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Frost, pumpkins and holes in the yard

By John Fulton          Send a link to a friend

[OCT. 9, 2006]  With the prediction of temperatures in the lower 30s or below, it's time to assess annual plants you want to try to save for a little while. Annuals are going to get zapped; it's just a question of when. Temperatures in the mid-20s are going to get about everything, even if covered.

The usual tactic to provide protection consists of covering susceptible plants with tarps, old blankets, sheets, etc. This method usually protects portions of the plants close to the ground, while cold temperatures will freeze through the material and kill the tops of the plants. Another practice is to use cardboard boxes, and these provide a little better protection. The next question is how many refrigerator boxes it takes to protect 12 tomato plants. And then there is the wind. Wind ahead of a cold front makes it difficult to keep any type of cover over the plants.

Select what you want to protect. You may not be able to cover all 12 tomatoes, so pick the ones you want to save. Do the best job of covering possible. Pick some of the fruits that are on exposed plants. Tomatoes will go ahead and ripen; of course, they won't be of quite the same quality as vine-ripened. And finally, we knew the end would come. It was only a matter of time, and some years the time comes earlier.

Pumpkin time

For all those who decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving, it's time to select that orange globe to set out by a corn shock or to carve into a jack-o'-lantern. With some of the heavy frosts we've had, it's critical to check pumpkins over carefully before purchasing. Following are some of the cardinal rules for selecting and keeping pumpkins:

  • Choose a pumpkin with a stem, but never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long.

  • Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright

  • Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot.

  • Light-colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange-colored ones, but they will not keep as well.

  • Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving. Use of a small amount of dishwashing soap in the warm water may help extend the life of the pumpkin.

  • To make the pumpkin last longer, keep it in a cool place until ready to carve. After carving, coat the cuts with petroleum jelly.

  • Carving should wait until three days ahead of Halloween. After cutting, the pumpkin will deteriorate rapidly.

  • The use of a candle in the pumpkin will also make it deteriorate rapidly.

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Holes in the yard

I promised myself no insects in this week's column. Many people think holes in the yard means insects. We're on the late side for things like the cicada killer wasp, but we can see where skunks or raccoons have been digging in certain areas. See the accompanying photo from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. What are they after? Well, they're after food. And to these critters, food means grubs. Oh well, I came close to no insects this week.

Grubs have been active since midsummer. Normal treatment time is around the Logan County Fair. The longer we wait, the larger the grubs get. In particular, moles and skunks can smell the grubs and go after them for a meal. It is good to get rid of the grubs, but sometimes the cure is worse than the original problem. It is still possible to treat for grubs, but don't expect the same percentage of control you would have had two months ago.

The best way to stop moles and skunks is to get rid of the food source. Many of the trapping methods for moles don't work very well. And skunks… Well, you can just figure that one out for yourself. Live traps are an option, but being successful creates another problem. Moles like grubs and worms to eat, so poison peanuts probably aren't going to be very effective. There are some new soft baits that are more effective but much more costly.

[John Fulton, unit leader, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County Unit]


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