At this time of the year the rainy season sets in here and there are few crops left in the fields to harvest. What is still left to be harvested will need a few more cold nights to sweeten the crop. Driving along Pat Bay Highway into Victoria I am reminded of the time of year by the Pumpkins lying waiting for some lucky family to come and pick them up to carve them into a Jack ‘o’ lanterns for Halloween.
Pumpkins are a form of Squash and are from the family Cucurbitaceae which also includes cucumbers and gourds. It is an important agricultural family which produces many types of edible food which is enjoyed around the world. Pumpkins in particular have been known to man for a very long time, the first evidence of human use dates to between 7000-5500 B.C. in Mexico. it was most likely the species Cucurbita moschata which is a species that tolerate hot temperatures.
Pumpkins are generally hybrids of several species which have been crossed to produce certain qualities such as size, better form for cooking and color variations. Then now famous ‘Giant’ Pumpkins are from the species Cucurbita maxima were crossed and recrossed with Kobucha Squash by Howard Dill of Nova Scotia to produce the first Pumpkins over 500 pounds(227 Kg) in 1981. Since that time the largest Pumpkins are weighing in at around the 2000 pound (907 Kg) range. This type of Pumpkin does not grow well here. Here we grow the standard Halloween pumpkins which are good for eating as well.
The name pumpkin originates in ancient Greece were melons called ‘Pepon’ meaning large melon. Pepon was in turn adapted by the French in to ‘pompon’. Pompon was then taken by the British and changed into ‘pumpion’. In America ‘Pumpkin‘ was first used as we know it today. Halloween as we know it is from the celebration of All Souls Day at the same time of year. It is a celebration of all souls who are in purgatory and all who have died. The tradition of carving vegetables comes from this event. Originally large turnips were carved into lanterns to light the way. The use of pumpkins for carving started in the 1860s in North America where the fruit was more commonly grown.
If you have the space, growing pumpkins is great fun especially for children. All parts of the plant are edible including the flesh, seeds, flowers and even the leaves. Pumpkins are big eaters and need lots of nutrients to grow big and healthy. They require full sun and because they are vines, space to sprawl. A long hot summer will produce a great crop every time, this year was very good here for pumpkins. Many people first grow their pumpkins on top of their compost heap which is a good way to make sure they are well feed. They also require a good supply of water during their fruit growing phase. Male and female flowers are separate so you might have to hand fertilize to get a good crop, it is best to do this in the morning when the flowers are freshly opened. The males are more frequently produced with the females having tiny fruit at the base of their flowers. You have to be quick to do the hand fertilizing as the flowers do not last long.
There are many types of pumpkin to choose from, it all depends on what you want to use it for. Most Halloween type pumpkins are great for eating, so be sure not to through it out after you use it. Pumpkins store very well because they have hard skins which protects them from being damaged easily. Other hard skinned squash include Hubbards and Kobucha. Small oddly shaped Gourds have the hardest skins but are generally dried and not used for eating.