Designer' pumpkins are enticing for green thumbs by Nancy Szerlag
I started making plans for this year's garden last fall. High on my list are pumpkins. Not the large orange orbs used as jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween. I'm thinking of designer pumpkins, the stacking pumpkins that are all the rage for fall decorating. Last September I bought a half-dozen at a roadside greenhouse and while the prices weren't outrageous, the tab got my attention. But when I got them home I realized I needed twice the amount to get the effect I wanted. Problem is, pumpkins take up lots of room, but that issue was resolved by a growing tip from Michelle Owens, one of the contributors of the respected blog, the Garden Rant, www.gardenrant.com.
A couple of years ago she began growing pumpkins in her meadow by simply loosening a bit of soil with a pick ax, making little mounds to plant the seeds in and mulching around them with a lot of hay. She leaves the plants to their own devices all summer and come fall, runs around peaking under the leaves looking for the harvest. She say's it's always there. That's my kind of gardening.
I have no doubt this method works. I live in the country and drive by pumpkin-filled fields every fall. The secret is mulching to keep the soil moist and weeds down. I'll take it a step further and build a sort of lasagna mulch pile, using alternate layers of hay, green matter, newspapers and compost around the plants.
I have room for four or five varieties and I've already made the most of my selections. I fell in love with the ghost-like, silver blue-skinned Australian Jarrahdale when I first spied it in the pumpkins stacks at the Mt. Bruce Station Sheep Festival more than a decade ago.
The classic Cinderella pumpkin Rouge D'Etampes, with its flattened top, is on the list as is Fairytale, another squat-topped stacker that's deeply-lobed and an elegant mahogany in color.
The Italian import Marina Di Chioggia, a blue, wart-covered charmer that's actually a hefty 10-pound squash, is also on my list. You have to see this one to fall in love. Owens grows her pumpkins for cooking and raves about this heirloom.
One of the reasons I have not grown pumpkins in my field before is the deer issue. I'm not sure they eat the hairy leaves, but they will definitely go after the fruit. But I've had good luck using Plant Skydd as a deterrent the past couple of years, so I'm going to give it a go.