Squash, pumpkins, & gourds, oh my!
This year we decided to try our hand at a pumpkin patch. Last year, it was so nice to harvest our corn and then use the corn stalks as front porch decorations.
Normally, I'd have paid $5.00 per bundle (of only a couple stalks) but when you grow your own décor, it's free! So, why not add some fall gourds and pumpkins into the mix?
The other really nice part about growing these types of produce, is that they are long lasting, and if stored properly, can go through the winter. They're multi-purpose!
To properly store a gourd:
Pick from the vine when the stem is "woody" and brown colored. Avoid picking when the stem is still green.
Rinse with water & using a wash cloth soaked in white vinegar, do a rub down on the gourd.
Store in a dark, cool place like a basement, or root cellar.
The gourds/squash we grew this year included white pumpkins (inedible variety, for decoration), blue hubbard squash (edible pumpkin like flavor), acorn squash (edible, similar to butternut), and loofah gourds (inedible, for utility). We also grew softer skinned squashes such as zucchini & summer squash.
Now, I've been using the term "gourd" pretty generically here - the truth is, there is a difference between squash, gourds, and pumpkins, though we often group them into the same categories...
Gourds: Ornamental - they are hard shelled, and not much "meat" worth digging out to try and eat. Usually can be dried, and made into crafts. Our loofah gourd, for example, will be used for sponges.
Squash: Edible - perfect for roasting, purees, mashing, pies, baking, you name it. They are heavy duty, and it can be hard to slice & dice them, but with some butter & cinnamon it is well worth the effort.
Pumpkins: A mix of both - some are ornamental, some are geared toward eating. Depends on the variety. Best used for soups & roasting if used for a meal.
All of them really fall under the "Cucurbitaceae" botanical family - which also encompasses melons.
It is important to very gently rotate your pumpkins and gourds as they grow to avoid flat spots on them - for fully formed, rounded ones, they have to grow out on all sides.
For us, using our fertilizer from our pigs (manure) seemed to be the trick! The pumpkin patch exploded, like a scene from Jumanji. No joke.
That being said, to trim back the leaves (that are the size of dinner plates) cut them at the stem, near the base where the larger legs of the main plant are.
Something we should have considered: vertical growing space
Pumpkin patch vines twirl and pull them selves through the grass (it's actually pretty amazing), over the sides of fences, or below. They have grabbed ahold of our other garden plants in the raised beds and have attempted to do a full blown takeover. Pumpkin patches require maintenance when they are growing this healthy - don't turn your back on them. Adding a trellis or tomato-cage-like structure, would be helpful for the plant to grow up onto, as long as it isn't so high that it can't support the weight of the produce.
While the loofah, pumpkins, acorn & hubbards are not quite ready yet, we are watching with much anticipation. I would love to plant more varieties in the future.
More fall fun coming soon, from our table to yours!