Growing Pumpkins: A Seasonal Favorite

If you’ve been following along for a while, this will come as no surprise: I love pumpkins.

I love growing them, harvesting them and finding creative ways to show them off leading up to Halloween. Mike takes over from there, carving extraordinary Jack o’ lanterns for the front deck.

After growing pumpkins for a decade, I had two bad seasons in a row. Squash bugs infested my small patch the first year, claiming a few pumpkins entirely, forcing an early harvest of what remained. I relocated the pumpkin crop from the back garden to the front the following summer, but as soon as the plants fruited the squash bugs were back. Then the drought dragged on and I stopped planting them altogether.

The pumpkin growing hiatus did the trick and sent those dreaded squash bugs packing. Further, I’ve now had a couple of self-seeded pumpkin vines grow without a single drop of additional water, at least from me. All the reading I’ve done says that pumpkins like warm, moist soil and lots of water. I learned last summer, though, that they can hydrate from the morning dew using their straw-like stems. Don’t you just love nature’s resilience?

Late last year, after Halloween had come and gone, I did what any self-respecting gardener would do. I harvested the seeds, dried them and stored them for the winter.

Ha! I’m kidding!

Instead of saving the seeds, I sent a “written invitation” to the neighborhood squirrels. What exactly does that look like, you ask? The first invitation was subtle. I placed a pumpkin in the center of the garden and carried on with my day. I glanced out the window from time to time, and sure enough, this cautious squirrel showed up for a meal.

They don’t like the fruit or the skin, but there are plenty of other garden visitors to take care of that. It wasn’t long before it looked like pumpkin mush.

The second “invitation” landed on the back steps in view of the sliding glass door. I kept the camera nearby and sure enough another squirrel came along and helped him or herself to the seeds.

I love watching squirrels eat as they sit on their haunches keeping watch.

Fast-forward to this spring, and I’ve got pumpkins growing throughout the garden. There are a couple of large specimens growing along the side of the house. As an aside, I removed three large flowering vines last year so we could replace the dilapidated fence. I didn’t want to replant anything till the new fence went in. Long story short, it will be October before it’s replaced. Meanwhile, the pumpkins showed up and off they grew.

One of the pumpkin plants actually made it into a planter box and it’s also the first to produce fruit. It’s getting the best sunlight and moisture from a drip system so it’s doing well.

There are three smaller pumpkin vines, struggling to take hold but refusing to give up. I’m just letting them be for now.

The biggest surprise showed up in the last couple of weeks under our home office window. After freshening up the front garden after the sweet-peas went to seed, we replanted the area under the window with a gardenia and a few sunflowers.Β  A week or so later, in the blazing heat I might add, I brought home 36 bags of redwood mulch and covered every bit of exposed dirt. We upped the watering to twice a week to help establish the new plants, and with that several more pumpkin plants arrived on the scene.

I love checking on the vines each day, following the traditional progress of male flowers, then the female flowers and with good pollination, wonderful fruit.Β If our luck holds, and the rats, opossums and squirrels let them be, we’ll have carving pumpkins once again.

Fingers crossed.

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51 thoughts on “Growing Pumpkins: A Seasonal Favorite

    • Sara! So nice to see you here. How are the flood renovations coming along. What a world-class drag, especially after all that beautiful work you’ve done. I’m excited about that first, perfectly formed pumpkin, and hope the others get time to fruit before the days shorten again.

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  1. Squirrels (grey ones at least) are much maligned in the UK. So refreshing to see them being ‘treated’ like this!
    I look forward to your carvings in a few months time!

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    • Thank you! Not everyone likes them here either, but I’ve always loved all animals, and believe we can make room for all of us. We’ve so completely encroached on a wilderness that was once theirs. It seems heartless not to make some room.

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  2. What a wonderful, kind, whimsical soul you are! I just adore you, Alys. And something tells me your local squirrels adore you too! Thank you for the biggest smile I’ve had all day.

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  3. …and cooking and eating them? Only as a pumpkin-loving cook, I find it hard to see the lovelies given away to the creatures. It’s a big staple in my diet, and I’m lucky to live where they can be had year round.

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  4. Well I think you will be out shopping for some orange hued tutu fabric very soon, if not immediately! I think you could make every pumpkin a beautiful dress and turn the entire garden into a fashion parade and a successful harvesting venture. What fun πŸ˜€ And you took such lovely photos of the squirrels too, they are very cute!

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    • Pauline, those orange, mesh, tutu’s are a riot. You’ll be happy to know that within a day of reading Lisa’s post, I got out some netting from my garden stash and mostly wrapped the pumpkin. The vines are easily broken and the stem is resting on the fruit, so it was more of a tucking in then a complete surround. Lets hope it does the trick. I do like the idea of a garden fashion show.

      I have so much fun photographing the squirrels. They’re such busy critters, too. They chase each other along the fence, round and around the pine tree, and to my neighbor’s chagrin, they are nesting under her solar panels. I hear them running across our roof, watch them leap from the tree to the roof, and occasionally I spot one drinking from the fountain.

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  5. That pumpkin is amazing ~ so large and glossy! I know that Mike does incredible carvings, but like Kate, I am wondering if you ever cook with the flesh? Roasted pumpkin is one of the the delights of a good roast dinner. πŸ˜‰

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    • Anne, I’ve got to make a concerted effort to cook with pumpkin this year. Thank you for encouraging me along with Pauline and Kate. This one’s a beautiful specimen. I hope there are more to follow. I’m having such a good time.

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  6. Hopefully the squirrels know to wait for the invitation to dinner now that one has already been extended. I liked Pauline’s idea of orange tutu’s. πŸ™‚ I think our summer started later and will end later so I wouldn’t worry too much. We may just have to move Halloween into November. The weather is so very off. But I’m not complaining now. It’s not 90 yet. πŸ™‚ Nature insists you have pumpkins, so it seems. πŸ˜‰

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    • Marlene, I like your current motto: It’s not 90 yet. We should get t-shirts. In Canada we often complained at having to wear a warm coat over our Halloween costume. It could be quite cold, windy and possibly raining. Here we’re lucky to see it dip down into the seventies. Different times, different places and vastly different changes to our weather. Sending you cool-weather vibes.

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    • Thank you, Lisa. I think they’re adorable. Amazingly, they leave my tomatoes alone, and they’re not interested in basil either. They have been snapping off the sunflower heads, which makes no sense, since they haven’t yet gone to seed. Apparently they like the flower heads, too. Interestingly, it’s a bit like pruning. Wherever they’ve snapped off a flower head, a new one is appearing below!

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  7. Adorable squirrel photos Alys.
    I also like roasted pumpkin (although I prefer the taste of butternut squash given the option) and soups made with it but I’m not keen on it in anything sweet. I know pumpkin pie is a big ‘American’ thing though – do you deprive the wildlife every now and again and have a big baking day?

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    • I’m not much of a baker, sad to say. You all put me to shame. My husband enjoys cooking, and makes us some hearty soups come winter (carrot and butternut squash are two favorites). I must make more of an effort.

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  8. Yay! Joining in the celebration of so many pumpkins growing throughout your garden, Alys! It’s lovely that the squirrels helped out with the planting this year. I’ve never grown pumpkins, but think about it from time to time. It would be so exciting to watch them grow! Keep dreaming your pumpkin dreams, sweet friend. October is just around the corner! Fingers crossed! β™‘

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      • Our neighbors grow pumpkins in their gardens. They should be big this year since we have had lots of rain! We have never tried to grow our own. We always look forward to a drive out to the countryside to ‘pick’ our pumpkin each October. It’s such a special time of year!

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        • Dawn, that sounds like a wonderful tradition. When our boys were young, they would pick a pumpkin from a local “patch”. Sometimes it was out in the country, other times it was more of a fenced off corner of a lot with huge slides, snacks, bales of hay and pumpkins. My boys loved pumpkins too. It is a special time of year.

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    • Thank you, Kerry! It’s hard to explain the thrill of growing pumpkins. I think having bought a pumpkin every year when we were growing up, and then accidentally growing one from squirrel feed many years ago, makes it special. Even with all my years of growing things, I’m still amazed that a tiny seed can produce a 15 foot vine and 10 – 50 pound fruit in just 90 days. And Jack thought his magic beans were special. πŸ˜‰

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  9. How very nice Alys. I hope you get a bumper crop. I love your invitation to your squirrel friends (especially after they ate your swing cover) how kind of you to share. In Montana they ate the whole pumpkin. I guess the CA squirrels are a bit more picky about flesh than the plains squirrels are πŸ™‚ !! I too like the squirrels. I like to watch them and feed them. I even have a feeder for them and I keep it nicely stocked. WHICH is why I get so dog gone angry with the little pests when they insist on tipping over the bird feeders and dumping them out and throwing them in the yard and just making general, naughty little pests of themselves. As they have done at your house they once destroyed a beautiful swing we had and they can be horrible, ungrateful little beasts. But it is hard to be mad for very long ’cause they are so very cute. I do love the birds too though so it makes me sad the squirrels won’t share well. I have tried almost every trick out there. I have avoided the pepper in the food trick. I just don’t like it. It seems mean, and since I don’t care for spicy food I think I am sensitive to the idea of feeding hot things to others unaware. NOT NICE!! We are getting ready to go to HI to see our daughter but when we come back Stephen says he will try to make a baffle for the feeder pole. I do hope fall is right around the corner as the 100 degree days are no fun. Take care friend and good luck with your crops.

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    • Amy, you have some adventurous squirrels out there. I’m smiling, both at your frustration and your kind heart. We use to put squirrel food in a feeder box on our back fence, and then feed the birds in the front. We hung the feeder from a long, metal hook from the side of the house and that mostly did the trick. Funny aside, though. I got up in the middle of the night once for a drink of water, and must have heard a noise outside the kitchen window. It was a rat, happily eating from the bird feeder. They’re a resourceful lot. My neighbor started feeding the squirrels, and they buried all the excess peanuts in our garden, so we stopped feeding them knowing they were getting far more than they could ever eat. We’ve had two baby squirrel releases in our garden over the years. That’s pretty special, too. Everyone is just trying to get by, eh? Have a terrific time in HI (how could you not!) Stayed tuned for pumpkin updates.

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  10. oh heavens those little munckens are so so cute! We have several visiting the yard and some are babies (I think). They clean out my bird feeder everyday. One little one ran up and down the fence, bouncing over posts and stopped to look right at us. I said, “Hello” and he stood up to get a better view. I could watch them all day long! There’s one chirping just now πŸ˜€ We’re outside in the garden, listening to the fountain and enjoying a Gin and Tonic πŸ˜€ Life is so good.

    Thank goodness those bugs are gone! They made my skin crawl. Fun to watch those pumpkins grow I bet. So your rain water system is working well? We haven’t had to water the yard much because we get rain every 4 or 5 days. But I do keep my baskets hydrated. They seem to fade fast when the get dry. I can’t believe we’re at mid July already!! xo ❀

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    • Your evening sounds lovely: time on the patio with Mr. US, squirrels and a gin and tonic. I agree on the baskets. They dry quickly. I’ve just replanted my potted peace garden. With the triple digits temps and the pounding heat I couldn’t stay on top of it. I gave up and went back to planting succulents and a bit of chamomile which can take the heat better. I wish I could spend time with you on your patio, too. xo

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  11. I’m so excited for you, Alys! If I knew nothing else about you, I’d know about your love for pumpkins. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the critters stay away, and I’ll be looking for updates.

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