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It is the fall season and the Halloween weekend is upon us. One of the most common things between the two is the thought of pumpkins. No Halloween would be complete without them, and I don’t think the autumn season would be complete for most people either. You continuously hear about pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pie blizzards, pumpkin bars for desserts and pumpkin spice for air fresheners, to name a few. To be honest, most of the scents of pumpkin have nothing to do with the actual scent of a pumpkin, but it is mostly the spices they use along with them such as nutmeg, clove and ginger.
Pumpkins are technically a variety of winter squash mostly creating an orange flesh, but some also produce a yellow interior. This coloring comes from the beta-carotene it produces and is about 92% water. Not only is this item high in beta-carotene, but it is also a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber! Most people do not think about cooking up a pumpkin to serve with your meal, but it is a selection of squash and is prepared in much the same manner. If you haven’t tried it, you should give it a shot with a few added seasonings. Pumpkins are quite easy to grow, but they do require a fair amount of moisture and warm temperatures in order to produce a nice crop. A rich soil high in organic matter is best and benefits from added manure compost into the mix when they are first growing. Soil temperatures should also be around 60 degrees for optimal growth and production. All vine crops crave full sunlight in order to thrive. The same vine will produce both male and female flowers so production is made easy. On average, mature pumpkins weigh between 3 and 18 pounds. For competitors, large pumpkins such as the Atlantic Giants can grow as large as one ton! Often these prizes are shown off at local or national festivals. We often do not find these items growing in the local pumpkin patches, but you will find some really nice sizes. Many people like to try growing these mammoth pumpkins at least once in their lifetime to see what they can grow. The largest one I ever grew was 78 pounds – nowhere near a record-breaker! All parts of the pumpkin are edible. The pumpkin skin is the only part not typically used. The rind is the portion that is cooked and eaten. The pumpkin seeds inside are often roasted and seasoned for a nice nutritious snack. Even the leaves of many varieties can be eaten in stir-frying and in soups. Their culinary uses have grown with time to be used as a mashed vegetable, in soups, pies, butters and various other wonderful desserts. It is no surprise that they have taken on so many uses over the years, as they are one of the oldest garden products historically going back to as far as 7000 B.C.
During the Halloween season, many of the larger pumpkins are used as decoration and for making Jack-o-lanterns. It has been a tradition that has gone back for many decades to ward off the Earth's roaming and idle spirits. Most people who carve them today don’t think of any of the past folklore that goes along with the ritual. I don’t typically grow pumpkins myself as they tend to take a great deal of space with their large vines, but I do purchase many of them to decorate for fall around the house and even keep a couple of the larger ones to carve for the Halloween festivities. After use in the yard, they will slowly start to decay due to the frosts and the thawing daytime hours. This back and forth process causes the pumpkin to eventually breakdown and collapse. I rarely get rid of the pumpkins after the season is over as I like the wildlife around the area to take advantage of the nutrients. Squirrels love to eat the rind and when they eat their way through, they are blessed with a great bounty of yummy seeds. I enjoy watching these critters come and feast on them as I know they are not going to waste. Deer will also venture into the area to eat their flesh if they are hungry. I have often seen them dig the leftovers up from beneath the snow when it is really cold to enjoy the nutrients they have to offer. By the time spring arrives, there is rarely anything left over from the pumpkins of autumn. When the season is over, place your left over pumpkins in a pile somewhere so the animals outside can eat them for nourishment. By the time spring rolls around, there will be little left to clean up. Have a happy and safe Halloween weekend.
To read more columns written by John Zvirovski, click here.
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