The Annual Pumpkin Slaughter

jackolantern towers
Courtesy of Jenny Spadfora on Flickr

Only 9 days left.  9 days for people to slaughter innocent pumpkins in the name of Halloween, and horror of horrors, not eat them.  No, they are left to rot on front doorsteps.  Some pumpkins will not visit the kitchen torture chamber and be carved in to art projects, but will simply be arranged with hay bales in yards and in front of stores, where they slowly slump into decay.  Few of these victims are even composted.

Post Halloween, it’ll all be about eating them in pies and breads and with marshmallows on top, which is of course the natural order of things.  (Pumpkin Spice Lattes which don’t actually have any pumpkin in them… not so much.)

There is a upside to this.  At least the squash and gourd decorations are biodegradable and not disposable plastic witches and skeletons.

Next year, some of you are saying, you want to grow your own pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns.  Well first, you are going to need a lot of mostly weed-free space, generally at least 50 square feet.   Pumpkin vines are big, especially those grown specifically for carving: these pumpkins are big with tough rinds and don’t have much flesh.  Don’t even think about trying to trellis them unless you are planing on careful monitoring and creating sling supports, since the vines won’t be hold the fruit up by themselves.  Squash naturally sprawl on the ground, and most send down more roots along the stem to help protect them from nasty beasts like the squash vine borer.

Second, choose your seeds carefully.  The ritual pumpkin slaughter is good business for farmers and numerous varieties have been developed just for the purpose in varying sizes and appearance.  Check your seed catalog for varieties which state they are for carving, or consult with the local farmer’s co-op or old fashioned feed store.

Third, plant when the ground is really good and warm.  You want the soil temp to be at least 75F, which will probably be at least a month after your last frost date.  Be sure you have a long enough season for them to mature.  If you have local farms with real pumpkin patches (and not just squash trucked in), you should have enough time.

Fourth, leave them be.  Squash are tough plants.  Be sure they get enough water, but that’s all.  They may succumb to disease or pests, but you might be surprised at how they keep chugging along even when they look terrible.  There is little a backyard gardener can do about squash problems anyway without driving yourself nuts micromanaging.

Finally, when the time comes, don’t just carve up the pumpkin.  Wash and roast the seeds for a winter snack — sweet, savory, salty or plain — and be sure to compost the remains of the body after Halloween.

If you buy your pumpkins for decor and don’t carve them, you can bring them indoors afterwards and make dinner or dessert instead.  The same applies if you grow a pumpkin variety designed for eating, like pie or sugar pumpkins.  They can do double duty.  Unless you have squishy spots on your squash, they are still completely fine for eating.