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


The Power of the Story and Literature in the Garden

Guest Blogger – Sharon Lovejoy
Guest Blogger – Sharon Lovejoy

“Story is for a human as water is for a fish–all encompassing.…” Jonathan Gottschall

The Literary Garden

You can find a multitude of stories in any garden, but especially in those designed with beloved books in mind. Gwen Frostic once wrote, “In a child’s garden, imagination grows.” In a garden planted to nurture the love of books and plants, imagination soars!

Choose favorite books and cultivate a small theme garden filled with plants that are mentioned in the text. You will not only tell, but also show and root kids to the world of both gardens and literature. I’ve learned through the years that kids don’t forget what they learn from stories or gardens.

Read E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web and search for examples of spider webs in the garden. Tend a patch of ground filled with the herbs that Beatrix Potter mentions in Peter Rabbit. Tuck a Secret Garden behind a fence or hedge and festoon it with roses. Grow a giant beanstalk just like the one in Jack and the Beanstalk. Sow a border of lupines in honor of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, who wanted to make the world a better place.

Finally, don’t forget the value of trees in a garden for children. Even older kids love the environmentally sensitive book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Read and explore the meaning of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Page through Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert and Maple by Lori Nichols. This is just a small sampling of the many thousands of books from which to choose.


Plan a garden with little reading nooks furnished with simple, natural seating. I like to use tree stumps and hay bales. Enter the garden through short, kid-sized arches and small gates. Provide shade and seating under arbors and pergolas planted with vines. This all adds to the mystery and allure of a child’s literary garden.

Make literary signs with images and quotes from favorite books. You can scan and enlarge images, and laminate them to protect them from the elements. Let the kids help design and create them.

Plant a poetry trail. Ask the children to choose their favorite poems and print them on heavy paper, which can be laminated. Mount the poems on short posts or on fences throughout the garden. Another option is to split up one poem into numerous signs scattered throughout the garden.

Install a large, outdoor “Word Wall.” Use chalkboard-painted plywood. Post a daily quote from a famous author and honor authors on their birthdays.

Be sure to have areas that are fenced or hedged so that kids have a magical, secret space in which to read and write.

Make an outdoor reading amphitheater with a throne for the reader/teacher and a half circle of seating (hay bales) for the students.

About our Guest Blogger

Sharon Lovejoy is an award winning author of nature, gardening, and historical fiction. Her books Sunflower Houses, Hollyhock Days, Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots, and Camp Granny focus on how to connect children to the world of gardens and gardening. Sharon is an Advisory Board Member for KidsGardening.org.


How to Use Your Excess Harvest

This week’s blog post is from our friends at Fix.com, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier!

We do it every year. Novice and experienced gardeners plant too much of a good thing in their edible gardens. Novice gardeners, in their inexperience, often plant all of their veggies at the same time or have no idea how many of a specific veggie to plant, while more expert gardeners like to push the envelope and try a number of different kinds of veggies, more than they did the prior year. The end result is still the same – lots more harvest than any one person or family could possibly eat. So what can you do with all of that extra food?

First up – let’s talk about how much you should be growing in your garden to avoid being inundated with excess food, leading to waste. Unless you are intentionally growing excess food for the purpose of donating it, there are generally agreed-upon guidelines for how many tomato or zucchini plants one person should plant. Of course, if you really love tomatoes and truly hate zucchini, you will adjust these numbers up or down. And if you plan to “succession plant” so that you have enough tomatoes for the entire year, use the suggested number each time you plant.

Avoid over planting your vegetable garden

Still have excess harvest? Here are four ideas, ranging from those that you have heard about but may never have tried, to a couple of lesser-known solutions.


Any kind of fruit or vegetable can be composted, leading to nutrient-rich compost that can be added to your vegetable garden next year. Compost any harvest that is overripe, spoiled, moldy, bruised, or has been nibbled on by garden pests. Don’t add diseased harvest into your compost pile, though, as that can spread the disease to next year’s garden and create a nasty cycle that is easily avoided. If you have active disease in your produce, dispose of it in a bag and put it in the trash can.

Compost piles can be open piles in your backyard or contained in covered bins. If you have wildlife in your area or have a problem with rodents, it’s best to use a container system if you plan to add spoiled harvest to the pile. Open piles with food in them will attract rodents and other animals that will remove items from your pile nightly.

Vegetable garden disease

Freeze Dry

Freeze-drying is a great option for those who like to stockpile food, live in very cold areas with extended winters, and like to be prepared for the occasional emergency – or those with excess harvest. Fresh or cooked food is put into a dryer that freezes it to -50 degrees, then removes moisture and seals it in oxygen-proof packaging to preserve freshness. It takes about 24 hours, requires no refrigeration, preserves taste and nutrition, and saves money.

Your tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, peas, and cucumbers will be waiting for you to enjoy them whenever you get the itch or the need – all you have to do is add a bit of water to rehydrate them and you’re good to go.

Water-bath canning produce

Can or Freeze

Most of us know that fresh foods from our gardens can be eaten in salads, grilled with meats, popped into soups, or sautéed with dinner. If you’re overrun with produce and would like to enjoy it during the off-season, though, there are a number of foods that are easily used in canning. Canning vegetables and fruits is the process of packing them in a glass jar and sealing them with lids that ensure no bacteria growth is possible. And if you wonder which fruits and veggies can be canned, simply look at the shelves in your grocery store.

Beans, carrots, peas, potatoes, asparagus, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, beets, onions, and corn can all be canned. If you’re into pickled veggies, reach for peppers, beets, onions, and cucumbers.

Freezing vegetables is another great option, but be sure you have enough freezer space to accommodate all the freezer bags you fill. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, onions, peas, squash, carrots, corn, artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts all freeze well. It’s a good idea to blanch the produce first before placing it into airtight freezer bags – and remember to label each bag with its contents and freeze date. Consume the oldest frozen food first to avoid waste from freezer burn, which can happen in as little as three months even with proper preparation.

Share or Donate

Aside from simply giving zucchinis and cucumbers to your neighbors and family members, there are several ways you can share your excess harvest while helping other people out. Place your excess fruits and vegetables in a box or a basket with a sign that says “Free Food! Please take and enjoy.” in your front yard by the curb. Make sure to remove any spoiled food that is left over, placing those in the compost pile, and then replenishing the box daily with more excess harvest.

Many food banks and soup kitchens accept excess harvest from your backyard garden, but you’ll want to call ahead to make sure the ones in your area do accept perishable food. Ask about their guidelines for delivery, and if they have days that are preferable to receiving donations. Most donation sites ask that you bring only produce that you would serve your own family – no rotting or overly bruised foods – making sure it is clean and transported in a food-safe container.

With a little planning, you can avoid excess harvest altogether – and with a few tools and added instruction, you can feed your family throughout the year, share with neighbors, and help out those in need, all from your backyard garden.

Source: Fix.com Blog