Rouge Vif d’Etampes (Fancy Pumpkins)

The last week leading into this weekend and then through this weekend, weather-wise, has been on the extreme-side of pleasant.  I would call this goldilocks weather. It has been not too cold and not too hot.  Cool in the evenings and into the nights and cool in the mornings with just the right amount of sun and warmth with partly cloudiness throughout the day.

It’s good sitting-around-weather.  Good outdoor-project-tinkering-weather. Great reading-a-book-while-sipping-lemonaid-weather.

Minnesota Public Radio’s chief meteorologist, Paul Huttner, remarked both on-air and on his Updraft Blog that…


It doesn’t get any better than this folks. This may be the best weekend of summer. Lazy high pressure drifting east brings a return southerly flow and gradual warming trend.  Plenty of sun and highs in the 80? Cue the brass band, beach-goers and lemonade stands.

But with the cool mornings and equally cool nights, I can’t help but think that fall is just over the horizon.  The kind of tinge to the air that reminds you that the amount of time you have worn shorts this summer is greater than the amount of time remaining to wear shorts this summer.  Driving home from Zumbrota this afternoon, we saw a truck hauling ears of corn – it’s getting to be harvest time – maybe hauling to a farmer’s corn crib to dry out for winter cattle feed, or maybe to a wet-mill.

Here at the house with our small garden, we are growing a bit of corn.  It is an heirloom bi-color sweet corn.  The ears are small, and the stalks are short.  We might just end up feeding partially developed ears of corn to the chickens.  We have also had mixed success with peas and beans.  The first patch of peas was small – we ended up with a only a single bowl.  The garlic that we grew was small, but has been very tasty.  Dill, thyme and basil have all been abundant and flavorful.  The few varieties of tomatoes that we grew this season, like Burpee’s Northern Exposure, have been doing well.  I am starting to not mind tomatoes in salads, but I am likely being spoiled with the slow nature that our tomato production operates under.  Instead of forcing the tomatoes to grow and instead of picking them too early, we can pick them when we want and more on their own schedule.

But, of all the things we planted, the one that has left me gobsmacked, is the Rouge Vif d’Etampes.  It’s basically a fancy pumpkin of French origin.  According to our garden plans, we planted five mounds – with roughly a few seeds to each mound.  In the U.S., it appears these pumpkins are often colloquially known as Cinderella pumpkins.

As I mentioned, previously, these Cinderella pumpkins are growing with the vigor and perceived determination of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, just without having to resort to bringing bodies to the pumpkins.  At last count, there were 18 to 20 pumpkins, in various stages, growing in the garden.

So, what is so special about these pumpkins?  It is an heirloom variety that was first introduced to the United States from France in 1883 by Burpee.  It is a variety of Cucurbita maxima (this is the same species as butternut or hubbard squashes).  Among its characteristics, it is supposed to have sweet, orange flesh with a strong flavor.  But, I think its most endearing characteristic is its whimsical shape.  Squat like a short-stack of extra wide pancakes, these pumpkins simply stand-out in the garden.

Along with their stand-out nature, the vines being produced seem to have a mind of their own.  Depending upon what source of information you assume is canonical, the spread can be anywhere from 6 to 20 feet; we are seeing a spread just above that upper bound.  And, since we have fencing around the garden, we are seeing the spread in all three dimensions.

But, as with many things in the garden (or, sometimes life), things can quickly turn in a different direction.  With this coming week, we are supposed to have a bit more summer-like weather.  My thoughts on the onset of fall may temporarily be put the side, but they will still be there.  And when fall finally does show up and we get that first frost, I am sure I will write again about these magnificently shaped pumpkins and how they turned out.

The Bees in Racine

With a dog show this weekend in Albert Lea, MN, we were headed to Racine, MN. Racine is about an hour to the east of Albert Lea – quite a bit closer than St. Paul. We stayed in Racine at our friends’ farm. The farm is also where we have four hives of honeybees.

In sticking with my current theme of point the camera at something for twenty-minutes, and then speed up the results, I did just that.  Shortly after mid-day on Saturday, I set the Nikon up, and pointed it at the hives and let it record twenty-minutes of high resolution (1080p) video.  The resulting video – post-processing – is about a minute’s worth of slightly lower resolution video.

Lawnmowers & Vespidae

Before leaving for Portland, I had been putzing with the lawn tractor and its mower deck.  The mower deck has a Rube-Goldbergian pulley system from taking power from the engine and directing it to the mower blades.  For a while (prior to traveling to Portland), I have been trying to get the right belt for the mower deck.  The mower itself is a Sears.  Its green color is not original, nor is the yellow mower deck.  The belt that was on the machine when my father-in-law was cracked and worn and continually slipped off. has been stellar with their selection of belts.  Props to Amazon for having belts listed by size and not simply the model of the machine they will fit.  I have bought several – different circumferences and different thicknesses.  Except for the last belt I tried, the others keep violently vibrating and slip off of the pulleys.  The last belt was simply too short.

With the far-back garage closed and the not-mowing-mower in said garage, Melissa was not able to get the grass cut while I was in Portland.  The grass also did not get cut the first week back from Portland.  This was more than nerve-racking for Melissa, and she had had enough.  We bought a new self-propelled push mower yesterday.

Melissa is a tomboy.  She likes things with engines – lawnmowers, tractors, fishing boats.  Whenever I would get the lawn tractor out to mow, inevitably, Melissa would wander out and ask if she could take over.

Like a kid with a new toy, I could barely get the few things I was carrying out and into the house; she wanted the new mower unpacked and working.

With the jerrycan of 92 octane gasoline empty after filling the new machine, I headed to a gas station; Melissa buzzed around the front yard with the new mower.

When I returned, she had moved into the backyard.  She had mowed in front of the entrance to the vegetable garden and was now mowing lengthwise in front of the chicken coop.

I had noticed a mole hole near the entrance to the garden several days ago.  I had made a mental note to fill it with dirt, but had since lost the mental note.  Walking to check the expansive Little Shop of Horrors-like squash plant (I have not had to feed it bodies, yet, but the plant is enormous, and, in the hot weather of several weeks ago, it was growing nearly 12″ per day) that had been looking dehydrated earlier in the day, I noticed activity around the mole hole – insects, flying insects, black and yellow flying insects.

A closer inspection revealed wasps.  Depending upon which entomology camp you follow, you call them Vespula alascensis, or you might call them Vespula vulgaris.  Either way, they are wasps.

Melissa had apparently, and unknowingly mowed over the mole hole that now contained the wasps.  Before I inevitably had to put wasp spray into their home, I set up a video camera and videoed them cleaning out the grass clippings that had landed at the entrance.