As the Days Draw In
It’s getting to be that time again: when you’ve been rushing around, busy with your little everyday busies, and you suddenly realize that it’s nearly November and it’s gotten abruptly colder and Halloween is nearly on us and the rumbling wheels of Thanksgiving are right behind that and beyond that looms the madness of the holidays…
For the past week, I’ve been busy shooting an industrial. For those not versed in ActorSpeak, that means a film used for instructional purposes, frequently sponsored or funded by a corporate or government entity – in other words, not for consumption by the general public. In my case, the industrial involves ethics in research, and I’m playing a character who has a lot of long speeches containing much industry jargon and client buzzwords (which explains why this paragraph is so wordy).
In any case, filming this industrial has meant some very early mornings and some long drives to location shoots, sometimes before the sun has risen. It’s interesting work, but it’s a completely different discipline from the stage work I usually do – virtually no rehearsal, filming scenes out of order, filming scenes over and over again, from different angles – as well as trying to memorize all the aforementioned jargon-y speeches alone, in what amounts to an artistic vacuum. All this is a long way of saying that when the “Freeze Warning” from WeatherBug popped up on my cell phone today, it took me by surprise.
I’d already begun to get a bit panicky the day before, when I finally got around to buying my Halloween pumpkins and realized I was probably going to have to carve them ahead of time due to my schedule. I hate carving my Jack O’ Lanterns ahead of time because my neighborhood is rife with squirrels and chipmunks. What begins as a beguiling array of perfectly carved Jacks rapidly turns into a rodent smorgasbord – and what the squirrels and chippies don’t get, the ants will, and then there’s the potential for frost and mold and by the time the trick-or-treaters arrive your Jacks are gnawed beyond recognition, or gross with bugs, or turning rotten. I figured if I HAd to carve in advance, there had to be ways to thwart my Jacks’ early demise. I did a little online research and found some articles claiming that a couple of common household items can help extend the life of your Jacks. I thought I’d give the methods a whirl, and bought a small, extra pumpkin to experiment with.
Ingredient #1: bleach. Carve your pumpkin, then fill a bucket with enough water to submerge the pumpkin and add some bleach (two teaspoons for every gallon of water seems to be the formula). Let the Jack soak for eight hours, or overnight, then pat dry. In theory, the bleach will both preserve the pumpkin and discourage mold. I gutted my pumpkin and gave it a quick, simple carving, then plunged it into the bleach bath and left it, not just overnight, but well into the following day, as I was called to a shoot location in Baltimore and that ate up the morning and the better part of the afternoon.
When I took the little Jack out of his bleach bath, I noticed something odd and kind of wonderful right away. The cut surfaces and interior flesh of the Jack had gone from a rich yellow-orange to dead white. It made a bright contrast to the orange rind. Once Jack was dry, I moved on to Step 2: petroleum jelly. Smear a thin film of petroleum jelly on the cut surfaces of your Jack as well as the rind. The theory here is that the petroleum jelly will discourage nibbling creatures, as they don’t like the taste. I would think the bleach alone would do the trick (the Jack does have a distinct public-swimming-pool scent), but regardless, the jelly does make Jack look as if he’s been buffed to a high gloss. That, and his startlingly white flesh, gives him a rather debonair air. I put him out for a brief while late this afternoon, and when I brought him in this evening (as I doubted either bleach or jelly will prevent him from freezing), he was, as yet, untouched. I’ll report back on his condition as Halloween approaches.
My mind then went to my baby trees, planted back in the early summer. I figure the cherry trees will do okay – they’re pretty hardy – but I was worried about my little fig, which has weathered both Japanese beetles and marauding deer with aplomb. A little more internet research led me to set one of my large rectangular tomato cages around the tree (which is about thigh-high), then wrap the cage in burlap, then cover tree, cage and burlap with plastic trash bags. I pinned everything down with clothes pins, so it’ll be easy to cover and uncover as the weather does its usual seasonal flip-flop from warm to cold and back again. Once the leaves have fallen from the trees I’ll take off the plastic, fill the empty spaces between burlap and fig tree with dead leaves, and then wrap everything back up in the plastic and seal it in for the balance of the winter. We’ll see what’s happened to the fig once spring rolls around again.
That created such a stark, dramatic effect on your jack o’lantern. Thanks for sharing the tips.
It’s amazing the versatility of regular household products. Who would have thought of bleach and petroleum jelly. Well, I smear my flower boxes on my balcony with Vicks Vapor Rub to shoo away the squirrels. It works. Your pumpkin looked a bit ghostly. Very apropos. I once made pumpkin soup fresh from a pumpkin. The recipe said something like it would take 20 minutes. It took me half an hour just to cut up and peel the pumpkin never mind the cooking. But the result was yummy. Secret is in the cream and cheddar cheese added on top.
And four days later, the Experimental Pumpkin still looks fresh-cut. The bleach smell has died back quite a bit, but no critter has risked a nibble. I have to say that my schedule has opened up for Halloween, so I’ll probably just hack up the rest of my punkins without treating them. I like to compost my Jacks after the holidays are over, and I realized that the remains of chemically-treated punkins would poison my compost bin and hence, future gardens. I’ll probably keep the “Evita” Jack around for a few additional days after Halloween, just to see how long it lasts, but its ultimate end will be the trash can, not the compost bin.