Monday, October 17, 2011


I have always loved pumpkins, and the more I grow them, the more I love them. The last few years we've had great success growing good-sized specimens, and there's really almost no work involved, other than prepping a bed for them.

Here's what we do:
Pretty much as soon as the snow's gone and it's dried up a bit (usually early to mid-May in our neck of the woods) I put the chickens out in their 10x10 chicken tractor to clean up a patch of lawn for a new pumpkin patch:

(In case you've never heard about chicken tractors, let me tell you, they're a gardener's best friend! I put the girls out on a patch of grass for about a week, and it's totally cleared (and fertilized!) Usually, a couple weeks later the grass might start coming back, so I'll put the girls on for a second treatment, and then it's good for the summer. I always make sure the patch has at least two weeks after the chickens have been on it to rest before I plant, so that the "clucker muck" fertilizer isn't too fresh (it can hurt the seedlings)

And lest you are tempted to poo-poo (*groan*) the effects of clucker muck, I took this picture last spring:

I get a such a kick out of how you can see the individual squares where the chicken tractor was the summer before. Those patches green up so much faster than the rest of the lawn, and turn out such lush, healthy grass! And this was with the chickens only on the patch for a day before I moved them.)

But back to the pumpkins:

After the hens have prepped the bed, I cover it with paper mulch (I use old newspapers, empty flour bags from my local bulk food store (the ladies there are sweet enough to save them for me), or empty feed bags, if I have them) held down with old chicken wire, weighted with a cement block every few feet (it gets pretty windy up on our hill, and if I didn't put something on top to hold them down they'd end up in the neighbor's cow pasture, the ground would be exposed, and the weeds would take over).

You do have to be careful, though, or you can end up with pumpkins growing into the cement block, like we had this year.

It's hard to see in the picture, but this pumpkin had a little square knob of flesh wedged tightly into the block. We had to cut it apart to get it out of there!)

Ahem. Back to planting:

I leave little squares uncovered, about four feet apart, and this is where I plant the seeds. Then the kids and I check daily until we see those big, fat leaves pop up:
(doncha just get all giddy seeing your plants pop up in the spring?)

Then they're pretty much on their own until fall, when the kids start counting how many green pumpkin "babies" they can find under all of the leaves. This year, we had over 40, although a good number of those won't be usable because of the early frost. I did manage to bring in a dozen or so that were ripe, though, the evening before the frost (those are the ones in the picture at the top of this post) and in the days following I cooked up some of the more ripe ones that were left outside before they got soft.

My favorite pumpkin varieties to grow are "Hercules" and "Big Max" - they're consistently good-sized, with nice, straight sides for carving. We tried "Big Moon" last year, thinking they'd be similar to Big Max, but they were much more round and flabby-looking (but still very big, and we carved them anyway). We also planted some "Jack Be Little" pumpkins this year, which the kids loved, but we only got a handful of those (I think the bigger vines shaded them out too much).

But that's it - just prep the bed and watch them grow! And then all winter you can have pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin pie bars, and pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin bars, and pumpkin cookies, and . . .

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