Content ID


The pumpkin jungle

It’s a jungle out there, and it’s all Amazon’s fault.

The sorry situation began to take root last winter, when the world outside our window was a frozen, desolate wasteland of white. Sometime during the dead of winter – it could have been in February, but who can recall such things? I developed a serious case of cabin fever.
Locked in the steel grip of cabin fever delirium, I began to cruise the web. 

Images of lush, green gardens caught my eye, and I began to daydream about the coming summer and how wondrous our garden would look. It would put those airbrushed, photoshopped online gardens to shame!

But what sort of seeds to buy for this fantasy garden? I’m a devotee of cucurbits, so I gravitated toward the vine stuff. The weirder and odder the fruits are, the better.

It took just a few mouse clicks to order blue pumpkins and pumpkins that look as though they have warts upon their warts. And I simply had to have some of those bizarre gourds. What garden is complete without a healthy selection of winter squash? The seeds arrived long before spring, so I had ample time to plan what to plant where. I had the time to plan but didn’t. The day finally came when the soil was ready. I tilled the garden with my trusty John Deere “3010” and old single disc, and the seedbed was soon thoroughly prepared.

Planting Calamity

Now what to plant where? I tried to imagine how much space each hill of vining things might need and doubled it. In an effort to Be Organized, I marked each hill of seeds with a little red flag and its associated seed bag. After congratulating myself on a job well done, I celebrated by going into the house to enjoy a cold beverage. About an hour later, I sauntered down to the garden and was confronted by chaos.

Bella, our Spangold dog, thinks that everything on the planet was placed here for her playtime pleasure. She must have viewed the little red flags as a set of toys that I had thoughtfully planted for her. She had gleefully torn out nearly every flag, leaving behind a helter-skelter mishmash. My memory not being what it once was, I had only a vague notion regarding what had been planted where. I expressed my deep disappointment to Bella. She merely grinned goofily and wagged her tail as if to say, “What are we going to play with next? Huh? Huh?”

Taking a command decision, I quickly strung an electric fence wire around the garden. I hooked it up to the nearby cattle fence, which is electrified by a charger that has approximately the same power output as the Hoover Dam. Bella quickly learned to stay away from the garden. The fence has had the additional benefit of keeping raccoons out of the sweetcorn.

Frustratingly, the electric fence has had zero effect upon the birds who keep pecking on random ears of corn. Perhaps I’ll deal with them next year by installing an automated, radar-controlled antiaircraft artillery system.

My tender little cucurbit plants struggled at first. I was certain that I had lost the entire crop at least five times over. But they fought bravely against the elements and proceeded to spread until they had colonized every square inch of the garden. It now appears that the vines have set their sights on overtaking the next county. What was a bare patch of dirt a few short months ago has become a tangle of vines that are as impenetrable and lush as any tropical rainforest.

My flag marking system was an exercise in futility. The pumpkins, gourds and squash are setting their fruits down wherever they darn well please. We have a few tomato plants in a little side garden where I also planted some peppers. Most of the peppers were advertised as being benignly bland, but one was purported to be spicy. Like many Midwesterners, I consider ketchup to be a form of hot sauce.

But I also like to experiment occasionally with more vivid flavors. I recently picked one of the allegedly hot peppers and sliced off a smidgeon that was about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. I placed the tiny particle in my mouth and quickly learned to stay away from those peppers. They are the kind that make your lips go numb for the rest of the day.

On second thought, I think I’ll skip the antiaircraft system. I wonder if somewhere online I can find a hybrid cross between sweetcorn and a super hot pepper?

Jerry Nelson

About the Author

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at


Read more about

Talk in Marketing