Physalis Alkekengi

Popular for the papery bright-orange lantern pods that develop around the ripening fruit, the Physalis alkekengi or Halloween King, are often cut and used for Thanksgiving and Halloween arrangements. Plants are aggressive spreaders, and best kept out of the perennial border so they don’t take over.

Small white flowers appear in midsummer, over a bushy mound of coarse green leaves. Pods are green at first, but should be harvested as soon as the orange color develops, the leaves stripped then stems hung upside down to dry in a warm dark room.

Saving Pumpkin Seeds

Remove the pulp and seeds from inside the pumpkin. Place this in a colander.

Place the colander under running water. As the water runs over the pulp, start picking out the seeds from the pulp. Rinse them in the running water as you do. Do not let the pumpkin pulp  sit in non-running water.

There will be more seeds inside the pumpkin than you will ever be able to plant, so once you have a good amount of seeds rinsed, look over them and choose the biggest seeds. Plan on saving 3 times more pumpkin seeds than the number of plants you will be growing next year. Larger seeds will have a better chance of germinating.

Place the rinsed seeds on a dry paper towel. Make sure they are spaced out; otherwise, the seeds will stick to one another.

Place in a cool dry spot for one week and let them dry.

When saving pumpkin seeds, you also need to store them so that they will be ready to plant for next year. Any seeds, pumpkin or otherwise, will store best if you keep them somewhere cold and dry.

One of the best places to store pumpkin seed for planting next year is in your refrigerator. Put your pumpkin seed envelope in a plastic container. Place several holes in the lid of the container to ensure that condensation does not build up on the inside. Place the container with the seeds inside at the very back of the fridge.

Next year, when it comes time for planting pumpkin seeds, your pumpkin seeds will be ready to go. Saving pumpkin seeds is a fun activity for the whole family, as even the smallest hand can help. And, after you properly store pumpkin seed for planting, children can also help plant the seeds in your garden.

Stingy Jack

The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

Molasses Feeds Micro-Organisms

Molasses is a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. Sulfured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction process. Unsulfured molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require such treatment.

There are three grades of molasses: mild or Barbados, also known as first molasses; dark, or second molasses; and blackstrap. The third boiling of the sugar syrup makes blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized and removed. The calorie content of blackstrap molasses is still mostly from the small remaining sugar content.

However, unlike refined sugars, it contains trace amounts of vitamins and significant amounts of several minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the USDA daily value of each of those nutrients.

Molasses is a very valuable addition to the compost pile, as well as to the garden itself. Unsulfured blackstrap is the preferred variety, due to the mineral content, but any of the unsulfured ones will do fine. The benefits beyond the minerals are the natural sugar content that will feed the microorganisms in the compost or soil of the garden.

Use 1/4 to 1 cup to a gallon of water and spray onto the pile or garden, or add to the drip system for the garden. For soils that are poor, stressed or need help use 1 cup, while those that just need a little “snack” use 1/4 cup. The readily available sugar content will skyrocket the microbial activity.

Blackstrap molasses is also commonly used in horticulture as a flower blooming and fruiting enhancer, particularly in organic hydroponics. Use the before mentioned mixture in the drip system, or sprayed alongside the roots of fruiting vegetables as they start to flower to increase their flowering and fruiting.

Add three tablespoons of molasses to the milk spray solution mentioned above and use to feed plants during the height of growing season. Hungry, high production plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, etc. will really benefit from the consistent feedings, giving you more production that is more flavorful.

A fringe benefit of spraying the milk and molasses mixture on the garden is a biologically friendly weed population control. Many broadleaf weeds thrive on diets high in available nitrates and potassium diets, common with commercial fertilizers. Phosphorus is “tied up” or bound with calcium in the soil and needs biological activity to release it. The calcium in milk helps to compensate for what is unavailable in the soil, while the increased biological activity from both the milk and molasses releases unavailable phosphorus and create soil conditions that are unfavorable to germination of weed seeds.

Corn and Maize

Maize is the name for any of the countless varieties of the tall grass zea mays among English speakers who speak some form of the Queen’s English. Corn is the name for maize among North American speakers of English.

The late Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food, says that the word corn is used in North America to refer to sweet corn that is suitable for human consumption. We have never heard any Midwest farmers referring to “feed maize” growing in the fields for their cattle; but many times we have heard them refer to “feed corn” as opposed to “sweet corn.” We don’t think the term maize is regularly used by English speakers on this continent.

Elsewhere in the world, the name corn is infrequently used, even beyond English. Corn is maís in Spanish, maïs in French, mais in Italian, and Mais in German (we see a pattern developing). Yet the word corn is often preferred over maize for food products derived from the plant: corn flour/corn starch, corn meal, corn syrup, corn oil (although some of these can be hard to find in many parts of the world).

Covington, O’Henry & Japanese

There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes ranging from white and mild to deep red and super sweet. Many are grown in small quantities and can be found at local farmers markets. The following are three popular varieties that depending on flavor and texture, lend themselves better for certain recipes.

A favorite for mashing or roasting, the Covington has rose colored skin and super-sweet orange flesh. Eat it whole with your favorite toppings or cut into wedges and bake as a side dish.

The O’Henry has a pale copper skin, almost like a potato, but don’t be fooled. This tater’s white flesh is sweet, creamy and ideal for soups and stews.

Japanese sweet potatoes have red skin and dry, white flesh. Roast these up with a few of your favorite root veggies for a colorful side dish.