Mad About Pumpkins

We’re mad about pumpkins. We grow them, dress them up and carve them for Halloween. Without further ado, some of my favorite pumpkins from the past decade.

Pumpkin’s Progress: Growing Like a Weed

Pumpkins grow like weeds. That’s a good thing. Within days of planting, flat, white seeds crack under the warm soil and  sprout. Cotyledons give way to true leaves and off they go. Leaves and stems shoot up so quickly that if you stood still awhile, I’m sure you could see them grow.  I’m a fan of every stage.

The size of the leaf is a good indicator of the size of the fruit to come.True leaves are prickly and so are the stems, which are hollow. They remind me of large, green drinking straws. Stems and leaves lead you to think you have a small shrub on your hands, but then strong, curling tendrils appear and the plant takes off down the garden path, up the trellis and around the bend.

A decade ago, before we knew a thing about growing pumpkins, a self-seeded vine grew across the path, into a  garden bench, and out the other side. It eventually set fruit, a lovely, heart-shaped pumpkin that hung from the garden bench door. We left the door open the rest of the season, delighted at the rambling pattern and the speed at which it grew. My boys were 3 and 6 that year, so you can imagine the daily joy of discovery. We headed out back in those early fall days to see what those pumpkins were up to.

It’s been such a pleasure growing this year’s crop in EarthBoxes™. They’re right outside my kitchen window, so I see them several times a day. We sit on the deck in the evenings and on weekends, and now feel like we have a ‘fourth wall’ on deck. The pumpkins and sunflowers together formed a beautiful screen.

Here’s a look at their progress since early May.

May 3, 2014

May 3, 2014

My stenciled EarthBoxes™ planted with three types of seeds: an assortment of saved seeds from last year (the mystery box) along with  Botanical Interests ‘Jack-o’-lanterns’ and ‘Luminas’.

May 11, 2014

May 11, 2014

Hearty seedlings in just one week.

May 30, 2014

May 30, 2014

About thirty days in, and look at them grow. You can see the start of the sunflowers near the lawn, also started from seed. I’ll write more about them later this week.

June 13, 2014

June 13, 2014

I added trellises to allow the vines to grow up as well as out. The birds land there, before diving in to the sunflower leaves. Why won’t they eat the squash bugs instead?

June 30, 2014

June 30, 2014

Golden flowers attract bees and wasps. I love spending time out there in the morning before the heat descends. It’s a challenge photographing the bees. They move in and out of the flowers with speed and efficiency. I still try though. I have about 75 blurred photos, but I refuse to give up.

July 4, 2014

July 4, 2014

The vines got a bit of window dressing for Independence Day. They’re beautiful on their own, but a little red, white and blue called attention to their magnificence. They’re wilting in the heat in this picture, but a long drink after dusk set things right.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I love growing pumpkins. Thank you for following along with my gardening obsession.

Pumpkin Peduncles

It’s the hallmark of poor writing: using a fancy-pants word like ‘peduncle‘ when a simpler word like ‘stem’ would do.

Honestly though, weren’t you just a little curious when you saw the title?  Would you have made it to the second paragraph if I titled this post “Pumpkin Stems?”

While you ponder that question (and thanks, by the way for reading this far) I’d like to share a pumpkin peduncle, or two. When choosing pumpkins over the years, the shape of the stem seemed integral to the process.  We display our pumpkins whole for a time, then carve them the day before Halloween. Part of the carving process is the ‘lid.’ Peduncles matter. They provide character to the overall effect.

jack o lantern collage

Our resident pumpkin carver extraordinaire

ladybug in stem closeup

Ladybug in a pumpkin stem

Now that we grow our own pumpkins, we’re careful to preserve as much of the stem as possible. Some are already dried at harvest time, while others remain open and soft. I recently discovered a ladybug sheltering inside one of the stems, a welcome respite from all the squash bugs currently residing out back.

pumpkin with squash bugs

Great potential until the squash bugs moved in

I present to you this years pumpkin peduncles, along with the challenge of using this word in a sentence between now and October 31st.

pumpkin peduncle

A neat little cap

pumpkin peduncle

Hershey’s Kiss peduncle

ladybug in stem

Ladybug Hideaway

the pumpkin crew

The pumpkin crew

A Pumpkin We Will Grow

First pumpkin

First Pumpkin

We’ve grown pumpkins every summer for a decade.  Our first crop was a happy accident when my then four-year-old spilled a bag of squirrel food.  We swept up most of it, then kicked the rest off the path into the dirt.  Before you can say ‘boo!!!’ we ended up with five pumpkins.

To celebrate that tenth anniversary, we’re growing an all-volunteer crop this year too.  I feel a bit guilty when I walk by our little patch and realize I had next to nothing to do with it.

Earlier this year I popped the lid off of one of my composting bins and spied a pair of pumpkin seedlings.  I smiled, put the lid back on and went about my business.  The next time I checked the bin was full of seedlings!  Clearly they enjoyed the impromptu greenhouse effect, though the lack of light was a concern.  I left the lid ajar and before I could even think of transplanting them, the crop took off.

pumpkin plants in compost 3-15-2013 7-56-04 AM

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I prepared the garden bed intended for the crop and simply eased the entire contents of the compost bin over on its side, then into the bed.  I held my breath for a few days, hoping the trauma of being upended didn’t finish them off.  Instead, they continued to grow.

At last count, there are 11 little pumpkins growing on the various vines.  I’ve lost a few to snails and a critter with sharp teeth, but the remaining pumpkins look good.

2013, 07-03 4th of july fairy garden2

I’m a huge fan of all things Halloween, so growing pumpkins in the back yard brings me great joy.  After all these years I’m still in awe that one little seed can produce a vine that runs half the length of the house in three short months.  Beautiful yellow flowers give way to bountiful fruit.  Days shorten, vines brown and left standing is a bounty of orange goodness.

Do you have a summer tradition that brings you great joy?

You can check out my page Passionate about Pumpkins to see a decade of growing, displaying and my husband’s awesome carving.

Happy Halloween!!!

Our temperatures finally dropped to a cool 60 degrees ( 16 C), and the skies are cloudy and menacing. The changes in weather lend an air of authenticity to All Hallows’ Eve. I’m happy for it.

If you celebrate Halloween, I wish you a happy haunting, sumptuous (zero-calorie) goodies, and spooky Jack o’ lantern to light the way.

I’ve had great fun growing, harvesting and displaying our pumpkins.  It’s been interesting peering inside the pumpkins that grew all summer long.  I enjoy seeing what’s been growing inside. One set of seeds has an orange/brown tinge with a white stripe around the edges.  The others are white, but vary in size.  It’s also been interesting to see the undeveloped seeds.  They’re pale and thin, instead of plump like the others.

I’ve enjoyed counting down with you throughout the month.  In case you missed a few, here is the entire collection.  Happy Halloween!!!

Pumpkins with Personality: Jack O’Lantern’s

Carving pumpkins has been slow-going today. The best laid plans of mice and men. Our resident carver is also the chief technology officer around here, so he’s been trouble shooting internet problems all day. We had a power outage this morning, followed by two internet fails. The horrors!

After much research and a few choice words for Comcast, we are up and running…temporarily. He’s back to carving and I’m keyboarding as fast as I can before the internet connection hiccups again.

First up, Mike’s carving the outline of a Halloween greeting card, one we sent to family down south. He photocopied the die cut card, then enlarged it into a template. I don’t know where he gets the patience.
Mike Carving

templateHere’s an example of my carving skills. I’m afraid of sharp knives and I lack the patience. What I wanted to do was create a tiny fairy garden in the center of this pumpkin, but since it will rot in a few days, I settled for this corny little thing.  It’s back-lit with an upended, battery-operated tea light.  (Mike’s so clever).

pumpkin cat

A circle, a toothpick and a paper cat.

Enough said.

My younger son carved one of the leftover mini pumpkins from our weekend party. Isn’t it cute?
mini pumpkin

It’s 10:30 at night, so the rest of the carving will have to wait till tomorrow. How about you? Are you ready for Halloween?

flying witch pumpkin

Flight 1031

Halloween Countdown

snail hotel carved

Snail Hotel Pumpkin

I will be sad to say goodbye to the Snail Hotel. Those snails did an impressive job “carving” both the front and VIP entrance. They left town at the first sign of rain. Although the stem fell off when I brought it indoors, I was impressed with the way this pumpkin held together. These seeds are definitely going into the Seed Keeper for next year.

Pumpkins to Jack O’Lanterns

Tomorrow’s the big day.  My husband, Mike, our resident pumpkin carver is taking the afternoon off to create magic. By noon he’ll be up to his elbows in pumpkin flesh, meticulously carving Jack O’Lanterns for Halloween. He has his work cut out for him.  We had an impressive harvest this year, ten pumpkins in all.  I love the way the house smells once he guts the pumpkins. It takes me back to the excitement of my childhood Halloween.

4 great pumpkins

Our 4 Great Pumpkins

Each year Mike carves a few of his past favorites, in addition to trying something new.  Last year he carved a few small pumpkins to look like computer emoticons. They were so unexpected. When my son was small, he asked his dad to carve Max, the bunny from Rosemary Wells Max and Ruby series.  He pulled it off beautifully.

Max and Ruby Pumpkin

Max and Ruby Pumpkin

One of his personal favorites is Deadly Diva.  She gets plenty of comments from passersby, so he’s carved her more than once.

Deadly Diva

Deadly Diva, a favorite since 2006

Halloween is a big deal on our suburban block.  We average 150 children at our door.  I’m on my feet for nearly three hours non-stop handing out candy.  My youngest son heads out with his dad and some friends for his own candy haul.   It’s a night of mystery and fun, followed by the realities of a regular school and work day.  Just like Cinderella, we all turned back into mortals by November 1st.

carved cat pumpkin

Cat Pumpkin

The After Pumpkin

While Mike is carving, I gather and rinse the seeds, then spread them out on wax paper to dry.  I store them in a labeled lunch bag for planting the following year.  We roasted pumpkin seeds in the oven as kids, but for some reason that tradition didn’t survive.  We have more fun planting the seeds the following year.

Now that my compost bins are under way, I’ll be able to turn the discarded rinds into rich compost for next year.  You’ve gotta love the cycle of life.

When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
‘tis near Halloween.

~The Quote Garden, Author Unknown

Halloween Countdown

Costume Accessory Pumpkin

Costume Accessories Pumpkin