BLESSINGS IN BLOOM: Pumpkins
By Kerry Peetz
It’s pumpkin season! Those wonderful, plump, orange balls of fall can be seen almost everywhere we look this time of year. They are relatively easy to grow in our diocese and are fun to watch in the garden.
Pumpkins date back centuries and were first discovered growing in Central America. The name pumpkin comes from the Greek word “pepon” which means “large melon.” “Pepon” was altered by the French into “pompon.” Then the English version changed it from “pompon” to “pumpion.” Finally, American colonists dropped the “o” and added the “k” and made it “pumpkin.” Whew!
Pumpkins have many uses. Native Americans dried them in strips and wove them into mats for their teepees. They also roasted them to eat. The first, true pumpkin pie was created in the 1600’s by the colonists whom sliced off the top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then placed in hot ashes until cooked. Today pumpkins are used in animal feed, thousands of recipes and much more.
Pumpkins require a long (55-65 days), warm growing season. Their healthy growth, yield and quality is best when days are warm and sunny and the season is long. Remember it is possible to extend our growing season by starting seedlings indoors and transplanting them to the garden when the ground warms up (2-inch depth with a temperature of at least 60° F). Pumpkins do not tolerate disturbance of their roots, so be very careful when transplanting them into the ground.
Pumpkins need a lot of room and full sun to grow (at least 6 hours — more is better). Planting them at the edge of a garden and allowing their vines to spread on uncultivated ground is good common practice.
When planting seeds directly into moist ground, no further watering should be needed until after the seedlings emerge. As the plants grow and the weather becomes warmer, more water will be required. When the plants cover the soil surface and the weather is warm, they may use 1 to 1½ inches of water per week. It is better to irrigate thoroughly every five to seven days than to sprinkle lightly every day. Temporary leaf wilting in the heat of the afternoon is common, but wilted leaves in the morning is a distress signal that indicates they need more water.
Weeds are extremely detrimental to a pumpkin patch. Do not allow weeds to go to seed. Do not apply materials known to contain weed seeds in your garden. When they do pop up, remove them while they are small, before they become competitive and steal water and stunt the growth of your plants.
Pumpkins depend upon insects, mainly honeybees, for pollination. If insect activity is low, fruits may not set due to lack of pollination. Insufficient pollination sometimes results in deformed fruits. Don’t be concerned when pumpkins begin to flower but no fruits are produced. Most varieties produce several male flowers before female flowers appear and fruits are set.
Pumpkins are ready for harvest when the rind, or skin, has toughened and the stems are dry. Cut the fruit from the vine with pruners or loppers. Leave a long, intact portion of the stem attached. Avoid breaking the skin and bruising fruit when handling. Pumpkins will store for two to three months in a protected room where temperatures remain constantly above freezing and below 65°F.
October brings us Our Lady of the Rosary, the cool-brisk night air, caramel apples and mature pumpkins, all signs that fall has arrived. Unfortunately, for the gardener, the harvest is coming to an end for another season. Ah, but how fortunate are we Catholics to have the blessed rosary to carry us through.