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Local Roots

The history of the pumpkin

October is finally here and the weather has begun to change ever so slightly. This is my favorite month of the year. The Santa Ana winds come now, blowing back great plumes of offshore spray as they course up the faces of late summer swells creating giant arching rainbows of seawater.At this time, the community of Encinitas comes alive after a hot lazy summer and the Pumpkin Patch above Swami’s finally bears fruit in preparation for the coming harvest celebration and Halloween.

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere — golden orange, yellow or mixed in color. Children of all ages take wonder at the magic of their growth, their size and the myriad of uses we have found for them.

Pumpkins are a gourd-like squash from the genus Cucurbita and the family Cucurbitaceae. This classification refers to the many different types or cultivars found in America today. Thought to be native to North America, the word pumpkin originates from the word “pepon” which is Greek for “large melon.” The French adapted this word to “pompon” and the British crafted the term “pumpion” before our colonists finally changed the moniker to “pumpkin” as we know it today.

The largest pumpkins grown are Cucurbita maxima. They have been cultivated from the Hubbard squash genotype and hybridized through intermittent effort since the early 19th century. Today these rounder phenotypes have been granted a legal right to the name “Atlantic Giant” on record as the largest pumpkins in the world.

The world record for one of these gourds was held at 460 pounds until 1981, when Howard Dill of (Nova Scotia) broke the record with a pumpkin weighing in at 493.5 pounds. Dill then patented the seeds from his giant pumpkin calling them “Dill’s Atlantic Giant Pumpkins.”

By 1994, the Atlantic Giant pumpkins and their progeny had surpassed the 1,000-pound mark. The current world record holder for size is Chris Steven’s 1,810-pound monster Atlantic Giant. This pumpkin is now recognized as the largest pumpkin ever to be grown in the world today,

Pumpkins are typically a warm-weather crop that is usually planted in late June or early July. It takes approximately 110 days for a pumpkin plant to become mature and produce fruit of significant size. Soil conditions must be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, adequately moist and have sufficient nutrients to encourage development.

Too wet of soils from either overwatering or extreme clay like conditions will kill or diminish pumpkin development. Too dry, on the other hand, will slow the growth of this delicious gourd and shrivel the expansive leafs that capture sunlight and simultaneously guard the moisture within the soils near the root structure of these unusual plants.

A monoecious plant, the pumpkin plant has both sexes represented in the same plant by large yellow flowers. Flowers of this type either sit atop new round shaped bulbs growing from the pumpkin vines and indicate female flowers and new fruit development. Otherwise the flowers house the pollen-producing males. These beautiful flowers can be eaten and are delicious by themselves or battered and fried, also used as decoration for almost any meal.

Most of us have enjoyed carving a pumpkin in our youths for Halloween, however; if you take a nail or small stylus and carve about an eighth-inch into the fruit while it is growing, you can create a scar that will increase in size proportional to the size of the pumpkin looking very custom upon maturity.

Throughout Britain and Ireland, there has been a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly turnips for Halloween. Yet it was the Americans who finally began the tradition of carving lanterns first annotated back in 1837.

Plant your pumpkins using seeds or seedlings on small mounds about 3 feet in diameter with a small trench running around the perimeter. These plants love good drainage and need regular water because they are so vascular. A good rule of thumb is to note how wet the soils are after irrigation and water only when the top soils appear to be dry.

As your pumpkins and vines grow, don’t be afraid to thin them or cull the fruit. The result will be bigger and better produce.