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Growing Pumpkins The Mountain Woman Way (It Takes A Village)

Red Pine Mountain logoThis post is dedicated to all the women like me who are new to the country, who have not the slightest clue about vegetables and believe they appear magically at the grocery store.

Last year, at the age of 54, I had my first vegetable garden. I made mistakes and learned a lot, and one of the things I learned was I love growing pumpkins. It was so easy. I put them in the ground, left them alone and voila, I had plentiful pumpkins. Okay, now I’m a pumpkin expert. I think I’ll grow giant, exhibition size pumpkins this year. And, yes, I’ll even win first prize at the fair. After all, I’ve got that perfect year of pumpkins behind me.

I searched the internet for seeds and there they were: “Able to produce pumpkins of 800 pounds.” The blue ribbon danced before my eyes. Just a matter of time.

All started well enough. I started the seeds in the greenhouse and they grew daily right before my eyes.

“You have to put them outside. You can’t leave them in the greenhouse any longer.”

“Why?” I asked Mountain Man.

“They need room to spread and they have to get used to being outside.” I wrestled with putting my babies outside. They were doing so well in the greenhouse and the spring weather had been harsh; unexpected snow storms, late freezes. I picked a warm day and gently transplanted my pumpkins into their new patch. I gave them a farewell glance, said goodbye and went about my chores.

“Your pumpkins are dying.” Mountain Man said to me a few hours later. “What did you do?”

“Nothing, just put them in the ground.”

“You did water them didn’t you?”

“No, it’s supposed to rain today and I figured that was enough.”

“They’re dying. Go water them. NOW. And remember when you transplant, you water.” Mountain Man left shaking his head.

I rushed out and gave the babies water, and soon enough they perked back up. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “I’ll never make that mistake again.” The pumpkins started to grow and then the first blossom appeared. State fair here I come!

That night, at dinner, “Hey, Mountain Man, there are the prettiest bugs on the pumpkins. Black and green striped. All over. I’ve never seen such cute bugs before.”

Mountain Man shook his head again. “Those are cucumber beetles and you have to get rid of them. They’ll eat your pumpkins.” I ran outside and sure enough the blossoms were disappearing right before my eyes. I hightailed it to the computer, did a quick internet search and learned: “The best way ito get rid of them is to remove them by hand from the blossoms.” I ran back out and started gathering them up. Trouble was my hand wasn’t big enough nor were my apron pockets. Back to my search. I should have read further. “If the infestation is sizable, you will need to use pest control.”

I searched for an organic substance I could use. There it was; neem oil. I keep neem oil on hand to protect the dogs from bugs. I mixed up a batch right then and there.

“Take that you little buggers.” I sprayed them with all my might. They started dying right in front of my eyes or perhaps drowning is more accurate as I doused them. Problem solved. The next morning, I discovered the neem oil had done the trick but I had overdone it and killed the blossoms as well.

Soon enough new blossoms started appearing and the vines were flourishing but no pumpkins.

“What’s wrong?” I asked Mountain Man.

“Do you have any female blossoms yet?”

“Females? You mean blossoms have a gender? You gotta be kidding me?” (Science for girls wasn’t stressed when I was in high school.) So Mountain Man explained the birds and the bees of plants and how little pumpkins are born.

“You might have to pollinate them yourself. There’s no bees around this year. ”

Hmm, I’m going to participate in blossoms having a close and personal relationship. How does that work? Off to the internet I go for pumpkin mating 101. What was even more astonishing was the number of web sites devoted to this topic.

But I learned Mountain Man was right again and there are male and female blossoms, and it’s easy to tell the difference because the female pumpkin blossoms have the little pumpkins behind the bloom just waiting for the male to take an interest.

Back out to the pumpkin patch. Oh, no. I just have boys. Not a single female in sight. Where are the females? Maybe just late? Women tend to be late. I know I am. Or could it be that my boys are too aggressive and just not just not interested in letting the females share their space? I was doomed to be pumpkinless, mother to a brood of healthy, bouncing boy blossoms. “Think pink.” I told my vines daily but they weren’t listening. It’s a boys’ club in my patch.

Until this morning. I have a female. One small girl. At the other end of the vine as far away from the boys as she can possibly get. Maybe she doesn’t like the smell of neem oil in the morning or maybe there’s just too many boys around scaring her away. Whatever.

Female pumpkin blossom

I can no longer wait for nature to take it’s course, for her to flirt and choose the boy blossom of her dreams. No, tomorrow morning, before dawn, I shall wander to the pumpkin patch armed with Q-tips. I’ll hum soft music and serve fortified water, and then, I’m going to choose the best looking and strongest boy blossom. I’ll gently fold back his leaves and swab ever so gently and then deposit whatever it is blossoms produce within the loving arms of my female blossom. And then I’m going to keep my fingers crossed I’ll have a baby pumpkin soon. I don’t care about the sex. I just want a healthy baby. Just one.

Mountain Man shakes his head a lot these days. In fact, I think he might be getting whiplash. But hey, I'm a city girl learning the mysteries of country living.

kelly nichols
2/22/2011 7:46:46 AM

we should have quite the collection of pumpkins/gourds near our front steps. We've had so many things come up unexpectedly... I didn't want the gourds and pumpkins in the compost. As the fruit started to rot on our porch I chucked it out near the fence line - it should make for a good privacy crop! We trellis them... fun stuff!

9/17/2010 9:31:52 AM

Googled pumpkin images and was drawn by yours. It looks just like mine. Growing pumpkins for the first time as my 4 year old daughter wanted to plant them. Now I understand the flowers better. Thanks. Your blog really made me smile as well as informing me. Thanks from England!

mountain woman
7/30/2010 12:46:07 PM

Wow, Rodeo, that's so cool!!! I had left some pumpkins from last year but maybe the deer ate them? No pumpkin sprouts from their old resting place. I'd love some mutant pumpkins. What a Halloween treat! And carving names into them while they are growing. Wow, you are so full of neat ideas for celebrating my favorite holiday. Thanks so much!

rodeo princess
7/30/2010 8:14:07 AM

We grow pumpkins by forgetting to remove the halloween one until spring when it's rotted and sort of formed it's own little compost heap and before we know it we have the most interesting mutant pumpkins growing right next to the doorstep. What's really fun is scratching a name or phrase into the pumpkin while it's growing, and then when mature, you get a really freaky already decorated halloween pumpkin because the scratch scarifies and gets really spooky.

mountain woman
7/28/2010 7:25:38 AM

Dave, I love the idea of an Eharmony for pumpkins. It worked well for Mountain Man and me so perhaps if matched, my girls wouldn't be so reluctant to join the party. I never knew there was so much to this growing stuff either. I thought nature would take its course and I'd provide water and fertilizer. Seriously, the pumpkins are humorous but I've started to think about what it must have been like for farmers who depended on their crops to feed their families through the long Vermont winters. What happened when their plants didn't grow? My pumpkin experience has led me to think of greater things. If we were to have giant pumpkins, we would lift them with the tractor forks and put said pumpkin straight onto our truck but I'm not sure how others would cope. One of my blog readers told me about the giant pumpkin fair in Half Moon Bay, California where pumpkins travel around the world. Can you imagine planes loaded with these giants? I do need a pumpkin mentor or perhaps in August, when I visit the fairs here, I shall corner a grower and pick his or her brain. Thanks for the well wishes. I have to say the people who read my posts have brought so much joy into my life and that's been an incredible gift for me. Thank you.

mountain woman
7/28/2010 7:17:42 AM

Hi Cindy, I'm glad I made you laugh. That made my day :-) Squashettes? They sound so adorable. There is nothing better than hearing the news you will no longer be gourdless and being able to announce your anticipation to breathlessly waiting friends and family. Me, I do enjoy my days even though I keep falling down. How could I not living on such a fantastic farm with the all knowing Mountain Man. It might have taken me 50 years to get here but I'm making the most of every day. Thanks for visiting me.

mountain woman
7/28/2010 7:03:18 AM

Hi Diana, So sorry you lost so much of your crop to root maggot. There's so much to learn about this gardening stuff for sure. Thanks for visiting me.

7/28/2010 5:48:45 AM

Never checked female and male -I just got pumpkins. But I'm going to check now-maybe I'll get more! Good read vickie

nebraska dave
7/27/2010 11:23:11 PM

@MW, I don’t ever remember having to do this male female thing to raise pumpkins in Mom’s garden. All I can remember was that they just took over the entire part of the garden we planted in pumpkins. Maybe we should start an EHarmony website for pumpkins or maybe a speed dating service for those lonely male blossoms. Good grief how did pumpkins ever survive the millennia? Those giant pumpkin growers for the Iowa State Fair have been doing it for decades and have it down to a science. I’m sure it took years before they became competitive. I would recommend you try to talk with some growers at your state fair if you go this year. I’m sure they would give you some good pointers but not all their secrets to the mammoth pie makers. My only thought would be how the heck do you transport an 800 pound pumpkin? You would almost have to grow the thing on a pallet so it could be moved easily. You have already learned a lot about pumpkin growing this year. By next year you will be nearly an expert in the field of giant pumpkinology. People will come from miles around just to catch a glimpse of your pumpkins. Seriously, you are doing great for the first year without any experience. It’s great that you have an experienced mentor as a husband that is willing to teach you how to grow things. May it always be that your pumpkins grow big, your animals grow fat, and your fields get proper rain.

cindy murphy
7/27/2010 10:38:21 PM

My laugh for this evening, Mountain Woman! Thanks! My squash are taking over the garden. It wasn't a slow advancement; they took seige overnight, and are probably laying claim to new boundries even as I type. I'm not sure what they are; they're all volunteers. The suspense is killing me - gourds, edible squash, pumpkins, a weird cross of all three? The vines (and there are gads of them) could produce any of these - I just threw all the left-over Halloween pumpkins and gourds, and probably a few zuchinni in there last fall. Lots, and lots of blooms, but still no clue as to what's growing there, because there's not a hint of a fruit of any sort. All male blossoms? I hadn't thought of that. Ah...but this evening Hubs spotted one little squashette just forming; it looks gourd-like, the tiniest cute green and yellow thing. I shall not be gourdless afterall...though, shhhh...I was secretly hoping for a pumpkin. Good luck in your pollination attempts! Enjoy the day.

7/27/2010 7:13:53 PM

Oh, this is too funny. I am a new farmer, too, and lost all my zucchini and yellow squash and cucumber, all the curcubis in fact, to root maggot. You would think I could at least grow zucchini, right? Oh well.

mountain woman
7/27/2010 12:25:47 PM

Desertrat, Thanks! It's been a most informative experience. Jackie, 27 boys! Wow, your patch must be related to mine. Poor girls. The screen idea is a great one. It's hard being a pumpkin mom for sure :-)

7/27/2010 12:21:25 PM

So far the score here is 27 boys - 3 girls....and raccoons ate two of the immature pumpkins. The remaining pumpkin is now housed safely in a "box" made of window screen. So far its worked.... I can really feel your anguish. :)

7/27/2010 12:17:39 PM

Thanks for such a fun read. Now I'm off to study flower gender...

mountain woman
7/27/2010 7:24:54 AM

Shannon, I think it's the year of the boys! Yes, check for sure and if you find even one girl, you can help the process along. Maybe try to mate a squash with a pumpkin for a squashkin? I'm hoping for one pumpkin. Doesn't even have to be a giant, just one.

s.m.r. saia
7/27/2010 7:01:52 AM

MountainWoman, this was hilarious. :0) Your gardening sounds a lot like mine - by the seat of the pants and - except that I don't have MM to tell me what's going wrong! My approach to bugs has been much like your own, admire them first, worry about them when they've taken the place over. The difference between us is that I've yet to produce a single pumpkin. Perhaps because of the male/female blossom thing. Though it's strange, I have nearly a dozen other squash plants of various varieties out there, all putting out fruit like crazy - why would they produce and not the pumpkin? I'll have to take a look. Maybe like yours, mine's producing only male blossoms too....