Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Gift from the Compost Pile - Pumpkins!

Every year it is fun to see what springs up from the compost pile…squash, potatoes, melons, arugula, dill, just about every herb, vegetable and flower has lived in the compost pile at one time or another.

This year pumpkins took a turn and when I returned from Europe I found pumpkin vines had found their way up and over the fence, up and around the cedar trellis in the herb-kitchen garden, over the rosemary and through the tomatoes and basil plants. I arrived just in time to tame the beast before it took over the hops arbor!

It was hard to get upset with Ms. (or Mr. call it what you like this plant has both female and male flowers) Pumpkin plant; after all she did leave several off-spring of the loveliest soft peachie-orange color with a pleasant round fruit that looks like a Sasquatch (squash family?) had lightly trodden on during the last full moon.

What kind are they? Who knows…the original was a bluish green color with a similar shape when I bought it from a local farmer then later tossed it in the compost pile. It would be safe to say that it grew in the field next to some other kind of pumpkins or winter squash since this year is the same shape but a different color.

Pumpkins, gourds and squash all belong to the same plant species (Cucurbita pepo) which means they may cross…not the first year but if you save the seed or in my case allow those seeds to grow the second year in the compost you could get some surprises. Sometimes these changes are good and sometimes a little funky with different shapes, colors or warts.

If you have heard the rumor that anything in the curcurbit family can cross-pollinate including squash, pumpkins, gourds, melons and cucumbers that is just an ‘old wives tale’. We are talking about three different plant species, cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), melons (Cucumis melo) and squash, pumpkins and gourds (Cucurbita pepo). While the bees can carry pollen from flower to flower, the flowers only accept pollen from their own species.

Now, aren’t you glad we had this talk? You can sleep better knowing your cucumbers will never cross with those rascally gourds growing on the same trellis (as in my case) or your zucchini will never run away with your cantaloupe.
I am thankful for my gift of pumpkins (12 total) in the compost heap since the baby rabbits I allowed to grow in the bean patch repaid my kindness by eating all my pumpkin plants in the vegetable garden. I think I understand why Mr. McGregor was so upset with Peter Rabbit and his kind!

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