The Problem with Fake Pumpkins

(All pictures are of my own fake, cheap fall decor.)

There is something about fall that brings out the country look everywhere. Probably some deep evolutionary response to the harvest season. Or maybe just decades of marketing. It usually starts in August, peaks in late September, and by October, Christmas has taken over.

But during those glorious days of fall advertising-season, it is all scarecrows and hay bales. And of course, pumpkins.

Sometimes it is so fun to go to a local pumpkin patch, pick out a pumpkin from their fields and get a gallon of apple cider. Sometimes it is a pain because it’s still in the 80s every afternoon, yellow jackets are everywhere, and those pumpkins are really heavy. And the farmers market ones are expensive, especially if you want different colored ones.

So one day at Target you see a really cute display. They are fake, of course, but look pretty all together, especially with some fake gourds mixed in. And that little weathered sign that says “welcome fall.”. So you add to the cart. Or maybe you are a little more upscale and you go for the expensive Funkins, which can be carved. I used to save up for one a year, to eventually amass a grouping of them carved in the shape of fall leaves.

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Now you don’t have to worry about them rotting on the porch in the September heat. When Christmas advertising season rolls around, you can just stick them in the basement. What’s not to like?

I’ve written before about James Howard Kunstler, and his theory that the countryside is disappearing in part because Americans love the countryside.  They each want a piece, so they divide it up and swallow it.  This feels a little like that.  We love the idea of the fall harvest look, so we copy it.  But we do it in a way that destroys any actual fall harvesting in our communities.

Every fake pumpkin that is bought is a real pumpkin that didn’t get bought. It is a local farm that wasn’t visited, a farmer’s market stand passed over. It is choosing convenience and cheapness over an easy chance to enrich your local economy. It is a choice to instead enrich a factory far away churning out fake squash. I am now imagining a factory in Cambodia, the workers laughing at us, thinking what is this and why are people paying for it?

And really, it is hilarious. We pave over farms to build suburbs that we decorate to look like farms. But do we at least support the remaining local farms as we decorate? No. We do not.  Our decorations are the most superficial thing possible, because they are the very opposite of what we value. At least there won’t be any crows on the front porch.

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The problem with fake pumpkins is that they are another piece of junk that chips away at a local economy. They are more styrofoam adding to the mountain of trash in our country. They are one more emblem of a world we destroyed and now so poorly try to imitate.

There are a lot of problems with no solution. But this one is easy.

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Why Canning? And Our Favorite Canning Recipes

Marie Antoinette had a dairy cow at one of her country houses so that she and her friends could play milkmaid for fun. I try to remember that when I think that perhaps I am being a bit ridiculous.

Canning is one of those things that make me wonder what I am doing. It is hot, time consuming, and messy. But the real problem I have with it is that I am not poor, I am not dependent on my garden for subsistence, and if I didnt have home canned produce I would fork out the dollar for a can of crushed tomatoes and get some at the store. It feels pretentious, in the the truest sense of the word. That I am just pretending.

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Here is where i could insert some silliness about treading lightly upon the earth and being self sufficient.  The truth is, I don’t believe that.  I don’t think canning peppers and tomatoes has any positive effect on the earth, nor will they save me in the event of economic collapse.  I don’t even think self sufficiency is a noble goal.

I can extra produce because I have the time and the materials, and because I like it.  Why canning?  Why sunflowers, or dogs, or golf?  I find it satisfying, and the end result gives me joy.  It is a natural extension of the garden.   There is no way around having too much produce to eat fresh.  When gardening is your hobby, every summer evening you are bringing in a basket that looks like this.   You can either give it away, preserve it in some manner, or throw it out.

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So maybe doing this is a waste of time. But not doing it would also be a complete waste–of tomatoes.

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Enough talk. Now some links!

Here are some of my favorite recipes.

They are all ones we actually use up, and have made over and over.  None require a pressure canner.

Crushed Tomatoes from Ball

Smooth Pizza Sauce (I do this in half pint jars, which is enough for two large pizzas, but the recipe calls for full pints)

Pickled Jalapeno Slices from the Survival Gardener

Annie’s Salsa

Whole Pickled Pepperocini or Cherry Peppers

Dill Relish

Refrigerator Pickles

Peach Raspberry Jam

America’s Test Kitchen has the best strawberry jam recipe, but it is only available to subscribers.

🙂

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Second Summer Gardening

Timing the garden is hard. Planting out tomatoes and peppers has to be done when the nights are no longer cold and all danger of frost has passed. You start getting excited when the first warm days of April come, but it’s still too early. Around here it is late April to early May, but some people still wait until Mothers Day. And then, all of the sudden, it is June, and the weather is a steady dose of “hazy, hot, and humid”, and the time for planting is over.

Well… not really.

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Here in Virginia, zone 7, we can have two plantings of summer vegetables. A second planting of tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, to keep you in hot weather veggies up until frost. Yes, technically a tomato plant will bear until frost. But one planted in late April will just be done by early September. For me at least, it will either be overtaken by blight, knocked over in a severe thunderstorm, or just be tired and have given up on life. You can do multiple plantings of corn and beans of course, too.

The time to be planting the late summer garden is now. Late June and early July is ideal because the plants need to be a good size before the days shorten and growth slows down. So even though you have yet to harvest a tomato or cucumber, it is time to plant another batch.

Where to put all this? Peas, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and onions should be finishing up so when those get pulled, some people put in new summer planting’s. I do not. I need that space to replant all those things for the fall garden in late July! That means that to get your second summer veggies in, you have to have empty space ready now. Maybe you could fit something super quick in early in the season like radishes. But I just have space waiting in the same area. My row of tomatoes has four spots waiting, my melon patch has a full empty row, etc.

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Now for a little crop by crop overview of vegetables that are a good candidate for a second summer

Tomatoes- They need to begin by the fourth of July for our area.  They can be direct sown in late June, or you could go through the whole seed starting in tray process in early June.  OR, you could do the easy thing and root some cuttings in a cup of water and then plant in the moist soil as soon as roots appear.  People may wonder what in the world you are doing with tomato branches cut like they are flowers, but oh well.

A smart person would probably grow MORE tomatoes as their fall crop so that they can they do their canning when it is a little cooler.  I have never done this, and get too excited in the spring to hold back. (Actually, a smart person would probably buy canned tomatoes.)

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Who needs sunflowers when you have tomato leaves?  Me!   Speaking of…

Sunflowers- Branching sunflowers, despite being inferior to single stem sunflowers in most ways, have the distinct advantage of putting out many flowers over the course of the summer.  They don’t do so forever, though, and a second planting is beneficial.  They should be direct sown, and you may want to plant darker, more autumnal colors.  I like Chianti, Autumn Beauty, and Soraya for late summer and fall.    (Do some more zinnias too!  White, red, yellow, no pink.)

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Melons- Full size watermelons are around 100 days to maturity, so planting them mid June will give you late September melons.  Plenty of time.  Smaller ones (Little Darling is THE BEST), are more like 70 days and will bear in late August.  They take up so much room, so make sure you have left a good amount of space.  They are direct sown also.

Cucumbers- They will get huge too, and can actually benefit from three plantings over the summer as they mature so quickly.  You will want to space out pickling cucumbers too, because refrigerator pickles are the only acceptable pickle and you will want them for as long a time as possible.

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And two plants that are a month behind:

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Corn- Corn is a bit trickier because two different types cannot be maturing at the same time as the seeds will cross and affect the taste.  (This is because you are eating the seed part, unlike with other vegetables).  So you can either plant one kind and stagger it, or be sure that your other varieties will be at least 2 weeks apart in maturity.  A simple plan would be to plant twice, two different varieties each time.  For example:

May 1st, plant American Dream (75 days, matures July 15th) and Silver Queen (93 days, matures August 4th)

June 20th, plant American Dream (matures September 5th) and Silver Queen (matures September 23rd) again

Remember it must be planted in blocks, so this will take a lot of room.

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Pumpkins- Not a second planting, just the only planting.  A May 1st planted pumpkin will mature in August.  No thanks.

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And one month from now it will be time to put in the fall garden!  Yes, this is a whole different thing.

It is really not that much work to put these things in a second time, and you will be SO glad you did in September.  Just think of it as one more chance to get it right.

Have a good weekend!

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The Geography of Nowhere: Country Living

In his 1993 book  “The Geography of Nowhere”, James Howard Kunstler explores how America became so ugly. Not politically and spiritually, just visually….ugly. I have read some of his other books such as “The Long Emergency” where he talks about peak oil and global warming, but this one is more about our public spaces and how they have been ruined by cars and suburban sprawl. He also blames modernist architecture, which is indeed awful. There is a lot about the American emphasis on freedom and individual, which led people to neglect public spaces in favor of their own homes.  Also he blames the ideal of “country living”, which made people flee the cities for the country, which they then ruined by turning it into the suburbs.

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I was feeling quite smug while reading most it, thinking yes, I hate the suburbs, I live in the country, until I got to that last part. How can loving the idea of “the country” ruin the the country? This was something I had truly never thought of.  It reminded me of this thoughtful post about how cultivating our anti-consumerist image just enhances our materialism.

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Kunstler argues “America reinvented (Eden)… called it Suburbia, and put it up for sale” (600).   And that “The people who lived there would not draw their livelihoods from it, either from farming or business. Rather, it was strictly a place of habitation and pleasure”(700). And “It was an artificial way of life in an inorganic community that pretended above all other virtues to be natural” (920).

Hmmm.

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What he hates most of all is our dependence on cars.  Not just because they are polluting our air and draining natural resources, but because they destroy society.  All our “public works” are roads.  We are slaves to our vehicles because we can’t do anything without them and take up an extraordinary amount of our time and money.  Being able to drive all over has caused us to develop rural land that never should have been developed beyond farmland.

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Interestingly, the road I live on was indeed developed in the late 19th century, long before cars. There is a small cattle farm across the street from us that used to own our property. The cottage that existed here when we bought it was built almost a hundred years ago. Less than a mile down the road is an intersection with a little convenience store, a church, and a plumbing business. There is a church another mile down the road built in 1789. So this whole area was built for a car free society, and in just a few generations, getting around by anything other than car has become impossible.

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I have a daughter in public school. I drive her there every morning because her bus ride would be an hour and ten minutes but the drive is only ten minutes. I am not going to put her on the bus for an extra hour to save resources, even though I understand that is wasteful as the bus drives right by out house every morning. I could homeschool, but that is not the cards for me right now (my husband is considerably more “mainstream” than I am), and also we would still be going out during the day.

Now here we are, isolated by our freedom. When you can “just drive somewhere” there suddenly becomes no alternative. The road in front of my house has a 45 mph speed limit and no sidewalks. The corner convenience store has devolved into a creepy place no one wants to go, because any respectable person would drive to the grocery store five miles away or the Walmart a few miles past that.

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Old fashioned, sustainable country living does not mean having a beautiful view from your front porch and also driving twenty minutes to get anywhere. It means making your land your job, and basically never leaving. It means if you can’t walk there or ride your horse there, you don’t go. Luckily you live with extended family to keep you company. The corner stores and churches are all you have. It means you are not relying on trucked in animal feed or fertilizer, but are grazing animals, growing hay, fertilizing with manure. I don’t think many of us are ready for that, or capable of that.

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So yes, I am basically living on a large suburban lot. I take my kids to school, church, soccer, and ballet. I, myself go to the grocery store and library once a week, Costco once a month, rarely the post office or bank. Even though I am home all the time, I drive every day because of my kids. If I didn’t have kids, would probably have (horrors) a job that I drove to. I see now that moving out here is contributing to the problem of a spread out society that is completely fuel dependent.

I’m not sure what I can do about it though. Moving, besides being completely out of the question, would fix nothing because someone else would buy this property and subdivide it, compounding the problem. I would move….where? Into town? The schools are terrible, so I would be driving them to a private school even farther away. There is no walkable grocery store in town either. A seasonal farmers market and a fancy butcher, but no way to get pantry goods. I would still be car dependent.

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I understand and somewhat agree with Kuntzler that cars have basically ruined our way of life. But there is no going back. He sees this as as well, and the book is not a call to action by individuals, but more a critique of society in general.  He proposes land use agreements (where counties buy development rights from land owners…the farm across the street from us has such an arrangement) and smarter urban zoning as potential cures to American ugliness.  But I don’t think much will change until our current way of life become impossible or unaffordable.  One day maybe gas will become insanely expensive and the church on the corner will have its own little school. I will be able to ride my horse and cart into town to go pick up a twenty pound bag of flour and go to the library. But for now, I am just another suburban housewife, driving around.

 


Growing Crunchy Lettuce

My husband is the worlds pickiest adult eater. He does not eat any type of lettuce other than romaine or iceberg, so that is all we grow. And let me tell you, it is not easy to get crispy “grocery store” lettuce. This may be something you just buy. But there are 1000 seeds in most lettuce packets, which cost about four dollars, so it is certainly worth the trouble if you can get it right.

Here is how I do it.

1. Choose the right variety.

All those beautiful spring mixes and leaf lettuces, in different shades of purple and green? They are lovely, but they will never be crunchy. They are a whole different animal. For crunch, pick a romaine, iceberg, or butter crunch.  Right now I am growing “Paris” romaine and “Igloo” iceberg.

And think of when you want them, and how many. You do not want dozens maturing at once (unless there is a large Caesar salad party planned, in which case you are under a lot of pressure). Start a few seeds every week or two.

2. Start seeds indoors.

I prefer to start all seeds in seed trays if they are ones that will transplant well. The seeds are very tiny and they come up quickly in the fine seed starting mix, much easier than they would in heavier garden soil. There is no thinning or going out to the garden to keep the soil moist until they germinate. Starting them inside just keeps things more in your control.

I start them inside, on a heat mat. Once they have germinated, I move them outside almost immediately. I am not paying to run a grow light for lettuce. Also this way they get plenty of sun and harden off naturally.

(If you have fine soil that makes a nice seedbed, and can grow lettuce all through the summer and therefore can plant it when the soil is warm, then you might as well direct sow.  But we have heavy soil and weather that heats up quickly once summer hits.)

3. Plant them in the right spot.

Lettuce prefers sun but cool weather, so I am only able to grow it in the spring and fall.

Give each lettuce plant at least one square foot.  (Bring a ruler to the garden, it is hard to judge.)  Since they are relatively quick to mature and the whole plant is pulled at the end, they are a nice crop to fill in empty spaces that will be taken up later.

They like plenty of water. They are watered with the drip line and I also water them with the watering can whenever I have it out. There is no crunch without water!

4. Wait for maturity

After a few days of settling in, your transplants will start to grow. New leaves will appear almost daily. They will look soft, floppy, and you will be sad. Don’t be sad! They are not what you will eat, anymore than you would eat the green branches of a tomato plant. Be patient.

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(Still babies!)

60 to 90 days later (check your seed packet), it will be time. There will be a true “heart” in the center of the plant. It should be firm when you squeeze it.

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(See the distinctive heart in the center?  This one is ready.)

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(This one too, an iceberg with a firm round heart.)

5. Harvest correctly.

It must be done in the morning, while it is still dewy. Pull the whole lettuce plant.

There will be a lot of extra leaves on the outside that you don’t want.  Only the heart is crunchy.  No one in my family eats the softer, greener leaves.  Not even thechickens.  I so I compost them, and save only the heart.

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(Yucky stuff on the left, heart on the right.  The lighting is weird because I did this at five in the morning!)

The hearts go right in the fridge, in a ziplock bag with a few holes poked in it.  You just saved yourself a whole dollar. (…)

I am not going to tell you that you will be amazed by the taste and quality. It tastes pretty much like lettuce from the store, just very fresh. And that, my friends, is a victory.

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