Laura Zoeller

Curse of the giant pumpkins

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I believe I have a pretty decent green thumb. I can grow green beans by the bushel with only a few plants, for example. I can also turn out a good amount of tomatoes with very little effort. But there are a few things that I have a difficult time growing, watermelon and pumpkin among them.


Now, I can grow an amazing watermelon vine. Beautiful green vines the likes of which you’ve never seen. But actually get a ripe watermelon to be picked from said vines? Not a chance.


Similarly, with pumpkins, the vines will take over the garden because they are so lush. Sometimes I can even get pumpkins to grow and turn orange. But my timing is so bad on them that I have only once successfully grown a pumpkin that survived until Halloween. (And it may have come from a volunteer plant out near the chicken coop.)


One year, I planted seeds in May along with the rest of the garden. The handful of little decorative pumpkins that were my return came in July and were mush shortly thereafter. The next year, I waited until July to plant, but the sun was so hot that they withered without making any fruit.


This year, I decided to try growing those huge pumpkins that are always winners at the county fair. I didn’t plan to enter them anywhere, I just figured they would take a longer time to grow. I surmised they might take so long to grow that their ripening may come just a few weeks shy of Halloween, and I would have half a shot of having a big pumpkin for each of the kids to carve.


So, I planted them in June. The vines grew so rapidly they overcame my cucumber vines and began to encroach upon the potato patch. Part of our yard also hasn’t been mowed since then, because they went out of control above the garden as well.


Still, I saw blooms turn into fruit far earlier than I hoped, and all of the rain caused their growth to be rapid. All too soon, I saw twinges of orange coming from the vines that I knew to be too large for blossoms.


One day in early August, I went out and saw that one pumpkin was pretty well ripe. Concerned the bottom might be getting soft, I tried to roll it a little to check. Crack! It came free from the vine with such ease that I knew it was ready. And it was heavy!


Sweating by the time I reached the house, I asked the kids to bring me a scale. It weighed over 60 pounds! Two days I spent cutting, seeding, roasting and canning it. It produced 17 quarts of pumpkin puree from which I will make pies, breads and cookies this winter.


And if the story ended there, I would say it was no harm, no foul. But I picked four more pumpkins yesterday that combine to weigh double the first pumpkin. So I still haven’t got the timing right, the kids still don’t have jack-o-lanterns and I compounded these problems by growing enormous gourds.


My husband had better learn to quickly love pumpkin-flavored foods.



Laura Zoeller can be reached at zoeller5@verizon.net.


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