One of my greatest joys in cultivating a garden is trying new things. Every spring, it’s a fresh start.
For the past decade, I’ve grown a smattering of vegetables, fruits and herbs — first in containers on the balcony of my apartment and then in the clay dirt behind my house on the Bench.
So last year I decided to change things up. I dedicated my largest garden plot to just one crop: pumpkins. My goal was to create what I modestly called the World’s Greatest Pumpkin Patch.
Good wasn’t good enough. I wanted great.
“Make Pumpkins Great Again,” I said (no, not really).
It was a really fun project, even if it fell far short — so, so far — of my huuuuge expectations. But I learned a few things. Did you know that pumpkins can grow off the ground? That was news to me, but more on that later.
My ideal patch had pumpkins of all different sizes, shapes and colors. So I bought seeds for seven varieties: pie pumpkins, Casper white, Jack-Be-Little miniatures, Big Moon (up to 200 pounds!), Jarrahdale blue-green and two different jack-o-lanterns.
“Why pumpkins?” my friend Marion asked innocently on Facebook.
That was a question I hadn’t anticipated. The kid in me wondered, “What? Doesn’t everyone love pumpkins?”
A LOVE STORY
Upon reflection, I realized that I always favored pumpkins over just about everything else in the gardens of my youth.
The intense orange orbs are used for all sorts of things, including Halloween decorations, snacks (baked seeds), dinner (soup) and/or dessert (mmmm pie).
What’s not to love?
The recent pumpkin craze in the United States — with seemingly everything on Earth available with that flavor (or some horrible, synthetic-tasting approximation) — had me questioning my affection for a time. It caused a backlash, and lists such as Popsugar’s “124 Pumpkin Spice Offerings, Ranked From Worst to Best.”
I chalked that phenomenon up to the free market’s recognition of our intense cultural connection to the fruit. Pumpkin is the color and taste of autumn.
VINES, VINES, VINES
My grandiose vision for the World’s Greatest Pumpkin Patch included an end-of-year neighborhood party, with kids queuing up to pick their favorites. I imagined them sipping hot chocolate and eating ginger cookies as they hunted for a gem to take home.
Trouble was, I grew waaaaaaaaaaay too many pumpkin plants.
Too many plants.
Say it with me.
On each mound, I put in three to four times the number of plants recommended on the seed packet. (I like to live dangerously.) I also put in a couple of rows of pumpkin plants next to the mounds.
Why? I got caught up in the magical thinking that more plants would produce more pumpkins. While that might be true to a point, I knew that I had gone well beyond that. I wanted to see what would happen.
It didn’t take long before the pumpkins were sending vines in all directions. In previous years, the vines grew out into my yard (a great excuse not to mow). But what happened last year was a catastrophic collision of vineage.
I could almost feel the plants’ desperation for space. They went “airborne,” growing up — and over — each other. They hugged the fence line, crawled up the corner and around a power pole. At one point, I discovered a pumpkin growing about 5 feet off the ground on the vine that was wrapped around the pole.
Unfortunately, the weight of the growing pumpkin pulled the whole vine down before it occurred to me that I should try to find some way to gently secure it to the fence.
These plants expended a lot of energy just trying to get some breathing room. The vines were lush and lovely but they didn’t produce a whole lot of pumpkins. My yield was much higher in previous years, with many fewer plants. The patch produced maybe a dozen pumpkins, not including the miniatures (which probably did the best of all varieties).
The pumpkin variety that I was least excited about in the beginning — the Casper white pumpkin — ended up being my favorite. I called it my ghost pumpkin, perfect for Halloween. It’s really unique.
My least favorite were the blue-green pumpkins. To me, they just look like unripe pumpkins. I won’t be growing those again.
I haven’t given up on my dream to create a great pumpkin patch for my whole neighborhood to enjoy, but I may put it on hold for a while. I feel like trying something new this year.
Learn more about growing pumpkins
Growing pumpkins video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3fKkCRNvBM
Video about growing pumpkins vertically up a nylon string trellis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raFtcKNpGYM&ebc=ANyPxKqXBzTeWOy7gwCFBmEDPXdbbOxOOQC3VxoLWn5W1z0e1NZxiycMsZh-1NU4UyGo7x0vI8BihVf3AcG2h6pqyAy1zt9_5g (Go to 3:50 to see discussion of growing pumpkins vertically)
▪ Which state grows the most pumpkins? Illinois. 80 percent of U.S. pumpkins are grown within a 90-mile radius of Peoria. In 2015, pumpkin pie became the state pie.
▪ Pumpkin is the state fruit of which state? New Hampshire. Third- and fourth-graders dressed in T-shirts with pumpkins on them lobbied legislators in 2006. Learn more here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5168210
▪ How much did the heaviest pumpkin ever weigh? 2,323 pounds. Grown in Switzerland by Beni Meier in fall 2014, according to Guinness Book of World Records.
▪ The pumpkin plant’s first flowers are almost always male; they bloom for one day and fall off. The pollen in the male flowers attracts bees. The bees transfer the pollen from male flowers to female flowers.
▪ Longest line of carved pumpkins? Kids at local schools Eniwa, Hokkaido, Japan, carved 2,015 pumpkins on Oct. 31, 2015, according to the Guiness Book of World Records.
▪ One cup of pumpkin contains 245 percent of the recommended daily intake of which vitamin? Vitamin A, important for the immune system and good vision. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2601/2 and http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-vitamin-a
▪ Pumpkin dates: The first airing of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was in October 1966. Starbucks launched the Pumpkin Spice Latte in winter 2003. National Pumpkin Day is Oct. 26.