Most pumpkins and winter squash have the ability to root at every node on their stems. Why not take advantage of this fact to defeat vine borers?
If vine borers wreck one part of a pumpkin stem, the plant will continue to thrive if it has rooted at multiple nodes. I’ve seen the original stem of a vine destroyed by a vine borer, yet a foot away from the damage, there are happy vines.
This only happens when the vines are growing along the ground, however. If you grow pumpkin vines vertically, you lose their best defense against vine borer damage.
“David, I was wondering if you have some advice on how to prune c. Moschata to produce the larger size fruits. I have managed to find a source of Seminole seed on Ebay and was hoping to grow them but all my pumpkins grown in the past have been quite small, but I did not prune or do much in the way of giving them special attention. Thanks in advance mate. :)”
Oh man. Now you’re making me think!
I don’t have any advice on pruning pumpkins. I generally let them go insane.
HOWEVER – I may have been wrong in my approach.
I dunno, though. I’ve done a lot of searching for the past hour for more on pruning and don’t find much.
Burying the nodes, though – I’m totally going to do that this week.
These are good, meaty pumpkins with longer necks acquired from the calabazas I crossed them with back in Florida.
Some of them don’t have as thick a neck. This was the previous generation from half a year ago:
I prefer the thicker neck, however, as that gives us more meat without seed cavity.
My ideal pumpkin has non-stringy flesh, a good, nutty sweet flavor, long keeping ability, good vigor and a nice look. We’re getting there. I’m sure we’ll have throwbacks to the less tasty calabaza parent, but hopefully over time I’ll be able to stabilize the type to consistently produce thick-necked fruit of a good size. These are usually 9-12 lbs. About perfect.
This book has been my pumpkin-breeding inspiration:
As vegetables go, pumpkins are easy to select and breed. The trick is keeping them from crossing with each other. Isolation is key, as is hand pollination unless you’re hoping to create a land race and just let them run together for years.
I’m doing that down the hill with local varieties and will be selecting good-tasting large pumpkins with bumpy skin. They’re far enough away from where I grow my Seminole crosses that I should have problems with genetic contamination. You can see some of my hills in the video I posted on Monday:
Eventually I hope to get some of my pumpkins into the seed catalogs. Wouldn’t that be cool?
I was conversing online about staple survival crops for northern gardeners recently and it made me think: I need to write more here on what you can grow in cold climates to keep your family fed.
In my recent Survival Gardener newsletter (you can sign up for the newsletter here) I wrote about yams and northern staple survival crops – and I’ve decided to cover the latter in greater detail here.
There are plenty of staple crops in the tropics (I cover 10 good ones in my Top 10 Tropical Staple Crop Countdown video) but as you move farther north it gets harder to produce a lot of calories on your land. Seasons are short and sunlight is less intense, plus the variety of plants you can choose from is greatly limited.
Yet all is not lost.
Here are a few tried-and-true survival crops for the north, plus one that shows great potential.
7 Staple Survival Crops for Northern Gardeners
Your best bet as a survival staple in northern climates is the trusty potato.
Potatoes are really hard to beat on yields and caloric content, plus they take less space and a lot less work than small grains.
I’ve grown wheat, oats, barley and rye. Though they’re pretty easy to grow, processing makes them a serious pain. I outlined the pros and cons in this article – go read for yourself. Potatoes are much simpler.
The Three Sisters
This is a classic method of gardening practiced by the Indians, as seen here.
Interplant corn, beans and pumpkins/winter squash for a three sisters garden. Let’s cover them individually.
I love corn. It’s a ton of fun to grow and it’s much easier to harvest and use than most other grains. It’s also beautiful.
The variety of grain corn varieties is staggering. Up north, I recommend sticking to “flint” corns, as dent corn takes much longer to mature.
In the three sisters garden, pole beans are used. For a survival crop, look for types you can shell and save – not green beans.
Beans aren’t super-high yielders compared to a root crop, but beans do contain a good amount of protein.
In the north, gardeners should mostly stick to C. maxima and C. pepo varieties. In the south, C. moschata usually does better.
Steve Solomon were talking about northern staples a few days ago and I suggested the Jerusalem artichoke as a super-easy root crop; however, he pointed out that the difficulty most of us have in digesting them makes them a lot less attractive in the long run.
I love their productivity but the tubers mess up your digestion unless you’re very acclimated to them. They are likely a better choice as an animal feed, particularly for pigs.
Jerusalem artichokes are beautiful and make a great addition to the edges of a property or in rougher soil where regular vegetables don’t grow.
I planted these along a rough drainage ditch in hard Tennessee clay and rocks and they grew like crazy.
Another option are turnips. I planted big beds of turnips one year and had great success… but eating turnips daily gets old fast.
I knew we grew too many when my wife Rachel presented me with a turnip pie she baked for dessert one evening.
After weeks of turnips in stews, mashed, roasted… then pie… I didn’t want to see another turnip for a long time.
On the up side, the greens are very good to eat and quite nutritious, making them a dual-purpose crop.
Some northern gardeners have had luck growing the cold-tolerant Chinese yam, AKA Dioscorea batatas.
Try Chinese yams in your garden and tell me how they turn out – they did well for me in North Florida and Eric Toensmeier grew them successfully in Massachusetts. I think they have a lot of potential as a staple survival crop. Just be careful, as they may be an invasive species in some areas.
BTW, I mentioned their invasive nature on my newsletter this Wednesday and reader Sharon wrote back “the real invasive species is soy and GMO corn. Wild yam will feed you along with many other weeds.”
I agree. Feeding yourself is of high importance, and if a vegetable grows like a weed and produces calories… I find it hard to demonize.
You can buy Chinese yam bulbils from Sharon in her online store here, along with an assortment of other obscure and wonderful plants.
There you go: seven staple survival crops for northern gardens. Did I miss any of your favorites?
I get asked now and again when to harvest pumpkins or how to tell if a squash is ready to pick.
Well, on Friday I posted a video demonstrating when to harvest a pumpkin or winter squash:
Though those aren’t the best demonstration specimens, I covered the basics in the video.
I know for most of you this is EXACTLY the wrong time of year to share a post like this as pumpkin season is long gone. Perhaps it will help you later this year, though, once you all thaw out and get your gardens going.
Here’s a quick overview on how I know when to harvest pumpkins and winter squash.
Is the Stem on the Fruit Still Green?
Then don’t cut it. That means the fruit is still receiving nutrition from the main vine.
If the Pumpkin Stem is Yellow or Brown, Cut it!
The fruit is no longer receiving sap from the plant, so it’s time to cut that pumpkin or winter squash off and bring it inside.
If the Main Vine is Dead, Harvest That Squash!
Sometimes, as was the case with at least one of the pumpkins in my video, the stem on the fruit may still be green but the main vine is withing away and dying.
Chances are nothing else is going to happen, so cut the fruit and bring it inside.
If the Fruit is Damaged, Use it for Soup!
If there’s a rotten spot on your pumpkin or winter squash, chances are it’s not going to keep well on the shelf. Go ahead and cut it, then use as soon as possible. The flavor won’t be as good as a “cured” pumpkin or squash, so I like to remove the damaged portion, peel and seed the fruit, then use them for soup.
How to Harvest a Pumpkin or Winter Squash Properly
It’s important to leave a bit of stem on your pumpkins or winter squash when you harvest them.
I usually leave about an inch. I don’t pluck the pumpkins from the stems or break them off, I cut them nicely.
In the video I’m using these Felco picking and trimming snips (which I love for taking cuttings and precise trimming work). Those have been a go-to tool for me since I bought them for my old plant nursery. Great little snips.
Any pair of pruners will work, though. Just be gentle and don’t accidentally break the entire stem off the fruit. That leaves an entry for decay microorganisms which can lower the storage time of your squash significantly.
Taste Takes Time
Unlike most vegetables which are at their best when fresh harvested, pumpkins and winter squash improve in flavor when stored for at least a few weeks.
I like to pick on a dry day, if possible, then let the fruit dry a little further on the back porch. Once they’re good and dry, I bring them inside and set them on a shelf to “cure” for a bit.
As you plan your seed-buying for spring, you really should try Seminole pumpkins. There’s a reason I sing their praises in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening… it’s because they’re totally crazy easy to grow!
“This is our fourth year of growing this amazing crop!
In 2016 we had 1 planned and 2 inadvertent Seminole pumpkin crops!
Our planned crop was seeds saved from our 2015 crop planted into two-15 gallon containers. The seeds germinated, the vines took off, covering most of our 50’ X 12’ space reserved for SPs! Not satisfied, our SP vines grew over and through our 6’ high shadow box fence into our Neighbors yard. They let the vines grow and had their first crop of SP!
Later we added SP pulp to our compost pile…the seeds in that pulp took off, producing fruit in our compost pile before heading over and through the shadowbox fence, giving our neighbors a 2nd crop of SP!
Later we gave SP pulp to our laying hens; some of the seeds escaped the chickens peaks, germinated, escaped the run, and covered an area in front of the coop, producing our third crop!
Seminole pumpkins-an amazing crop!”
Gotta love something that grows so easily.
Big Green Seminole Pumpkins?
Another reader comments:
“I have what I’m told are seminole pumpkins. I got the seed from a local seed dealer in oviedo, florida.
But, they are huge. several have to be over ten pounds already and they are all still that same color green.”
My response was:
“They look like a variety of Seminole pumpkin to me. A few of mine hit 14lbs! Once fully ripe (as in, the stem of the fruit has yellowed up) and brought inside to cure, the green ones often start to turn tan over time.”
Just in time for Halloween, let’s cover how to save pumpkin seeds.
Learning how to save pumpkin seeds is a good idea, especially if you’d like to grow next year’s jack-o-lanterns yourself.
I’ve been growing pumpkin and winter squash for a long time and I’ve always loved how easy it is to save pumpkin seeds.
Recently I posted a new video on how I save pumpkin seeds – and how I make seed packets to hold them until it’s time to plant them in the spring.
Here’s the video:
Now let’s break it down into a nice visual guide with pictures and everything!
How To Save Pumpkin Seeds, Step by Step
Are you ready to pack away seeds like a kleptomaniac squirrel so you never have to buy another pumpkin from the store again? I will help.
Step 1: Gut the Pumpkin and Save the Slop!
The inner cavity of pumpkins and winter squashes is filled with a stringy mess of pumpkin bits and seeds. This isn’t the “good eating” part of the pumpkin, so it’s not worth trying to save any of the stringy mass, except for the seeds. In order to do that, move on to step two!
Step 2: Clean the Pumpkin Seeds
I dump pumpkin guts and seeds into a colander and swish them around under running water to clean them out, smashing the goop through the holes and separating the strings. If you’d like to save pumpkin seeds for eating rather than planting, you can just go directly to roasting them at this point.
For seed-saving purposes, I’ve sometimes let pumpkin guts sit on the counter for a few days and rot around the seeds. This smells bad but really loosens up the seeds when you wash them out. I think it may also increase the germination rate but I haven’t tried a side-by-side trial.
Step 3: Dry The Seeds
Seed-covered paper towels on counters, windowsills, shelves, tabletops, dressers and even the bathroom counter are common in our house during the fall as we save pumpkin seeds alongside the other heirlooms we want to plant in our spring gardens.
Spread your pumpkin seeds out someplace where they won’t get wet again. Make sure they aren’t too wet when you spread them out (sometimes I pat them down with one paper towel, then spread them onto a second) and have good air circulation as you most definitely do not want them germinating on your counter. They should dry fast. This will also keep them from molding as easily in storage and potentially losing their ability to germinate.
Step 4: Make Seed Packets and Pack ’em Up!
There are better ways to make seed packets, but I just rip a sheet of paper in half, fold that, then fold up the edges a few times and tape them. You can see how in the video – it’s very simple.
Because I’m cheap and hate throwing things away too fast, I use scrap paper from the children’s homeschool assignments or pieces the toddler has doodled upon. My friend Steven Edholm has better looking seed packets, but they’re a bit small for the amount of pumpkin seeds I store.
I also illustrate my homemade seed packets, which is NOT OPTIONAL. You have to draw on them. You just have to. It’s the rule.
Along with a drawing of the mother pumpkin, I also note the variety, the harvest year and notes on type. This is important as I work on my pumpkin breeding projects, but for your pumpkin seed saving you likely just need to note the type or draw a nice picture of the headless horseman.
If you live in a humid climate or need to store seeds for a longer period, you can dry pumpkin seeds a little further in a dehydrator (I like this reliable and inexpensive one for everything from fruit to jerky) and then pack them in tightly shut Mason jars stowed in the fridge.
That’s it – the whole scoop on how to save pumpkin seeds.
If you’re interested in going much deeper into saving seeds of all kinds, Seed to Seed is my own go-to resource on the subject. It’s a must-have for serious gardeners.