Big Max

A few weeks ago my husband Aaron came in from the garden and said, “I turned your squash for you.”

“You huh wha bleh?” I said. I had absolutely no idea what he had just said. 

“Your squash,” he repeated patiently. “You have a bunch of squash and pumpkin and melon things out there, and some of them are getting mildewy on the bottom. So I turned them.”

“Oh,” I said, still feeling a little bewildered. “Thank you.”

This would have made more sense to me if it had been a little longer since the hemiplegic migraine episode that sent me to the ER and taught me the word hemiplegic migraine, but unfortunately one continuing effect of a major episode like that is that I sometimes have moments — less frequently as I gain distance from the attack — when ordinary things just don’t compute. Things like the word “squash” as related to the concept of “garden” and “turning,” for example. 

In any case, later pondering revealed the wisdom and kindness of Aaron’s action, and I thanked him with more cognizant gratitude. It also occurred to me that the squash and melons ought to be raised off the damp soil so they didn’t continue to mildew.  

We had just received a shipment of iris rhizomes from a nearby iris farm, and they’d come packed in swirls of long slender wood shavings. The touch and scent of them had immediately carried my mind to my father’s wood shop, my fingers tangling in just such shavings as I breathed in the fresh sharp piney smell of the picture frames or chair legs or jewelry boxes being urged into beautiful forms by my dad’s skilled fingers on the lathe that he’d built himself. Those swirling shavings, I thought, might work to elevate our precious squash and melons above the damp soil. 

Newly arrived iris rhizomes
Newly arrived iris rhizomes in wood shavings

By the way, I’ve been researching — not the real, blood-sweat-and-tears research of libraries and journal articles and interviews, just intermittent online searches — and no one else is talking about having to regularly turn their squash, or pile fluffy wood shavings under them, to keep them from mildewing. I’m pretty sure this is user error. That is, I’ve noticed that the soil in that garden is exceptionally clayey, and I haven’t done much about it. When Aaron helped me plant the squash, I told him they needed fertile and well-drained hills, so he made tall compost-filled piles for them, and they thrived. But the vines, of course, spread well away from the hills, where the soil doesn’t drain as well. So we’re getting standing water with the sprinkler, condensation even when we don’t water, and, sadly, mildew and rot if we don’t provide a bit of extra tender loving care. 

User error, then, is why I’ve been piling shavings under all my lovely bright-orange Big Max pumpkins, my acorn squash, and my honeydew melons, and anchoring them (probably unnecessarily) with burlap for fear of strong winds blowing them away. Periodically I go out and check on the ones that were too small to worry about last time, and give them the wood-shavings treatment, and give my others a gentle turn while wiping condensation off. Now that the fall rains have started again — sort of — we’ve stopped watering that garden, but the squashes are still getting damp.  

Big Max. So shiny! So orange!
Pretty honeydew.
The melons, lovely green honedews, are a source of pride, anticipation, and anxiety for me. Like the squash, I’ve never grown them before,and for some reason I’m really absurdly excited about them. One day in mid-August I spied one I thought seemed extra-large, and I picked it and brought it inside with enormously high hopes. Those hopes were mercilessly dashed. The melon was terrible. Hard, tart, but otherwise flavorless. Pretty, though.  

Once again I turned to my speedy version of modern research. Ripe honeydews, I learned, have lost their skin’s soft fuzz and have shiny, waxy surfaces. They might sound a bit hollow if you tap them, and sometimes you can see veining on the skin. The blossom end should give a little when gently probed, and they should be fragrant.

That’s why, every few days, as I progress through the squash patch, turning, checking for mildew, supporting with shavings, I pause occasionally by a large honeydew. I glance surreptitiously around. I lift, probe gently, tap, sniff. 

It’s moments like those that I feel a small sense of shameful relief that the home of our kind, sheep-raising neighbors, who almost certainly can tell a ripe honeydew at a glance, is just barely too distant for them to glimpse me wandering through the garden and sniffing the melons. 

Pumpkin Carving

On Niko’s birthday, we visited Liepold Farms in Boring, about 45 minutes away from our home, and brought home several pumpkins: a big one and two littles for carving, plus a few decorative ones. This weekend was rainy and chilly, and we decided it was a perfect time for carving.

Pumpkin Haul
Pumpkin Haul

I picked up some carving kits at Fred Meyer. I like using them rather than a knife because they’re very small, just right for detail work, and have sturdy handles for Niko to hold. These ones came with a book of patterns. Most of them were a bit scary, not good for a little boy who has nightmares at the drop of a hat, but there was one called “Captain Cat” that I decided we could use. I found two others online at Nest of Posies. This year I didn’t feel like designing my own pattern – maybe some other year!

Niko was so excited to be allowed to cut. Last year he was only able to scoop out seeds, but this year I let him do the cutting for the simpler curves while I guided the direction of the blade. He was sooooo careful. Of course, he had a blast scooping out the slimy innards as well. He was amazed that there were “spider webs” inside the pumpkins.

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The Fred Meyer carving kit came with instructions that were a bit different than I’ve seen before. Instead of engraving or perforating the pumpkin’s skin to transfer the design, they recommended wetting the paper, smoothing it onto the pumpkin, and then covering it with cling wrap. I was intrigued and decided it couldn’t hurt to try. In addition, I wiped down the pumpkins with bleach water to reduce mold growth. See my steps below:

It worked fairly well. Aaron, who carved the Captain Cat pumpkin, said the cling wrap got in the way when he tried to cut small details, so he pulled it off and just left the wet paper on. The other designs were much simpler. I did find just a few spots where the cling wrap stretched rather than cutting smoothly – I just inserted the knife further along the design and cut toward the original cut. I think if I’d been the one doing the large cat design, the paper would have dried up and started peeling before I had finished. Aaron is efficient and fast. He had his done before I’d done the other two, and he started later. To be fair, I was doing mine with Niko’s “help,” and had to stop to feed Sofia and put her down for a nap. Anyway. If you can work fast, taking the cling wrap off is probably fine – otherwise, I recommend leaving it on. I found it was much neater and faster than the engraving or perforating method.

Here are the final products! Not bad for a four-year-old, a distracted mom of a nursing baby coming down with a cold (both of us), and a dad in the middle of cooking a meal.