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Pumpkins signal end of summer, fall's arrival

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By Ted Manzer
Columnist

Friday, October 12, 2018

It’s October, and while summer temperatures keep holding on fall weather is inevitable. Pumpkins are also on display. They are major decorative symbols of both Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Pumpkins find their way on nearly every port in the fall. Some are carved. Some are painted. Some become the heads for scarecrows and such. Some just stand alone.

They also are a big attraction for our State Fair. I always look forward to seeing the biggest pumpkin. Often, they can be over a thousand pounds.

When I was a kid we raised a lot of pumpkins. Our summers in Maine were perfect. We never grew any that big, but we occasionally had them approach a hundred pounds. I was raised by Depression era parents, so our biggest use for pumpkins was for food.

Decorative value was a distant second. Larger fruits never seemed to have the same cooking qualities, so we only planted a few of the large fruited types. I think my parents only grew them for us kids.

The growing season was too short for sweet potatoes, so pumpkins and squashes had to satisfy our taste for traditional holiday pies. We tried growing these tasty roots a few times, but we didn’t have enough hot days to develop husky roots. We could grow pumpkins like crazy, and we ate a lot of pumpkin and squash pie.

All our pumpkins and squash were kept in the basement. It was heated, but much cooler than the rest of the house. We also kept a dehumidifier down there, so storage conditions for these fruits were pretty good. Pumpkins should be stored at about 50 to 60 degrees and moderate humidity. Extremely low humidity is not good, either.

We also saved some of our garden seeds, and we had an unusual breeding program for pumpkins and winter squash. As pumpkins and squash began to degrade we cut off bad spots and used the rest. We never wasted anything.

If more fruits got rotten places on them, we canned or froze the excess. We also cleaned up the seeds and roasted them in the oven. They make a tasty nutritious snack.

Eventually, we were left with only the soundest fruits. These were the ones we used as our seed for the following year. I know this isn’t a controlled experiment, but I believe over the years we improved the keeping ability of our pumpkins and winter squashes. We threw very few of them away.

Modern day varieties are hybrids and not the open pollinated types of 50 years ago, so this technique would not be appropriate. Saving seeds is not practiced much anymore. Some people save heirloom tomatoes, peppers, beans and other fruits, but in general most people buy their garden seeds and plants, even heirloom ones.

As I drive down the road and observe all the pumpkins I can rest assured that cooler temperatures are on their way. I’m not saying setting pumpkins on your porch will hasten fall, but it can at least get us in the mood. The heat has got to break soon.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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