The Great Pumpkin Race isn’t going so well

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

As gardeners go, the Secretary of Agriculture at our house and I are nothing close to Master Gardeners. She has a small plot, about 10 feet by 30 feet, of which half of the acreage is taken up by raspberries. She does about 99 percent of the work, since my outdoor job is to keep the lawn mowed.

This spring, my grandson and I decided to grow our own pumpkins. He is of that age when making jack o’lanterns at Halloween is a big deal, so we thought it would be fun to grow our own.

The last time I planted pumpkins was about 35 years ago when our children were close to the same age as our grandson. We lived in North Mankato at the time, down in the river valley. We had great success as the pumpkins grew quickly and shot out of the garden, running 15 feet across the yard to the garage.

This spring, I decided to plant on the edge of the area where I had piled leaves for a few weeks last October until we got them hauled away. That action had killed the grass, but I figured there was enough sun there and when winter had passed, we would be OK.

So we planted four seeds. After more than a week in our cool May, one seed finally sprouted. A week later, another peeked out.

I discovered that some critter had hollowed out the other two, so I replanted those, but the critter came back, so we ended up with two plants.

Off to a slow start, with two plants just an inch or two high around Memorial Day, the Secretary went to a greenhouse and bought a pumpkin plant. She planted her 4-inch tall plant on the edge of “her” garden. The race was on.

My two little plants struggled all the way through June. Finally, they leafed out at about 8 inches. I added a little fertilizer to give them encouragement. I watered them almost every day.

Meanwhile, the Secretary’s pumpkin took off like a house on fire. Any one of its leaves could cover both of my entire plants. It shot two tendrils across the yard that are now around 10 feet long each. Another tendril went all the way through her garden, taking out some flowers.

I have accused the Secretary of planting a mutant variety. It is almost like the 1950s sci-fi movie, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” If you get too close, it will wrap itself around you and absorb you into a pod. I prefer pumpkin pie, not being a pumpkin’s dinner.

Regardless, the Secretary will be well prepared for the pre-Halloween pumpkin carving.

As for me, we are now 70 days into the growing season, and I have two measly plants about eight inches tall with a leaf span of about a foot each. A couple of days ago, what appears to be a baby pumpkin showed itself. Today, it is about a centimeter in diameter.

I have been doing some research about pumpkin varieties, and have learned that they are countless. Some come with clearly defined ribs; some are smooth. Most are orange, but not all.

Since the Secretary gave me the pumpkin seeds for my grandson and me to plant, I’m thinking this game may have been rigged from the beginning.

As I look at all the varieties, I think mine may be “Munchkin.” While that would be an appropriate variety for our grandson, the fact is that Munchkins grow only 2 – 5 pounds and are used more for ornamental purposes than for carving.

Hers appear to be “Frosty,” which is an intermediate size that will grow to 8 – 15 pounds.

Large pumpkin varieties include “Aspen,” “Big Autumn” and “Big Tom.” I kind of like the name of that last one.

Then there are the jumbo varieties like “Big Doris,” “Mammoth Gold” and “Prizewinner.” They regularly weigh over 100 pounds.

The largest pumpkin ever was 2,009 pounds. That was a “Dill’s Atlantic Giant.” Next year, I think I will demand a rematch and order some of those seeds.

In the meantime, if you have a pumpkin that is more than 50 pounds, send me a photo with your name, contact information and the approximate weight on the back. I’ll buy one of the entries a pumpkin pie. If I receive more than one photo, I’ll draw for the winner. I’m mostly interested in seeing how many jumbo pumpkins are in the county.

I can tell you this, mine isn’t one of them.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected].