or boiled and used as greens.

The flowers when pulverized are used as a natural source of the insecticide, pyrethrum.

 Pumpkin Fact Sheet

Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.

Pumpkin flowers are edible.

The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.

Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

Native Americans used pumpkins seeds for food and medicine.

Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.