why I’ll be growing fewer pumpkins next year

Pumpkins are a lot of fun to grow.

The young plants start off looking so innocent and fragile. Then, come July, you take your eyes off them for a moment and they’ve swamped the entire garden with rampant, vicious vines bearing a canopy of huge leaves.

pumpkin plants taking over the veg patch, cottage garden, gardening blog

only the tallest, strongest plants have a chance in a sea of pumpkins

Best of all is the excitement of spotting the gourds that manage to set and start ripening as summer wanes.

Uchiki Kuri, cottage garden, gardening blog

Uchiki Kuri grew well on a pyramid of hazel sticks

Last year we unintentionally grew some enormous varieties, like Blue Hubbard. I’d gone for the names I liked rather than reading the seed packets properly.

We’ve opted for smaller ones this year; Sweet Dumpling, Little Gem, Uchiki Kuri. I had a notion that we could train them up pyramids of stout hazel sticks.

Little Gem pumpkin, cottage garden, gardening blog

this Little Gem scaled the hedge and started heading for the neighbour’s garden

It worked to an extent – except that they went up and over the pyramids and still managed to engulf the best part of the veg patch.

And that’s the problem. Much as I love roasted pumpkin soup, or even just having a pretty row of winter squash on the kitchen windowsill, I’d quite like to grow some other winter veggies. Two or three of the parsnips we sowed have managed to battle through the sea of pumpkins. But the swedes have been totally swamped. And the leeks never had a chance.

parsnips in between pumpkins, cottage garden, gardening blog

a couple of parsnips have persevered through the mass of leaves

So next year I’m going to limit myself to two or three pumpkin plants.

If a lot germinate, I’ll just have to find good homes for them. Or steel myself up to put them in the compost bin.

 

mother of hubbards

turks turban gardening blogAfter months of dominating the veg patch with their vicious vines, all the winter squash plants have yellowed, shriveled or succumbed to mildew. There are still a few valiant flowers and newly formed gourds that must have been brought on by this warm spell. But today I decided it was time to brandish the kitchen knife and go for the chop.

Considering my utter lack of common sense when planting them, and the way the Blue Hubbards overpowered the bed, I was pleased with our harvest.

barrow of squash gardening blog

pumpkin harvest

Butternut Ponca and Acorn Table Ace were almost annihilated by the blue brutes, but managed to produce one gourd each. We have two Marina di Chioggia, which look fantastic with their deep green skins, and three orange-green Turks Turbans.

The Blue Hubbard yield is six. They are so huge I feel quite overwhelmed at the thought of cooking them. When I tried to weigh the biggest one I got an error message on the scales.

The hubbards have been consigned to the garden shed until I can work up the courage to deal with them. But the others look quite pretty in the window.

squash in the window gardening blog

 

All the winter squash we grew this year are heirloom varieties from Pennard Plants

tattie harvest

gardening blogOne of my most vivid childhood memories is harvesting potatoes with my parents.

Dad would drive his old red Massey Ferguson up and down rows which seemed to stretch on forever. He had a strange clawed contraption on the back of the tractor that would lift and turn the plants leaving furrows of soft soil. Then my mum, my middle sister and I would scrabble around for the spuds.

I can’t recall if we just lifted and sorted them, or if we bagged them up. But I do remember  the smooth round firmness of the potatoes and how perfectly they seemed to fit my hands. The sun was always warm on the backs of our necks and the soil was cool. I must have been eight or younger as my little sister was never there. But even as a young child the experience felt somehow calming and restorative. Perhaps there is something about being outdoors with your hands in the soil that appeals to people at a primal level.  potatoes gardening blog

That was almost 30 years ago. Soon after, my parents were forced to give up market gardening and focus on growing ornamental plants as the UK began importing cheap mass-produced veg from overseas. Funny how things have gone full circle now.

Last weekend, we harvested the remaining bed of potatoes in our garden. Watching M enthusiastically joining in made me feel glad that we may be creating similar memories for her, albeit on a smaller scale.

potatoes gardening blog

if you’re wondering what the pink spiral is for, earlier on she’d been pretending to be a pig…

keeping the pumpkins comfy

blue hubbard gardening blogOur pumpkin patch is becoming more ridiculous every day.

Perhaps I should have checked the descriptions of the varieties I was buying, rather than just choosing names that I liked. But as I sifted through packets of heirloom seeds at last autumn’s Malvern Show, I had no idea what monsters lay within.

When vines started scaling the veg patch fence, I assumed they would grow nice compact gourds that would hang prettily as they ripened. As they reached rugby-ball proportions, Steve said something about Monty Don using hammocks to take the weight of pumpkins that he grows up poles. So I tore a pair of tights and rigged up supports for two particularly big ones that were threatening to take the fence down with their weight.

In two weeks they have gone from this…

Blue Hubbard gardening blog

to this…

blue hubbard gardening blog

Now that they’re taking shape, I’ve identified them as Blue Hubbard – evidently a mammoth variety. Since they are bursting out of their tight-hammocks my latest tactic is to prop them up with any suitably sized pots and troughs we have lying about.

I Googled ‘Blue Hubbard recipes’ to see if it was really going to be worth sacrificing our fence for them. Apparently they taste great, but are a real beast to get into. One recipe suggested using an axe to crack them open, and said one gourd can feed a family for a week. Maybe M can take some in for her nursery’s harvest festival. If she can carry them.

turks turban gardening blog

Turk’s Turban – at least these are growing on the ground

Despite the Blue Hubbard dominance, we do have a few Turk’s Turbans quietly lurking. They seem to be developing nicely – and a little more sensibly – on the ground. I have popped bits of tile underneath the gourds to stop them rotting if we get a lot of rain.

acorn table ace gardening blog

that’s more like it – something that can be tackled with a kitchen knife rather than an axe

I also spotted a couple of bright green ones growing this week. The plants are all in such a tangle that I can’t trace the route from the fruit back to the label. But I think they are a variety called Acorn Table Ace.

Sadly the other two varieties we grew – Marina di Chioggia and Butternut Ponca – seem to have been completely overwhelmed by the brutish Blue Hubbards. I waded into the patch with wellies and gloves on earlier to have a good rummage under the scratchy leaves, but can’t see any signs.

gardening blog

vicious vines that irritate my skin, as well as threatening to crush the fence

I’m going to reserve final judgement until we’ve harvested and attempted to cook this year’s crop. But I reckon when I’m buying seeds for next year, I’ll be reading the packets more carefully. I might also remember to give the plants a bit more space.

You can see what the squash plants were up to a month ago here.

Have you experienced pumpkin domination in your garden? I’d love to hear about it – or get some recommendations for more manageable varieties.

a tangled bed

gardening blog turks turban

apparently this is what Turk’s Turban will look like

Blue Hubbard, Turk’s Turban, Marina Di Chioggia…

With their evocative names, I couldn’t resist these squash seeds from Pennards at last year’s Malvern Autumn Show.

I also picked up some slightly less exotic sounding varieties like Acorn Table Ace and Butternut Ponca.

I knew at the time that we would never have room for them all. But following my paltry attempts at growing squash from seed last spring, I figured I should spread my bets.

Sure enough, the first sowing (late March) resulted in zero germination. Luckily I’d learnt something from last year’s efforts and had only used half the seeds in each pack. It must simply have been too cold. When I tried again a month later, it seemed only a matter of days before the hard little husks were shooting out of the compost perched on top of robust seedlings.

Each one grew into such a strong plant that I couldn’t bear to relegate any to the compost bin. So Steve dug a whole new bed for them. Space was still tight but I squeezed in as many as seemed sensible, and dotted a few  among the raspberry canes, alongside the garlic… anywhere I could find a spot.

Then the weather warmed up a few more notches and they started to GROW.

gardening blog escaping squashNow I can’t tell where one plant ends and the next begins. There is something almost sinister about the way they are reaching out to the next bed, latching on with their tendrils, and heaving themselves across. Some are even climbing the fence and making a bid for the freedom of the main garden.

I’ve watched in awe over the past couple of weeks as their  leaves have created a dense green canopy. Today I finally braved the rough, scratchy beasts and took a look beneath.

gardening blog under the squash

mouse-eye view under the squash leaves

Over-planted they may be, but they seem to be thriving. Lots of flowers and a few baby squash starting to appear.

gardening blog tangle of squash

looks promising – if any insects can fight their way through to pollinate…

Unfortunately I’m the only person in the family who really likes eating them. My vegetarian friends may be receiving a basket or three in a couple of months.

[You can read about our daughter helping to sow the squash in ‘helping hand‘]

peas at last

peas in pods Mice had most of our peas last year.

Just as the pods were starting to fatten up, we went away for a couple of days. When we came back each one had been systematically robbed.

At first we blamed the pigeons, because it looked like the peas had been pecked out. Then we looked closer and saw the tiny teeth marks.

This year’s crop is a bit later, but so far the mice haven’t found it. Or perhaps there are fewer mice around, now that a local farm cat has taken to visiting the garden in the evenings. (Our own cats are terrible hunters – they miaow with pride if they manage to catch a feather).

However, we have a new pea predator. Our almost-three-year-old adores the frozen variety and has discovered they are even better freshly picked.

peas

M has discovered there is nothing quite like freshly picked peas

None of our peas ever seems to make it out of the veg patch and into the kitchen.

peas brookend cottage garden

peas, anyone?