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

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This 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.

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.