It’s October already, in my pumpkin head

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” – Henry David Thoreau

Project Pumpkin Patch has so far failed to germinate.

I’ve always wanted a field of pumpkins. I mean, really, when you think of it, what could be more wonderful? From a little seed grows a crazy prickly vine that bears

big elephant-ear leaves and day-long delicate orange blooms like trumpets. The surrounding ground can be weedy or irregular as long as it’s sunny and well drained. And the vines seem to grow best in a pasture, thriving with fresh droppings and seemingly unimpeded by trampling. In fact, a hoof impact here and there can actually make the plant stronger. So how hard can it be to grow pumpkins?

Maybe my penchant for pumpkins comes from Great Uncle Al.  He had a raggedy patch on the slope behind the old service station in Breadalbane, PEI. I remember the hill being steep, even treacherous, running down to the brook where the old mill used to be. But I was likely five. The memory of this space is dappled with low October sunshine reflected on frost-covered orange awesomeness. I think maybe the excitement stemmed from being able to choose Any Pumpkin I Wanted. Or even Two.

So now that I have a hill, and some kids that are quickly turning to teens, I feel compelled to nurture a patch of our own. Uncle Roger, Great Uncle Al’s nephew, is a surprising source of pumpkin info, and now a co-founder of our Project. I suspect he too spent some time behind the service station.

Apparently, according to Roger, pumpkins need to be fed compost tea, not just watered. They need to be hand pollinated, and that the first blush of blooms on the vine are infertile. These flowers merely attract the scout bees who return for the next flowering to lift and spread the pollen that creates the fruit. Amazing.

But back to the plan:

Bonnie, Sam and James brought a giant pumpkin to Walden last fall as a source of our first seed. After supper, melee smashing ensued in the yard, and a careful collection of the seed booty. (We also raked and composted the collateral damage flesh before the resident local skunk caught a whiff and arrived.) From November to February, these seeds sat on a towel mat in a tray in the sunny south kitchen window of the cabin. Drying, curing, freezing. I collected the seeds last month and gave half of them to Uncle Rog. I brought my half to Ottawa.

Since then, I’ve soaked them, sunned them, turned them. And not a single sprout has come. I’d like to blame the pumpkin, but it’s likely my technique. But, really, who would have thought that growing giant pumpkins from seed would be so difficult? When I looked up pumpkin germination in Google, some sites recommended a careful filing of the edges of each seed before planting. That, surely, must be a joke. The idea that a fastidious filing like well-manicured nails is a step toward random wild vines can’t be right.

It just goes to show that some things require a different kind of nurturing, and that some of the best moments are simply random. I’m still experimenting with these wonders, and embracing the failures too.

Great Uncle Al would no doubt find this amusing. Someone told me he was found dead in his pumpkin patch, of a heart attack. I don’t even want to know if that’s true. It’s an image that has really grown on me.




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  • E-bat March 12, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    My friend threw her Halloween pumpkin into the compost in her back yard and pumpkins grew. Maybe there is some overthinking going on here?

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