Pumpkin Time! – Grow Your Own Story

Guest Blogger – Erzsi Deak

As a children’s book author and a gardener, I’ve learned that cultivating a vegetable garden – or pumpkin patch – and writing a book are alike in many ways. Vegetable gardens don’t plant themselves. And books never write themselves! But how do you go from bare soil to a big orange pumpkin? From a blank page to a book?

Cultivating a garden and writing a book are two activities that have a lot more in common than you might think, as I discovered when I wrote Pumpkin Time!, a book about a little girl who grows pumpkins so she can invite all her friends to a pumpkin celebration come harvest time. Growing your own story is a good analogy for making both a garden and a book.

In the garden, you first prepare the soil and plant seeds. When your baby plants appear, you water them, mulch them, feed them, and encourage them to grow. Perhaps you get others to help with the weeding and watering, like my friend, pumpkin gardener Tim Donoghue. Then, when the time is right and the pumpkins are ripe…it’s harvest time!

Writing a book is much the same: First you have to prepare the groundwork (what/where/when/why), then you plant the seeds (start writing) and spread mulch (pondering and rewriting). Next comes watering and weeding (more editing and rewriting). Then the illustrations are created, with the help of artists like Doug Cushman, who drew the pictures for the book.

At the end of the gardening season we have a bountiful harvest – pumpkins to carve for Halloween Jack-o-lanterns or make into delicious pies for the Thanksgiving table. And when a book is published we get to read a story and share the story with our friends!



Here are some ideas to help you Grow Your Own Story on paper:

Ask yourself, who is your story about? What do your characters want or need? What’s stopping them from getting what they want? How will they get what they wants or needs?

Here’s an example from our book,Pumpkin Time!. Evy and Turkey want to invite their friends to a home-made harvest celebration. But the cupboards are bare! Evy and Turkey look at the calendar. They have six months to prepare their feast. Evy and Turkey plant pumpkin seeds. They water and weed. Oh, no! The snails are trying to eat the baby plants! Evy herds the snails away from the pumpkin. Turkey invites all their friends to the party and Evy bakes a big pumpkin pie for everyone to share. Sheep likes his with whipped cream. Yum!

Here’s some planting how-to’s to help you Grow Your Own Story in the garden:

  • Miniature Jack Be Little pumpkins are a good variety choice. Select a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. Be sure each vine has about 4 square feet of growing space.
  • Wait until 2–3 weeks after the last spring frost date to plant seeds when the soil is warm. Plant 4–6 pumpkin seeds 1 inch deep in the middle of a small mound.
  • When the plants are 2–3 inches tall, remove all but to 2 of the healthiest plants. Snip off the extra plants at the soil line with a small pair of scissors.
  • Keep the soil moist by watering moderately, but try to avoid getting the leaves wet. Spread a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help keep weeds down.
  • Each plant will produce 8–10 miniature pumpkins that will be ready to harvest around 95 days after planting.

About the Authors:

Erzsi Deak is a member of the Educator Advisory Panel of Kidsgardening.org and a writer, an editor, and a literary agent at Hen&ink Literary Studio; she lives in the South of France. Doug Cushman is an author-illustrator of more than 100 books and a self-avowed foodie who lives in Brittany, France. Tim Donoghue is an artist and was on the stage in London and at the Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, RI, for many years; when not gardening or in his art studio, Tim is writing a middle-grade novel at home in the Alpes of Haute Provence.

Portait photo by: Basil Glew-Galloway
All other photos provided by: Erzsi Deak


Here’s Why Your School Needs to Plant Daffodils

Guest Blogger – Kathleen LaLiberte, Longfield Gardens
Guest Blogger – Kathleen LaLiberte, Longfield Gardens

Breaking News: The National Garden Bureau has chosen daffodils as the bulb of the year for 2017. This means these cheery, spring-blooming flowers will be getting lots of special attention during the next 12 months. Longfield Gardens wants to help your school join in on the fun!

Before we tell you how you could win 250 free daffodil bulbs for your school, here are a couple cool things you might not know about these spring flowers:


img_3704There’s a whole plant inside each bulb. If you slice a daffodil bulb in half you’ll see everything the plant needs for the year ahead: a compressed mass of stem, leaves and flowers, plus stored food energy to fuel its growth. Bulbs evolved to survive difficult growing conditions, and this adaptation makes them incredibly easy to grow.

Daffodils are pretty to look at, but don’t eat them. All parts of a daffodil – bulb, stem, leaves and flowers – are poisonous. To protect themselves from being eaten by deer, squirrels, chipmunks and other pests, daffodils manufacture nitrogen-based alkaloids that have a foul taste and are toxic to mammals.

Daffodils can clone themselves. – Daffodils reproduce by seed and can also produce exact replicas of themselves in the form of “bulb offsets”. It takes about 4 years to grow a daffodil from seed to flower, but a bulb offset will flower almost immediately. Plant a few dozen daffodil bulbs and you’ll soon have hundreds.

Barrett Browning Daffodil
Barrett Browning Daffodil

Not all daffodils are yellow. –Daffodils are native to southern Europe and northern Africa, and there are many natural variations in flower size, shape and color. Over the past 400 years, daffodil breeders have introduced thousands more (see 40 of the best at longfield-gardens.com). Traits breeders are currently working on include pink trumpets, upward-facing flowers, stronger stems and more compact growth habits.

Daffodils can flower in the snow. – Most daffodils are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures by using a number of strategies to avoid freezing. Unlike other spring bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths, daffodil bulbs can bloom even if the bulbs get frozen for brief periods of time. The flowers themselves will usually tolerate temperatures as low as 25 degrees F.

Daffodils live for generations. – Daffodils only need to be planted once. The bulbs are hardy perennials and will return to bloom again every spring, year after year. Over time, the bulbs will multiply and your daffodil display will get better and better.

You don’t need a green thumb to grow a daffodil. – Daffodils are perfectly packaged for success. In the fall, simply dig a hole 8” deep, drop in a bulb and cover it back up. When spring arrives, the plant will emerge from the soil and burst into bloom. Success like that is inspiring – especially to children!

Longfield Gardens is partnering with the National Garden Bureau and Kidsgardening.org, to give away 7500 free daffodil bulbs to school programs around the U.S. Interested in getting free daffodil bulbs to plant at your school?

Here’s how to win:

What You’ll Get: 30 schools will each receive 250 free daffodil bulbs.

Who Can Win: The giveaway is open to all current and new subscribers of KidsGarden News.

Deadline for Entry: Hurry! The deadline to register is October 14. Winners will be announced October 20 and bulbs will be shipped to arrive at your school by November 1.

How to Register: Simply complete the entry form HERE. If you are not already a KidsGarden News subscriber, completing the entry form will also subscribe you to our e-newsletter.

Details: All winners must be willing to share photos from fall planting and spring bloom time (along with parental photo permission forms as needed). The bulbs will need to be planted in early November – before the soil freezes. Planting instructions are included with the bulbs. Depending on soil conditions, it typically takes 2-4 hours to plant 250 bulbs – so with a couple people the project will go quickly!


About our Guest Blogger:

Kathleen LaLiberte is an avid gardener, horticulturalist and garden writer. She was one of the founders of Gardener’s Supply and now works with Longfield Gardens from her home in northern Vermont.

Photos provided by: Longfield Gardens & BigStock Images

The Onion Chronicles – Five things I learned about onions

Larry K
Larry Keyes

I started looking into the subject of onions when I heard that October is Onion Month. Once I got started I could barely stop; I was slurping up onion knowledge.

  1. The reason that onions make can make you cry is due to a fairly complex chemical reaction that begins when an enzyme is released when the onion is sliced. After further chemical reactions with air, the resulting gas combines with tears in your eyes to create a very mild sulfuric acid. And, of course, it is this mild acid which irritates your eyes. There is this classic sequence in the movie Julie and Julia, where Julia Child (a very determined person…) played by Meryl Streep practices dicing onions for her course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, during which she drives her husband from their apartment.
  2. The many layers of an onion are actually the base of the onion’s leaves, the green part that grows above ground. Of course, the larger that the onion bulb is, the more leaves, and the more layers.  It also turns out that larger onions tend to have a sharper onion taste than smaller onions of the same variety.
  3. Several common onions are available in North America.  Some examples.
      • Red Onions – A little less potent than yellow onions, they are often added raw to salads and burgers.
      • Yellow Onions – Probably the most common cooking onion, these have a very strong, oniony flavor when raw but lose their sharpness when cooked.
      • White Onions – Smaller and sweeter than red and yellow onions, they are often used in Mexican cooking.
      • Scallions – These can be either bulbing onion varieties harvested prematurely before they begin to form bulbs or special varieties that never form bulbs.  
      • Spring Onions – These are regular onion varieties harvested after the scallion stage when a small bulb has formed; basically “baby” onions.
  4. Much of the advice on growing onions suggests starting onions indoors from seeds in February or March for planting outside in April and May. This timetable works for so-called “long day” onions that are grown in the northern part of the U.S. The long days of early summer are the signal to the onion plant to switch from producing leaves to developing a bulb. “Short-day” onions are grown in the south and begin to bulb up when the days are 10-12 hours long. They are planted in the fall to be harvested the following spring. “Day neutral” onions aren’t as sensitive to day-length and grow well in much of the country, save for the northern and southern extremes. They are usually planted in the spring.
  5. Onions were used in the practice of “cromniomancy,” in which the onion plants are used to predict the future, answer a perplexing question or to help choose a marriage partner.  To find answers to yes/no questions, two onions are placed on an altar. One onion is labeled “yes”, and the other is labeled “no”.  The onion which sprouts first points to the answer.

Plan Ahead for a Garlic Harvest and the Undead

Susan Littlefield - Horticulturist

It’s Halloween tonight, and perhaps you're feeling the need of some garlic to ward off visiting vampires on this spooky night. Well, it's not garlic harvesting time now, so you may need to hit your local market for a bulb with which to defend yourself. But it is garlic planting time. Stick cloves in the ground now and you'll have a harvest next summer that will not only provide you with ample protection next Halloween, but will add zip and health benefits to many dishes throughout the year.

There are three basic types of garlic to choose from. Softneck garlic stores the best and is a good choice for braiding, but is not as hardy as hardneck varieties. Mild-tasting elephant garlic, with its enormous cloves, is actually a type of bulbing leek. Check with local garden stores, your local Cooperative Extension Service or other gardeners to find the varieties that do best in your area.

Wherever you live, the best time to get garlic in the ground is in the fall, about six weeks before the ground freezes. Separate each bulb into individual cloves but leave their papery wrappers on. Plant them, root end down, pointy end up, 4-8 inches apart, in well-drained soil into which a couple of inches of compost has been incorporated. Plant cloves 2-4 inches deep if you are north of zone 7, 1-2 inches deep in southern gardens. In the north, once the ground freezes, cover the garlic bed with 6 inches of straw or shredded leaves for insulation.

Next spring, when plants begin to grow, pull back any thick mulch and give them a feeding with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Be sure to keep the garlic bed weed-free and give the developing bulbs consistent water. Row covers held up with hoops will help keep out onion maggots if these are a problem in your area. If any plants send up a flower stalk, trim it off so it won't take energy away from bulb formation.

In the middle of the summer, when about three-quarters of the leaves have begun to yellow, it's time to harvest your crop. Dig carefully with a garden fork so you don't damage bulbs as you take them out of the ground. Spread the garlic plants on screens or hang them in a warm, well-ventilated, preferably dark spot to cure for 2 or 3 weeks. Unless you plan on braiding the garlic, trim off the leaves, leaving only an inch or two. Store the bulbs in a cool (40-50 F), dry location.

Then next Halloween, when the vampires come calling...