Fresh Life: The Great Pumpkin
Although many vegetables were planted in my garden this year, among my favorite is a vegetable that will not be eaten but instead, carved into with a knife and lit up from the inside, with a candle. It was exciting to know that this years’ jack-o-lantern would be home grown.
This season was the first we are growing our own pumpkins and watching the plant progress was great. From the original small plant carefully planted near the corner of our garage, to the now 15 feet of large and twisting vines with giant leaves, the pumpkin plant has become a fall favorite in the garden. When the plant was first put in the ground, I imagined it producing enough pumpkins for the 5 members of our family. As the summer continued, the pumpkin plant creeping farther into the lawn, and several beautiful yellow blossoms came and went. This assured me that there would be several pumpkins to pick in October. I was wrong.
Nearing the end of summer, a small green pumpkin with an orange bottom had started to grow. The pumpkin grew fine for weeks until one day became concerned that the whole pumpkin wouldn‘t turn orange unless it was turned. In attempt to turn the pumpkin so it would all turn orange and not become flat on one side, I tried to pick up the pumpkin and rotate it but it snapped almost completely off the vine, which was its lifeline. The great-pumpkin-break was disappointing because that particular day I realized that the sole pumpkin which was broken, would be the only pumpkin which the massive plant produced. The sad two toned green and orange pumpkin was removed and propped up at the end of summer. The lone pumpkin looked ridiculous but we kept it in the sun and much to our surprise, it had completely turned a lovely dark orange by the beginning of September. Even more to my surprise, I noticed another pumpkin starting to grow!
When I told my husband that the pumpkin had broken from its stem by eagerness to turn it he responded, “Amy, how often do you see farmers turning all their pumpkins in a field? It‘s not something that needs to be done.” I felt sheepish but relieved that a second chance pumpkin was growing. Now, that second chance pumpkin is very large and perfectly round, even though I didn’t turn it. I am excited to make a big deal of picking it this weekend before turning it into a vegetable luminary for Halloween.
If growing pumpkins isn’t your forte there are many places around the area where they can be chosen. Way Fruit Farm, Wasson Farms, Harner Farm, Hilltop Produce, Sammis Greenhouse, farmers Markets, and random farm stands are just a few places to look for the perfect pumpkin of 2012. If you want to choose the best jack-o-lantern pumpkin here are a few guidelines to follow. Choose a pumpkin that visually appealing to you that is evenly a deep orange. The shape is just whatever appeals to you. If it grew on its side and has a flat spot, you can either make that the make or use it as part of your design! Choose a pumpkin that is free from cuts, soft spots, bruises and the flesh should feel hard, and not give easily. Infections can invade easily and cause rot. Also, make sure the stem is attached, so the lid can easily be removed for lighting. Also, if you like roasted or baked pumpkin seeds, any pumpkin seed will do.
If you prefer to grow your own pumpkin or hunt for one at a pumpkin patch, there are many indications that your pumpkin is ready to harvest. If the vine has started to die off, this is another signal that it is ready to pick. Sometimes a sign of maturity is that the stem is starting to twist and dry. The most important indication to look for is that the shell has started to harden. If you can easily indent the pumpkin skin using your fingernail, the fruit is still too immature to harvest. If you harvest it at this stage, your pumpkins will likely shrivel and spoil within days. When the shell has hardened, your pumpkin is ready to cut from the vine.
Whether you grow your own for jack-o-lanterns, pick them at a patch, choose the perfect one among piles of them, or buy some at the market for pie making, pumpkins add certain happiness, a bright color, and lots of fun to fall décor or baking.
http://www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/PApcentral.php is a fun resource for corn mazes, pumpkin patches, recipes and more.