Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkins, Pumpkins and More Pumpkins!

By: Guest Blogger Virginia "Ginny" Taylor

As we approach All Hallow's Eve many of you may have already completed the traditional task of carving the pumpkin – genus Cucurbita. We have. As always the adults claim to be there to 'just watch' as the kids tackle this fun tradition. But, as always, they end up in slimy goo up to their elbows -- enjoying every minute of it. So where did this tradition start? The Celts started the holiday which was the end of their year by hollowing out the insides of turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets to welcome the spirits of deceased loved ones thought to return at this time of year. Many different cultures have a time of celebration similar to this. But where did we get the name Jack o'Lantern? Evidently, in the 1800's Irish immigrants discovered pumpkins here on the Western hemisphere. It is believed that they originated in South America (the pumpkins not the Irish). A man named Jack had some kind of contest with the Devil over many years. In the end he was sent on his way with only a hot coal to light his nights which he promptly put into a hollowed turnip. And now we have the name Jack o'Lantern. (see A History of Pumpkin Carving for complete story).

But let's go back in time a couple of months and look at the growing of this wonder fruit. And yes it also falls into the question of “Is it a fruit or a vegetable” with the lovely tomato. Many fruits are considered vegetables even though botanically they can be classed with fruits. Since ‘vegetable’ is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in referring to part of a plant as a fruit while also being considered a vegetable. And the definition of fruit is anything that contains the seeds to perpetuate its species in the edible part. As compared to radishes and lettuce etc that do not.

Anyway, I digress. This last summer 2 grandsons, ages 8 and 6, were with us each day while their parents were at work. In order to prevent boredom, I invited them to have their own bed in the garden and plant whatever they wanted in it. The younger chose watermelon and the older pumpkins. I took them to the garden store and let them choose their plants. The watermelons were chosen in a 6 pack of really quite small plants (it really had about 10 plants in it). I was afraid he would never see fruit. But that's another story. (He did harvest one nicely large and 4 smaller fruits that tasted wonderful!)

The pumpkin-grower couldn't decide and spent a very long time choosing. He finally chose a 4-inch pot with one plant in it and then requested I get a packet of seeds for him to plant. As we were a little late getting them started - pumpkins take from 90 to 120 days to mature - I was afraid he wouldn't see much from the seed plants but agreed. We took them home to the prepared beds and planted them and adjusted the drip system for watering.

To make this long story short (too late!), the seeds came up beautifully and thrived. The weeds tried to take over as 6 and 8 year olds are not very thorough weeders but Grandma helped out when they weren't looking. Then beetles moved in and promptly killed the one plant that started out as a plant. Sevin dust was applied to the other plants and the bugs were kept under control somewhat. The final outcome was that this wonderful young man helped produce pumpkins for his family for Halloween carving. And he and his brother are excited about next year and want to give it a go again.

More research into pumpkins has taken place since this experience and I have discovered some new tricks to try next year. In the book Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte I learned that nasturtiums planted near the pumpkins will help deter the striped pumpkin beetles. This sounds great and will add some beautiful color to the garden as well. I also learned not to plant the pumpkins near potatoes because this has a tendency to lower the potatoes' resistance to blight (Phytophthora infestans). And planting the pumpkins around the corn can help keep raccoons out of the corn. Evidently the raccoon loves to stand up and eat and he can't see over the large pumpkin leaves. Also he is not too keen on climbing through all the vines. So some new tricks to try next year.

Another interesting thing to plant near pumpkins to add minerals to their soil is Jimson weed (Datura stramonium). It is said to promote health and vigor to the pumpkin by sending down very deep roots that bring up nutrients from as far as the hardpan layer. The one drawback – it is also poisonous. Other names it is known by are Thornapple, stinkweed, locoweed, and sow thistle. The poisonous ingredients are the belladonna alkaloids, atropine and scopolamine. As it reaches a height of 5 feet one can assume that the roots may go that deep also. So it just depends on how much you desire the added nutrients versus how much vigilance it will take to guard against improper use of the Jimson.

But this wonderful cucurbit has many other uses than just Halloween carving. The seeds of all pumpkins are edible and there are 2 varieties that have been developed with no hard shell. This makes them even easier to eat. They can be eaten raw but most people prefer them toasted with a little salt.

Different varieties grow to different sizes. 'Atlantic Giant' is preferred by many who are trying to grow the largest pumpkin for contests around the country. But most any variety can be grown to an extra large size by simply pruning the plant to 2 main vines and then removing the blossoms from these except one or two at the far end of the vine. Then heap soil every 2 feet or so up the vine and new roots will form that will help feed this giant pumpkin.

Another variety is the 'Jack Be Little' that only grows to 2 or 3 inches in diameter. These are very popular for decorating throughout the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons. 'Small Sugar' is a variety that is extra sweet flesh for eating. This kind and many other similar varieties work wonderful for canning your own pumpkin to use throughout the year in pies and breads. Anyone familiar with the Victorio Strainer, used a lot to make tomato and other juices, will be tickled to find out that there are also attachments for it to make canning pumpkin easier.

Another way to use a pumpkin is to serve a hot soup in it at a dinner party. The guests will love it and if the soup is cooked part of the time in the pumpkin, the pumpkin itself can become part of the soup.

A few years ago while taking a flower decorating class we put floral foam in the pumpkin and then made a flower arrangement in it. The results were striking and make a fun addition to the Fall season decorations.

So whether you are planning on celebrating this holiday as a time to scare and be spooky or a time to honor deceased loved ones or anything in-between, Happy Pumpkin Day to you all!!

Guest blog bio – Virginia "Ginny" Taylor is the mother of 6 and grandmother of 10-½ . Her dad taught her how to weed when she was around age 10 and the secret of raking rocks around age 12 - she has been an avid gardener ever since.
"When in need of some calming peace there is nothing that can compare to running your hands through the soil, pulling a weed and/or watching things grow." 

She has also gone through the Master Gardener program in her area and enjoys sharing her gardening experiences with others.

Thanks to Ginny for a great article - hopefully we will be hearing from her again soon.

Get your hands dirty!


  1. Great post and some mighty fine pumpkins there!

  2. Great carving. Here, it has been to warm to carve. I usually carve like you, but the weather keeps me from giving my pumpkin a scary continence. The poor guy would have melted away.I really like your work. Good pumpkin info too.

  3. First of all I love the carved teeth and reading this, I am not sure I fully believe that the deep roots of the Datura can do that... perhaps just need persuading. Thirdly, love pumpkin soup but roast the pumpkin pieces in an oven until they caramelise.

  4. Its nice Blog.Traditional grow lights use large amounts of electricity, which kind of defeats the point of using them to save money to grow food.Where as LED grow light stay cool and use only a tiny fraction of the energy of traditional grow lights.


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