Growing Pumpkins in New
England












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The Heart of New England
The Changing Face (and Size) of the
Jack-O'-Lantern
by Jeanne Sable

The fields are dotted with orange orbs soon to be carved into jack-o'-lanterns
as the final curtain drops on the region's growing season. Yes, the frost is on the
proverbial pumpkin. That's nothing new.

What's new is the ever-increasing size and popularity of the
pumpkin.

I delight in our  region's growing obsession (emphasis: "growing") with
pumpkins. It seems we've all joined Linus in the collective pumpkin patch, just
hoping the Great one will come our way.

Every year,
pumpkin records are smashed as ever higher weights are achieved.
Pumpkins now tip the scales close to the 1,000 lb. mark.
Pumpkin-growing
contests
have sprung up in communities all around,  pitting neighbor against
neighbor in pursuit of  producing the most prodigious pumpkin.

Even our tiny, 12-family road association gave it a shot for several years, until
we realized the futility of competing against the dairy farmer next door.  We
soon learned that in the prize-winning pumpkin game, the person with the
most manure wins.

Today's giant pumpkin varieties are bred for  size alone.  Growers continue to
push the pumpkin seed envelope in response to the demand for bigger
pumpkins. Some come only eight seeds to a pack, but each seed boasts the
potential of producing a pumpkin the size of a pickup truck.

There's even some question as to whether these giants qualify as pumpkins,
squash, or something in between.  All we know is -- they're BIG. A lopsided
yellow blimp can claim first prize-- if it's bigger than your refrigerator.

Of course, there are strategies for producing these mammoth fruits, some which
border on scary.  One trick is to intravenously feed milk directly into the
pumpkin vine.  Then allow only one pumpkin to mature on the vine so that it
never has to share food and drink with greedy siblings.

One of my favorite stories from a number of years ago (perhaps an urban
legend, but intriguing nonetheless) concerned a rare (for New Hampshire)
timber rattle snake reportedly tapping into the milk a nearby farmer was
mainlining to his prize pumpkins. Entwined among the thick vines, the snake
was well camouflaged, and no doubt quite satisfied with its rural milk delivery
service.

Of course, not everyone has the space to grow giant pumpkins, but around here
that needn't spoil the fun. What we fail to achieve in size, we can make up for in
quantity -- by helping Keene, NH once again smash its own world record for
displaying the most jack-o'-lanterns in one place. To participate, just pick a
pumpkin, carve it, and bring it to the annual
Keene Pumpkin Festival.

The sight of up to  30,000 glowing jack-o'-lanterns of
every description, bearing a myriad of messages from
personal marriage proposals to advertisements,
political slogans, and religious scripture, is nothing
hort of spectacular. Droves of people, costumed and
not, wander the streets in spirited procession,  
breathing the fall air with the aroma of warm wax  
mingled with the nutty essence of pumpkin.

Besides being a boon to local merchants, the event
provides an end-of-the-season boost to local farmers'
markets. This year they’ll be scrambling to meet
the demand for nearly 30,000 gourds in order to top last years record—no easy
task given this growing season’s erratic nature.  (I planted six hills of squash,
pumpkins, or gourds this season. The harvest? Looks like six squashes in all—
three summer and three winter.) Years past,  anyway, local pigs have reaped
the bonanza of thousands of discarded pumpkins.

Pumpkinmania has spurred new businesses too. Who ever dreamed there
would be a special carrier designed for hefting huge pumpkins about? Or
carving kits with specialized blades for precise pumpkin carving? And stencils
for creating fanciful designs of every description, now seen on the faces of
Jack-o'-lanterns that once could only smile or grimace?

There's even a new product on the market that promises to preserve your
pumpkin weeks after carving.
Now that's a clever invention. How well I recall
my puzzled response to the appearance of black freckles on the cheeks of my
first Jack-'O-Lantern as it grinned from the front steps of our home. Later, the
gray fuzz creeping from the eye sockets. Then the collapse of the wizened skull,
wiggly occupants and all.

Ahh. Therein lay the true horror of a child's Halloween.

About the Author:








Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance writer
specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written
environmental scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the
Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville, her first novel.


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