4 Fun Pumpkin Décor Ideas for Halloween

Who doesn’t love the bounty of fall? Particularly pumpkins! Pumpkins are versatile, fun, stylish, elegant and creative. There are so many fun Pumpkin décor ideas because they can conform to the look and feel of just about every home personality.

Looking for a few ideas this Halloween? We’ve got you covered.

Mini Pumpkin Tablescape 

Elegant, festive and great use of those mini pumpkins, this fall tablescape can elevate any table! Just take your favorite mini-pumpkins and gourds, add some candles and fall foliage remnants. Check out the tutorial here.

Halloween to Thanksgiving Centerpiece

 

This amazing Halloween centerpiece is so elegant it would work straight through Thanksgiving. Carve out the center, choose your favorite flowers and voila! Find the entire DIY tutorial here.

 Jack-o’-Lantern Flower Vase

 

This pumpkin turned flower vase is spookily awesome! Perfect for celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1st and every day until then. Brighten up your jack-o’-lantern with a helping of Asters, Goldenrod, Sunflowers or anything you want to use to add fun fall color.  Grab this tutorial here.

 

Put Down the Shears

By Sandy Swegel

Put Down the Shears.

That’s my mantra when I get out in the garden and start pruning or cleaning-up. I get involved in making a shrub or tree look perfect and pretty soon I’ve cut too much out. So my gardening buddy will use her best police officer type voice and say. “Put down the garden shears.”

That’s my command to you this week. Or as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (birds) advises people who want to help birds survive:

Don’t deadhead. Don’t rake up the leaves. Don’t tidy up.

They explain, “Most songbirds switch from eating seeds to insects during nesting season, then turn back to seeds for fall and winter.” So when you deadhead and compulsively clean your garden beds, you’re removing the food that enables birds to survive the winter. It’s a long time till Spring…and sometimes the bird is on a long migratory journey…they need calories.

So if you want your yard to be a natural habitat, leave the seed-heads on your plants. Birds see the seedhead from the sky and like to land on top of the seed head and then bend over to pick seeds out. On top of the plant, birds are safer from predators. Leave most of the leaves too. You can rake some if you must. But leave a good mulch of leaves to protect the plants, to hide seeds that fall for the birds, and to give beneficial insects a place to nest all winter.

Just be lazy. The birds have spoken.
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/citsci/take-action/2014/09/the-one-thing-you-can-do-to-help-migrants/

Photo credit:
http://www.markcassino.com/b2evolution/index.php/of-finches-and-thistle

http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/2013/11/nj-state-bird-prepares-for-winter.html

 

 

Let them Sweeten

by Sandy Swegel

I spent the week with my sister Anne.  It’s enough to make me doubt the entire idea or theory of DNA and genetics that suggest we are related in some cellular way.  Except for the fact that we look like sisters, we are so different, the family joke ran this way.  “You’re so weird.  You must have been switched at the hospital.” “No, you’re so weird. You were the one switched.”  After some bickering my mother would chime in, “I don’t know where either of you odd ducks came from.  I must have been the one switched at the hospital.

It was evident as we were sitting around the kitchen table that she is a finisher, somebody who gets projects finished.  I have to hold on to my coffee cup if I don’t want it cleared off the table half full.  She wants breakfast finished and the table cleared.

It can be hard to share a garden with a finisher.  Her idea of dealing with the garden as the leaves start to fall is to pull everything out right now and rake the soil nice and tidy and be done with it till next April.  So naturally, I was howling as she’s shoveled up the beets and yanked the kale.  “No, leave it alone. It’s finally getting really good. Don’t you know this is when the root vegetables get really good and sweet?!”  Fortunately, we are adults and I skipped the “how can you not know that” remark and she threw up her hands and walked away muttering “Whaaateverr.”

Let them sweeten, cold-sweetening in vegetables is a real thing. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and store the sugars as starches.  But in cold temperatures, plant break down the starches into “free” sugars and store them in cells to protect against frost damage.  Scientists describe the process as “Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice.”

 

And it makes the vegetables taste so good too!  As long as you can pry the soil open before it freezes solid, you should leave the root vegetables like beets and carrots in the ground.  Kale, chard and spinach full of sugar can be frozen solid first thing in the morning and be delicious and undamaged to eat at dinnertime.  Cold-sweetened Brussels sprouts are worth fighting for.

 

The only vegetable you don’t want to cold-sweeten are potatoes, because you want them full of starch.  That’s why you don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator.  All the extra sugars make cold-sweetened potatoes turn brown during cooking. You reverse the process in potatoes by keeping them in a warmer room and the sugars convert back to starch.

Cold-sweetening is also why you store your winter squashes and root vegetables out in the unheated garage…someplace that doesn’t freeze but also isn’t as warm as the house.

Vegetables to cold sweeten:

Carrots, Beets, squash, kale and chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (Yes!), leeks, spinach, parsnips and radicchio, and best of all, Apples.  Leave those apples on the tree as long as you can…they get better every day in the fall.

 

Photo credit: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/storing-vegetables-for-the-winter

Sweeter After A Frost

 

Use Red to Make Your Garden Pop

by Sandy Swegel 

A friend is a marketing guru and always talks about wanting to make things “pop” whether its brochures, interior design or gardens.  Fall is a great time when colors pop. We naturally think of New England with its amazing Fall display. In fact, East Coasters coming to Colorado are often disappointed their first Fall. It is gorgeous here, but it’s pretty darn yellow. Yellow aspens are beautiful, but yellow and brown don’t pop as red does.

 

A neighbor has a wild red unkempt thicket of shrubs and trees along his fence that makes people stop in the road to take pictures. The key to its glory (besides the fact that it requires virtually no upkeep except watering) is huge shrubs and small trees…all with lots of berries: orange pyracantha with blue euonymous, intermingled with red viburnum berries. The whole thing is held together by a wayward Virginia Creeper vine that is one of the plants that does red here in Colorado.

 

Most of our gardens may be better organized. But a wild uncontrolled area that “pops” with bright reds and oranges is a joy to behold as the growing season winds down. If you make your garden pop then the regular yellows and golden and brown of your xeric garden or your fading vegetable garden look beautiful against their red backdrop.

 

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Curing Winter Squash

by Sandy Swegel

All winter squash improve greatly by having a curing time.  Most of us inadvertently cure our winter squash without even realizing it…by leaving it on the counter or a shelf until we get around to cooking it. Curing is keeping the squash at a warmish temperature (70-80) for about two weeks.  If the growing season is long in your area and the squash is ripe before temperatures start to freeze at night, squash can cure perfectly well just sitting in the field.  Here in Colorado this year, we had a hard freeze that caused us to run out, cut all the squash off the plants and bring them indoors.

What is it curing actually does?  Even though you have picked the squash from the vine, it doesn’t “die” but continues to breathe or respirate (a creepy kinda of thought of all those pumpkins on Halloween porches “breathing.”) Respiration is a good thing because it means the squash are still vital and full of life to nourish you. What curing winter squash does is lower the temperature so the respiration slows down. During the curing time, many of the starches in the squash convert to sugar making for a yummier squash.

After keeping the squash at room temperature for 10-20 days, you can then move the squash to a basement, cool garage or unheated room where it will last for months.

Some helpful tips on storing winter squash:

Space the squash so they aren’t touching one another.

Don’t put the squash directly on a cold garage or basement floor. They need to have air circulation around them and will be more likely to rot at the spot where they are touching the floor. Put it up on a shelf or on a board.

Don’t try to cure and store acorn and delicata squashes…they don’t keep well and should be eaten soon after picking

Cover Your Soil!

by Sandy Swegel

Winter winds will come and steal your soil away if you’re not careful.  If you value your earthworms and the compost that naturally forms on top of your soil under plants, figure out a way to cover your soil this winter.  Here, in Colorado, we can have 100 mile-an-hour winds in January, so we take this seriously.  We also have to take seriously the fact that anything we use to cover the soil needs to be securely attached to the ground.

Here are some of the ways I’ve covered garden soil:

Cover Crops.
These require the most planning and the most work in Spring of tilling the crops in….but
they also provide the most benefit to the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients. NOW is the time to get your winter rye or clover planted so it has time to grow before the soil gets too cold.

Leaves.
Leaves are my favorites because they become leaf mold and can be dug into the soil in Spring.  In Fall, I spread as many leaves as I can all over perennial beds and over the open vegetable bed.  In the perennial beds, the other plants tend to help keep the wind from whisking all the leaves away.  Out in the open vegetable bed, I spread 6 – 12 inches (if you have that many) of leaves on top of the soil  Then I put dozens of heavy plastic bags filled with leaves the neighbors have tidily vacuumed and mulched up on top to hold the loose leaves down.  If the bags aren’t heavy, I put rocks on top of them.  Not a pretty winter garden….but the earthworms thrive in the moisture and warmth under the plastic bags. In Spring, I can spread the leaves in the bag as a mulch on the garden.

Cardboard.
Newspaper by itself blows away too easily, but cardboard, if secured by rocks and bricks, does a good job of holding in soil and moisture.  Make sure the soil is watered before you put the cardboard down.  A layer of leaves and or newspaper under the cardboard will give the worms and microbes something to eat.

Plant a wildflower meadow.
Do you have an area of your yard that you don’t really need for vegetables or perennials? Keep the soil healthy and the garden beautiful by seeding a wildflower meadow.  Fall is an excellent time to plant a mix of wildflowers or even a mix with grasses and wildflowers that will be beautiful for years.

However you decide to protect your garden….you’ve worked hard to enrich the soil and keep the worms and microbes happy.  Help them to stay home and not blow off in the wind or desiccate in the winter sun.

Photo Credits:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dustbowl/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/winter-cover-crops

Why do Leaves Turn Red in the Fall?

by Sandy Swegel

Because the Wind told them they were naked and they turned red with embarrassment.

There’s a Native American story that says it’s because hunters in the sky killed the Great Bear and his blood spills on the trees. (When the hunters cooked the bear, fat from the pot spilled and turns some of the trees yellow.

Scientists have a story that the trees stop producing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what makes leaves look green. When it disappears, the leaf’s true color (red or yellow or orange) shows through.

I’m at an awkward time of life when there are no young children in my life.  No one to tell me riddles. No one I can tease as my father teased us by telling us very tall tales that we never quite knew whether to believe or not.  No one to tell me riddles like the old Cajun guy who lived down the street who never answered a question with a straight answer but told a wild story about the bayou.

So if you know any kids or myth-makers or sacred storytellers….can you ask them why do leaves turn red in the Fall?  That chlorophyll story is a little hard to believe and kinda boring if you ask me.

Taking Care of the Bees and other Creatures this Fall

What’s your favorite flower this year?  That’s the question our local gardening magazine posed to its readers this issue.  Many candidates came to mind, but I realized my criteria in Fall for a good flower is one that blooms late to feed the bees and other pollinators that are still around scrambling for nectar and pollen to sustain them or their babies through winter.

So my favorite flowers right now include the dandelions that have responded to our recent rains with a bloom worthy of Spring.  Every time I see a dandelion now, I don’t respond with a desire to pull it, but with a word of encouragement because it’s not a weed when it has a happy bee gorging in the middle of the flower.

Other favorites that are feeding bees and other creatures:

Cosmos are tough annuals, and still blooming despite some frosty weather.
Scabiosa has won my garden awards for several years for being the last flower blooming in November.  It’s one flower I keep deadheading instead of leaving the seed because I know it makes new flowers as long as it can.
Violas and Pansies planted now will make flowers to please me and the bees during warm spells this winter.

As always, there is one really important thing pollinators and especially bees need in Fall:

WATER.  At my house, the seasonal ditch dried up in August, and standing water is rare in our arid climate.  I keep water in the birdbath and in the flat little saucer with pebbles for the bees.  I notice signs that other bigger creatures like the squirrels and rabbits and field mice sneak water when I’m not watching from the bird bath top that I left sitting on the ground. I got pretty angry with the ravenous rabbit over-population this year, but when I see one lonely bunny hunkered down in the dry leaves under the trees, I can’t help but leave water out for her.  I know I’ll be rewarded with hungry baby bunnies in the Spring, but as the cold winds of Fall send chills through the gardener, my heart goes out to all the creatures who live outdoors during the long winter season.

Use Red to Make your Garden “Pop”!

by Sandy Swegel

A friend is a marketing guru and always talks about wanting to make things “pop” whether its brochures, interior design or gardens.  Fall is a great time when colors pop. We naturally think of New England with its amazing Fall display. In fact, East Coasters coming to Colorado are often disappointed their first Fall. It is gorgeous here, but it’s pretty darn yellow. Yellow aspens are beautiful, but yellow and brown don’t pop as red does.

A neighbor has a wild red unkempt thicket of shrubs and trees along his fence that makes people stop in the road to take pictures. The key to its glory (besides the fact that it requires virtually no upkeep except watering) is huge shrubs and small trees…all with lots of berries: orange Pyracantha with blue Euonymous, intermingled with red viburnum berries. The whole thing is held together by a wayward Virginia Creeper vine that is one of the plants that does red here in Colorado.

Most of our gardens may be better organized. But a wild uncontrolled area that “pops” with bright reds and oranges is a joy to behold as the growing season winds down. Use red to make your garden pop! Then the regular yellows and golds and browns of your xeric garden or your fading vegetable garden look beautiful against their red backdrop.

It’s Always a New Beginning for Gardeners.

Thinking about the beautiful creation stories explored in the services of the eve of Rosh Hashanah that our Jewish friends celebrated yesterday reminds me that for the gardener, things are never really at an end.  There’s always something new to begin in the endless cycles of life.  Whether it is Rosh Hashanah or the upcoming Autumn Equinox or any of the lunar celebrations, every culmination or harvest is also a time to begin something new.

The need to keep beginning is especially true for the food gardener, especially if you want to keep eating.  It’s always a new beginning for gardeners, so many foods are dependent on seasons – cool season, warm season.  It may seem with the great ripening of tomatoes that the vegetable garden is complete this year, but if you want to keep eating, you need to keep planting: cool season crops, lettuces, sturdy greens that you can eat on all winter.

Some of the things it is time to begin:

Begin a hoop house or cold frame.
If you haven’t already seeded fall greens or carrots and beets, make haste and do it right away.  They need to grow to a good size before winter, so you can harvest even through the snow.

Begin a leaf pile.
Are you ready for collecting fall leaves and beginning again (or adding to) your leaf mulch pile?  Leaves are going to fall….and if you’re ready, your neighbors will bring you all the leaves you want.  A simple sign in your driveway that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted”  will catch the attention of your neighbors who want an easy way to recycle.  Our neighborhood gets over 2000 bags a year that people drop off.  The first year was only about 300 bags….but each year it has grown till we quit counting after 1000 or so.

Begin to fertilize perennials.
If you fertilize with natural fertilizers like blood and bone meal, now is a good time to begin fertilizing perennials and shrubs.  Natural fertilizers break down slowly so Fall is the best time to put them (and compost) out around your plants so they have time to soak in all winter.  Synthetic fertilizers like Miracle-Gro should wait until Spring because they’d stimulate a growth spurt now when the plants should be shutting down.

Begin to clean up.
Start cleaning up diseased leaves and broken plant debris.  Your plants will be healthier next year.

One thing NOT to begin:  Don’t cut down green growing plants because you’re anxious to put the garden to bed.  Some minor experiments have proven to me, that plants that are allowed to die in place and get cut down in later winter or early spring have a better survival rate than plants that get cut down in Fall.  This is especially true for Agastache one gardener I know discovered.

Begin to plant a TREE!
A REALLY IMPORTANT THING TO BEGIN NOW:  Plant a tree.  There are often healthy trees on deep discounts at garden centers.  The best time to begin a tree in your garden is always RIGHT NOW.