“Close your books and take out a sheet of paper.” I haven’t heard the words for decades, but I remember vividly how the teacher’s chilling words struck fear into the hearts of us poor, unsuspecting (and probably unprepared) students when a surprise quiz was announced. It’s easier to laugh about it when you’re no longer a student.
Q: Can you tell what type of pumpkin or gourd the greenish-gray one at the front of the photo is? I planted seeds for the gourds behind it and don't know where the gray or pink ones came from. Any clues? Are they edible? — Jody Bendel. A: Both the gray-green and pink pumpkin-shaped items are edible heirloom squash, and the gray-green is likely the Jarrahdale variety. Gourd seed is usually a mixture of shapes and colors, and sometimes squash or pumpkin seed is inadvertently mixed in by the supplier.
FARGO — Did you notice the heavy crop of seeds on the region's trees this summer and fall? Elm seeds fell by the millions this summer at our home in Fargo. People around the region shared photographs of buckets filled with acorns and walnuts as trees produced bumper crops of seeds and nuts. Folklore says when trees produce an overabundance of seed, it forecasts a cold, snowy winter. Is this true, or is it an old wives' tale?
FARGO — A headline contest would have been fun this week. Readers could submit titles like "Take it or leaf it," "Leaf well enough alone," "Leaf no trace" or "Don't leaf me this way." What kind of leaf-raker are you? Do you fastidiously sweep every leaf from the lawn as it falls, or do you let them accumulate until a stiff wind blows your leaves in the direction of a neighbor who enjoys yardwork? Raking autumn leaves is a Norman Rockwell-like tradition. Or alternatively, letting the lawnmower suck up leaves into the bagging attachment for removal.
Q: Can you help me figure out what these are? I thought they were tomatoes even though I didn't remember buying yellow ones this year. They're a bit heavier than a tomato, full of flat seeds, and kind of tasteless and punky inside. — Ann Prestrude.
Q: What's the best advice for pruning hydrangeas, as I have six very large plants. Can I trim them down this fall? — Sharon Dubois. A: The pruning method of hydrangeas depends to which of the two well-adapted types they belong. Hydrangea arborescens types, like Annabelle with the large, round, white flower clusters, grow from near ground level each spring, so the dead above-ground branches are best pruned back to 6 inches or less each spring.
What's a good gardening topic for October? Harvesting pumpkins? Fall foliage color? Cutting back frost-killed peony tops? How about blooming roses? A discussion of roses seems out of place when our seasonal theme should be more Halloween-like, but October is the perfect time to talk roses. June might be National Rose Month, but roses often get lost in the June gardening shuffle. Roses still blooming in October cause us to notice, having survived light frosts while other flowers have shrunk away.
Q: I should have listened to your advice about thinning apple trees. The main horizontal limb on our Haralson apple tree broke halfway through under the heavy load of apples. I mowed around that tree so many times thinking I should thin those apples, but always got sidetracked on another project. — Jody Bendel.
What's your reaction to fall's first frost? Do the neighbors question whether all the white sheets in your yard are Halloween decorations or just you covering your tomatoes and geraniums again? Do you struggle to squeeze into your car because any extra space in the garage is filled with trays of yet-to-ripen tomatoes and you've moved all the still-beautiful pots and planters into the garage on frosty nights, because you might want to winter some indoors?
FARGO — What's the first thought that comes to mind if someone mentions cutting back? Fewer trips through the buffet line? Less snacking between meals? Gardening has a dialect all its own with words like pinching, deadheading, slip, crown and cutting back. So, when a questioner asked about cutting back, I knew they weren't reducing their caffeine consumption.