A "Phenomenal" Pumpkin Year...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ultimate Digging Machine Shows Off Pumpkin Haul
That's the lesson that you'll learn if you read today's posting from Debbie Arrington in the Local News Section of the Sacramento Bee. It's been a rather special year for pumpkin growers -- or so says a couple of local growers who specialize in growing out thousands of Jack O' Lanterns that will be glowing from near and far tonight.

And -- after getting to the last of the Bird 2011 harvest just yesterday -- who am I to disagree? The wife that is Venus and I have grown pumpkins before. But we've never grown them in quite this amount. I have pumpkin vines that cover a quarter of the Bird Back 40 and seem intent upon growing over the fence and into the neighbor's yard.

Lame Attempt at Pumpkin Carving
That's gardening! Some years are better than others. In some years -- some crops do extraordinarily well. And -- some don't. Call 2011 the "Year of the Jack O' Lantern." There are more than enough to go around.

What are Bill & Venus Bird doing with their cash crop of pumpkins this year? I thought strongly about a pumpkin toss or pumpkin catapult -- but both ideas were nixed by the wife. She just can't understand why grown men would want to see a perfectly round pumpkin get tossed into the air -- only to splatter into a zillion pieces and streams when they hit the ground.

Bill Bird says, "cool!"

Pumpkin Pie Anyone?
We are finding some traditional uses -- however -- for the 2011 crop. Venus and I grew three different varieties of pumpkins this year -- including the smaller and sweeter variety that will be used for all things pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin barley soup and, of course, who can possibly forget the pumpkin martini. I've found -- from experience -- that you can make martinis out of just about anything from the garden.

This is -- provided you have the all important added ingredient of fermented juniper berries -- of course.

The seeds from our carved pumpkins also went to good use I might add. There's nothing quite like roasted pumpkin seeds using a mixture of a little bit of butter (OK, a lotta bit of butter), worscetershire sauce, honey (from the Hello Kitty Hive) and seasoned salt. Mix it all up -- throw it in the oven -- and VoilĂ ! Burned pumpkin seeds! Tasty too!

Some Gourds Not Quite Ready for Show
As for the pumpkin vines that I've nurtured through the summer -- they are starting to show some signs of wear and tear. The constant hum and din of honeybees that I noticed earlier in the summer has subsided quite a bit recently. That may be due to cold nights and cold mornings in the Sacramento riverbottom, and it can also be the fact that our colony has found a new source of pollen somewhere. Once the weather warms, it's not all that unusual to see them flying off over the fence in search of...something.

Perhaps they found some Juniper berries to pollinate? A man can dream, right?


Bill Bird's Burned Pumpkin Seeds (A recipe)

This works well with seeds from just one pumpkin, or five. You may want to increase or decrease the amount of butter used, depending on the amount of seeds. The amounts listed below were used for seeds that had been collected from four different pumpkins

Seeded Pumpkins
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon seasoned salt


Clean seeds, removing as much pumpkin residue as possible. Soak seeds in water for at least 30-45 minutes. Drain, and pat dry with paper towels.

Melt butter in saucepan or microwave, add worcestershire sauce, honey and salt and heat slightly again if using a microwave. Mix well.

Add seeds and butter mixture to bowl and stir to coat well. Spread evenly on baking pan with raised edges and roast at 250-300 degrees for one hour (it may need more time if you have a lot of seeds). Stir every 15 minutes.

The end result will be sticky to the touch, until they are allowed to cool and dry.

Sacramento's Most Eligible Bachelor is a Real PEACH!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Loaded Elberta Peach Tree
Somewhere -- a peach tree lives. An Elberta Peach tree at that. Smack, smack, that's good eating folks. If all goes to plan, this Elberta tree will produce its first crop of peaches next year. There's nothing like a tree-ripened Elberta peach in mid-August. I didn't get nearly enough of them this year.

Take notes children. Because this just might be a question in Trivial Pursuit someday. Do people even play Trivial Pursuit anymore? Or is Bill Bird just showing his rather ancient age?

This is a nice story.

Sacramento's Most Eligible Bachelor Likes Babies (and peaches)
Sacramento's most eligible bachelor is this man to your left, ladies. His name is name is Eric Dietz, and he is, indeed, Sacramento's Most Eligible Bachelor, as proclaimed by "Girls on the Grid." Eric, who serves as Legislative Director for Assemblymember Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) grabbed the lofty title last February, beating out ten other deserving (or so I'm told) contestants.

This story stretches back to the month of March, so please bear with me. Some explanation is in order.

We do a lot of reading here at the State Capitol. The amount of written material astounded me a bit when I first arrived here and was given instructions to "read this." My first thought was, "will there be a test?" That answer would be a gigantic yes, but I really would learn the reason for the accelerated reading curve until much later.

It's not the kind of test that this former television and broadcast reporter turned public relations pro was expecting.

California State Capitol
If you're going to work in the halls of the State Legislature... No -- let me rephrase that: If you find yourself lucky enough to be afforded the wonderful opportunity to work inside one of the most historic buildings in all of California -- you had better be "informed." That is -- you need to know about a lot of different things. You don't need to be an expert on everything mind you -- but the worst crime that you can commit as a State Capitol staffer is to be caught "uninformed."

The State Legislature deals with every topic under the sun -- and 100 times more than that. Subjects range from Apples to Zebras (A-Z) and everything else in between. Not only are you REQUIRED to know about these subjects, it's also a good idea to understand the competing views that each subject offers. Not everything is "black and white" here under the dome. Some issues are several different shades of gray. And, as a State Capitol staffer, it's in your best interest to not only know about each and every issue -- but also know about and understand the competing views that each issue offers.

The worst, most possible, crime that a legislative staffer can commit is to answer a phone call from a constituent and utter the words: "I'm not aware of this." Why is this so bad? It sends a terrible message to a voter that a legislator THEY voted for has hired someone who is rather clueless about an issue that the voter is VERY concerned about. And, the thinking goes, if the staffer is uniformed, what about the legislator? That's not good people.

Read these-Test Later!
Committing a crime like this leads to a very bad day or week at work. Bill Bird knows this all too well from experience. Don't ever be caught off guard. The only way to stay on your toes is to read, read, read and then read just a little bit more. Read until your eyeballs literally turn red (and then read a little bit more). Read -- because you will be tested. You never know when the surprise "pop quiz hotshot" is coming -- but it will come. That much, you can depend upon.

In some cases -- the people who represent these different issues will bring them right to your front door in the form of visits to the State Capitol Office. Staffers in a State Capitol office will meet with a lot of different people. Sometimes? The issue can be a simple one. Group A visits in the morning to urge the legislator to consider a hike in taxes. Group B visits in the afternoon to urge the legislator to avoid a hike in taxes.

But it's not always that simple or cut and dried.

One group that will bring its issues to the front door is the California agriculture industry. This is a rather important industry as one might expect, and it covers ALL issues of agriculture, not just one. The industry will often hold what is billed as "Agriculture Week" (or Ag Day), where staffers are encouraged to visit ag related fairs and booths that have been erected on the grounds of the State Capitol.

It's not unusual then, for the fresh flower industry, to drop off a vase of flowers at every State Capitol office. One year I actually picked up an entire year's supply of radish and carrot seed packets that were offered by the thousands. California beekeepers also show off their wares, usually in the form of a demonstration hive. It's also a good place to pick up pens or pencils that are used on the job (I have a particular attachment to my VIAGRA pen -- but that's a different industry).

But this past year, the nursery outlet known as Green Acres took Ag Day one step further. In an effort to promote fresh fruit season -- and the end of bare root planting season -- Green Acres presented each legislative office with a bare root fruit tree (grown by Dave Wilson Nursery, of course). Not every office received the same variety of tree either. Some received apples, others got nectarines while still others received peaches.

Now, while I thought this to be a rather dandy and inventive idea, it also troubled me. Although the office that I work in received an O'Henry Peach tree -- I needed another peach tree like I needed another hole in my head. I have enough of them, thank you. Fortunately -- the tree did find a good home.

Bare Root Fruit Trees-Capital Nursery
But -- there are 120 legislative offices in the State Capitol. That's 40 offices in the State Senate, plus another 80 offices in the State Assembly. That makes for 120 bare root fruit trees. Although our tree found a good home -- I wasn't as positive about the others.

The State Legislature has changed somewhat from the day I first stepped through the front doors in 1999 as a wide-eyed, 36-year old, rookie. Before the era of term limits took over -- staffs and staffing levels didn't turn over that much. It wasn't unusual for a person to work 25-or-30 years for just one or two different legislative offices. There wasn't much turnover.

That abruptly changed when term limits took effect in 1990. By the time I arrived in 1999? Many established legislators had already departed. Some were still around, but not for long. The same rule of thumb also applied to legislative staff. People who had been working in the State Legislature for a very long time were moving on as well. The culture of change had taken hold.

The point I'm trying to make here is this: Many legislative offices are staffed with very young and very bright and talented people who haven't reached the age where they are thinking about home ownership just yet. Many legislators who serve here don't own homes in the Sacramento area, they choose to rent an apartment close by the State Capitol instead.

My fears -- which proved to be well-founded -- was that a lot of these bare root fruit trees would be abandoned and left to die somewhere in an office corner. That's an orchard worth of fruit trees gone to waste -- and as much as I love fresh fruit -- that bugged me a bit. So -- I decided to play the role of "adoption agency."

I crafted an advertisement for a publication called the Senate Daybook, and after borrowing a few choice lines from a famous statue located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, the ad I placed looked a little like this:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled FRUIT TREES yearning to breathe free. If your office received a fruit tree delivery that hasn't found a good home, give it to me! I will make sure it finds the safety of a fruit orchard or backyard where it can live free."

Or something to that extent.

I was besieged, almost immediately, with a great many offers the moment this ad hit email inboxes. But they weren't quite the offers I was expecting. As it turns out? More people WANTED these trees than those who actually had them. One legislative staffer "gladly" offered to take fifty or sixty trees off my hand for an orchard she was planning.

Black Tartarian Bare Root Cherry Tree
There was just one eensy, teensy problem. I didn't have 50 or 60 trees. I didn't even have five. Getting just one of them was proving to be difficult. Perhaps my fears of trees left in an office to whither and die were misplaced?

As it turns out, not entirely. Slowly, one by one, the fruit trees rolled in. An unwanted Fuji apple here. A Black Tartarian cherry tree there. And I made sure -- as each one came in -- it went straight out to someone who promised to give it a good and proper home.

It was on one such hunt for forgotten trees that I entered the office of Assemblymember Allan Mansoor, where a young man handed me the gift of an Elberta Peach tree. As he smiled and turned away, his co-worker (a Sacramento Vegetable Gardening blog reader) pointed out: "That's Eric Dietz, Sacramento's most eligible bachelor."

And now you know why Sacramento's Most Eligible man is a real peach.

Sumthin Scary in the Bird Back 40...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bird Back 40-Side Yard Test Bed
The photo to your immediate right is the state of just one part of the Bird Back 40. Scary, isn't it? When you see weeds THAT big? How did that little tiny weed reach a height of six feet? Why can't I see the back fence anymore? What is that traversing around and through the citrus trees?

That -- my good friends -- is a series of pumpkin vines that the Wife That Is Venus and I planted earlier this spring in the Back 40 "Test Bed." Keep in mind -- I've grown pumpkins before. But I've never experienced vines like this. They have extended 40-to-50 feet beyond where the seeds were originally planted and are intent upon growing right over the fence and into the neighbor's yard.

I hope the neighbor likes pumpkins.

Pumpkins here-Pumpkins There!
I know what you're thinking. What good are pumpkin vines if you don't have any pumpkins on them? That's a good question. Don't worry. Pumpkins I got. Way, way, way too many pumpkins. In fact, I'm not really sure how many I actually have. When the vines started to take off and grow Every Which Way but Loose during the summer, I sorta lost count.

At first? I thought it was kind of cute to have a pumpkin growing off a stalk of corn. What's that growing on the Caspian Pink Heirloom Tomato bush? A pumpkin! Pumpkins hanging from the Meyer Lemon tree? Grapes the size of pumpkins? Or just pumpkins? Short and sweet: The pumpkins are everywhere.

Note: This is what happens when you plant three different varieties of pumpkin seeds. You tend to get a LOT OF PUMPKINS.

Mass of Pumpkin Vines and PUMPKINS!
Mental note: Do not make the mistake of planting watermelon and cantaloupe seeds in the general vicinity of pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins will overtake them -- cover them  -- and essentially starve them of sunshine and nutrients. If you make the same mistake as I did -- and plant pumpkin seeds near melon seeds -- you will get lots of pumpkins.

And not much else.

Although it's probably now safe to tear out the vines and place the pumpkins in a pile in the Bird Back 40 -- I'm going to leave them in for as long as I can. We will get around to harvesting pumpkins for the all important holiday of Halloween -- and of course of pie and bread purposes (one of the varieties is a sugar-sweet pumpkin that is perfect for these types of creations). But I'm going to keep the vines going for as long as I can.

If this means I'm still growing pumpkins in December -- so be it.

Pumpkin Vines & Pumpkin Flowers
There is a method to my madness. The summer growing season is now coming to a close. All important sources of pollen that honeybees need to survive and thrive are starting to dry up. In response? Colonies are preparing for winter.

But if there's one thing I've learned? Flowers produced by pumpkin vines are like CRACK for worker bees. They are large producers of the pollen that bees need to survive and thrive. The pumpkin patch literally hums and buzzes with bee activity in the early morning and afternoons. There's not much left in terms of pollen producing plants, shrubs and trees. And I have pumpkin flowers coming out of my ears.

It would be shame to tear them out while they are still producing. So -- for now? The vines stay. This means the Hello Kitty Colony of bees will have a continuing source of pollen -- and won't suddenly turn defensive when the last pollen source vanishes. Defensive colonies are difficult to deal with. One wrong step invites a "kiss" (sting) from the hive.

Sugar Sweet Pumpkin
I'd rather avoid that if at all possible.

And so -- this is my very scary tale. Halloween is fast approaching. That means little ghosts, goblins and ghouls in the neighborhood and perhaps a Spiderman or two. If you happen to run across a home that is ablaze with lighted pumpkins, come on in and make yourself at home.

You've arrived at the Bird Back 40. The kegerator is located just inside the garage and to your right.