November 4, 2010
If my petite pumpkin patch is any indication, the squash crops went gangbusters this year. Believe it or not this photo was taken after I’d already cooked and pureed the 3 smallest pumpkins (and had two others jacked from my garden).
Considering my pumpkin luck last year, I never could have anticipated this!
Pumpkins typically require a lot of space, which is definitely at a premium in my little 370 square foot urban garden. The previous year I gave each pumpkin plant a generous amount of space (about 12 sq ft each) and they only put out a single, wimpy fruit. Then after all the trouble of watering and tending them through the summer, one of them mysteriously disappeared around Halloween. Pumpkin theft is one of the hazards of an urban garden, and generally I wouldn’t have cared, but why one of my two tiny pumpkins? They weren’t even carving size!
After all that I almost didn’t try again, but around the time I was starting all of my other seeds indoors I found an enormous bag of sugar pumpkin seeds (saved from a gifted pumpkin) and I figured ‘what the hell?’ So with very little hope, I planted 8 seeds, 4 each in 4” by 4” containers.
These pumpkins were definitely of bolder stock. All but two germinated and they grew rapidly. I ended up giving three seedlings away and had to plant the rest in early June because they were outgrowing their containers.
However, I still wasn’t holding my breath and planted all three plants in the same amount of space I gave each plant the year before (12 sq ft). They were really tight together and planted amongst a large sunflower and some bulb onions, but these little buggers were survivors. Despite my low expectations, they surprised me week after week with more healthy, green fruit, Several grew to a much larger size than you’d expect from a sugar pumpkin. With that kind of vigor they eventually outgrew my little parking strip bed. I had to use hose stakes to keep them off the sidewalk as they slowly drifted onto my neighbor’s front strip of lawn.
By fall I ended up with 12 pumpkins! That’s 6 times the success of last year, with each plant producing 4 times what it had the previous year. People started to joke that I should start giving hayrides and open up a u-pick pumpkin patch.
Why the surprise success? I have no idea. I did improve the soil in that bed and fertilize once, but I definitely didn’t baby them. I watered them only once or twice a week with a jug and half of water for all three. I’m thinking there must have been something Darwinian going on – some survival of the fittest instinct that caused them to thrive in such tight competition.
Two pumpkins again mysteriously disappeared around Halloween, but the question remains: what does one do you do with 10 pumpkins? Considering most recipes only call for 1 – 2 cups of pumpkin at most, this is going to be a challenge.
I’m definitely going to need to get creative, so stay tuned and let the pumpkin challenge begin!