Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Passion for Pumpkins... or a Crush on Squashes



The winner of the Veg Group's Giant Pumpkin competition was put to good use.
The flesh made pumpkin soup for the children at Sue's school
and the shell was carved into a very realistic likeness of the headteacher (sorry Sue!!!)

I'm actually talking about pumpkins and winter squashes here. To tell the truth, I'm never that impressed with actual pumpkins. I grow just a few, but one giant is normally enough to make all the variants of pumpkin soup I can eat in a year. You can use pumpkins in breads and cakes and they taste very nice, but you use such a small quantity that it doesn't really help when you're trying to use up half a kitchen full of pumpkin.

I much prefer what are known as winter squashes, These come in a bewildering range of shapes and sizes. Their flesh is usually much firmer than that of a pumpkin and the flavour is usually nuttier. They have wonderful names too. Cha Cha, Table Queen, Large Pink Banana, Sweet Dumpling, Amazonika...

I grow a large patch of mixed pumpkins and squashes. In theory they need loads of organic matter in the soil and loads of water, but I pretty much neglect mine and leave then to get on with it on their own. They are easy to raise in the polytunnel and very quickly grow into sturdy little plants. The only tricky bit is planting them out, when the shock of being outside as well as the threat of being munched by slugs can result in a few losses. However, I have largely avoided this by using tree protectors over them until their roots have obviously gotten hold and they start to grow strongly.

2015 has been a dull year weather-wise, not the best for pumpkins. I tend to leave my pumpkin patch alone. The large leaves do a pretty good job of subduing weeds, but there's always a carpet of chickweed growing under them. There comes a time when it's impossible to weed without crushing pumpkin leaves and stems.
So last Wednesday I decided it was time to collect in this year's pumpkin harvest before they started rotting in the decidedly damp weather we've been having. Although a few fruits were still forming, most had had long enough to swell, ripen and for the skins to toughen. It's crucial to get them in before the first frost too, as this destroys them.
When harvesting pumpkins and squashes, it's best to collect them with a good portion of stalk, for if they do begin to rot during the winter, this is where the rot invariably begins.

The only ones which I don;t harvest yet are the butternut squashes which, by this time of year, have pretty much taken over half the polytunnel. These squashes earn their space in the tunnel every year as they produce plenty of large, firm fruits for me. I pick them as they are ready and actually started harvesting some lovely specimens a few weeks ago.

Now, last Wednesday wasn't the ideal day to be picking the pumpkins. A couple of days of rain had left the clay soil a little sticky, to say the least. I tried to avoid treading it down too much, though most of it appeared to be stuck to my wellies!

Boris was a great help too, as you can imagine. A bit like me, he absolutely loves getting dirty.

The end result was a very full barrowload of squashes and pumpkins, plenty enough to get Sue and I through the winter with probably a few spare for the sheep. The seeds won't go to waste either. We'll scoop out a few to roast and the rest are supposedly very good at helping to worm the animals. The chickens love them.

Even the abundance of leaves and stalks won't go to waste. They have gone straight onto the compost heap, which is now groaning under the pressure, and will go back into the soil next year to add goodness and body.

A giant heap of leaves. It won't be long before it's sunk down though.


  1. I know vegetable growers are always forward planning but you're a year ahead of yourself John.

  2. Oops! Corrected now so no-one will know what you're talking about Phil!


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