Ode to Autumn
Pumpkins, Gourds and Winter Squash

Story and Photos By Cindy Shapton

Photo - boy eating gourd.

Pumpkins seem to bring out the kid in all of us. I can't figure out if it is the vivid colors, the organic shapes or the memories of carving Jack-o'-lanterns as children and with our own families. No matter what the reason, I can't help but smile when I see a pile of pumpkins, and I can't wait to stack, carve, cook and decorate with them.

Winter squash are so beautiful with their variety of unusual shapes, ribbed and warty textures, colors and flavors. They have two functions as well: food and decoration.

Gourds — well, what's not to like about cucurbits that parade around in shapes of fruits and animals and are useful as decorations, toys and bird shelters?

Growing pumpkins, winter squash and gourds is pretty easy if you keep in mind the following tips:

  • Use fresh seed every year since all cucurbits will cross-pollinate. Varieties are plentiful, no need to create new ones.
  • Plant several seeds per hill (mounded up soil). Thin young plants to one to three per hill.
  • In small garden spaces, plant bush-type varieties or use a trellis (many types of winter squash, small pumpkins and gourds grow well vertically).
  • When planning where to plant cucurbit seeds, remember, the bigger the fruit, the more vine and leaves it will need to produce (i.e., more space will be needed).
  • Be sure to time your plantings of large hard-shell gourds (such as birdhouse, dipper, etc.) and small decorative gourds, pumpkins and winter squash so they won't mature before fall, when it is cooler and in season.
  • Mulch around plants with straw to help suppress weeds and hold in moisture (I like to use a layer of newspaper covered with straw).
  • Fertilize with 15-15-15 or use compost.
  • Avoid overhead irrigation (trickle works best) and late-night watering to keep fungus problems to a minimum.
  • Be watchful for pests. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, squash bugs and aphids are partial to cucurbits. Fungus can be a problem as well. Use conventional or organic insecticides and fungicides when needed.
  • To avoid spraying insecticide, try floating row covers to keep pests out while allowing sun and rain in; use a cotton swab to hand pollinate.
  • Should you decide to try to grow a record-size pumpkin, try 'Dill's Atlantic Giant' or 'Prizewinner' hybrid; allow only one pumpkin per vine to grow and see how large it can get!
  • Pumpkins, squash and gourds display

    Harvest pumpkins, winter squash and gourds when the skin or rind is too hard to dent with your fingernail and is colorful. Some experts recommend washing pumpkins, squash and gourds with a 5 percent bleach solution right after harvesting to kill any fungus to help extend their life. Allow autumn cucurbits to cure by placing them in a dry warm location for a week or so. This will heal up any scratches and make the skins tougher.

    For winter use, store pumpkins and squash in a warm (50 to 60 F) place with plenty of air circulation to keep them from rotting prematurely.

    Gourds are edible when they are young and tender but most people grow them for their lumpy-warty, quirky and cute personalities to be used as decoration or for various craft projects such as ornaments or birdhouses.

    A basket of gourds.

    To dry gourds try one of the following methods:

  • Air dry indoors or in a greenhouse in a single layer on a flat surface (leave plenty of space between gourds).

  • Use a dehydrator (only works for gourds that are small enough to fit).

  • Use a convection oven set between 100 and 125° F.
  • It could take a few weeks to months (depending on size) to air dry and usually a couple of days in the dehydrator or convection oven.

    After gourds are dry, use steel wool or a stiff brush (a little water is sometimes helpful) to remove any black marks (fungus growth), although sometimes fungus marks can add even more character to gourds.

    After the "fall harvest on the front porch" season is finished, don't just pitch pumpkins and winter squash into the compost pile (unless they have frozen and are rotting). Pumpkins can be peeled, chunked, steamed or baked then mashed to use for pumpkin pie, although some varieties are better to use than others. However, winter squash can be used in place of pumpkin. In fact, most canned pumpkin is really winter squash or a combination of squashes and pumpkin.

    Winter squash has as many flavors as shapes and colors. Bake a spaghetti squash whole until tender and fork out the stringy meat, which resembles the pasta it's named after. Acorn squash cut in half and baked with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup is a sweet and nutty treat. Steam, bake or stuff just about any squash for a healthy addition to the dinner table. And don't forget about the seeds. Both pumpkin and squash seeds can be salted and baked in the oven for a nutritious snack.

    Look for pumpkins, winter squash and gourds at local farmers' markets. Should you decide to plant some for yourself next year, here are a few fun and flavorful beauties to consider.

    'Musquee De Provence'
    — wide, squatty, ribbed and peachy color
    'Jack Be Little' — tiny, squat in a variety of golden-orange hues
    'Baby Pam' — little, 5x5 inch, orange with great sturdy stems
    'Casper' and 'Lumina' — white skinned with orange flesh
    'Rumbo' — fleshy, squatty, light orange, sturdy stem and stackable

    Winter Squash:
    'Red Kuri' — teardrop shape, 5-10 pounds, orange-red, rich flavor
    'Turk's Cap' — orange, green, red and white striped, unusual shape
    'Table Gold' acorn
    — bush type, golden color, nutty flavor
    'Shamrock' — unusual tri-shaped, sea-green color, flavorful
    'Pink Banana' — large peachy-orange, great form
    'Jarrahdale' — called a pumpkin but it is really a winter squash, Cucurbita maxima. It's an Australian heirloom variety grown for its unique blue-green skin and its deep orange flesh.

    'Tennessee Dancing' — tiny (ping-pong ball size) bottleneck green and white striped, rediscovered in Primm Springs, Tennessee, and can actually spin like a top. Easy to dry — use for Christmas ornaments, table arrangements or string as garland.
    'Speckled Swan'
    — unusual shape, green with white speckles. A bird (I'm guessing) planted one in my garden where it quickly grew up the fence and produced a gaggle of long-necked gourds that looked like geese, making great fall decorations. Later, after they dried, we made some into birdhouses.
    Bule — looks like a big apple covered in warts; great texture, bluish-green and interestingly weird.
    'Crown of Thorns', also called 'Ten Commandments' — shaped like a crown with 10 finger-like projections pointing inward, light in color, decorative and good eating in summer season when it's young.


    Cici's easy pie crust

    In a pie plate combine:

    1 cup unbleached flour
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    2 Tablespoons flax seed (whole or ground slightly)
    A pinch of sea salt
    1/2 cup oil — vegetable or coconut
    Mix with a fork until well blended then add:
    1/4 cup milk
    Mix well then pat out crust to fit pan

    To cook 'Jarrahdale' pumpkin/squash: Place whole squash in the oven with some holes poked in the shoulders. Place cookie sheet under to avoid oven cleanup. Bake at 350° F for about an hour or so until it is tender. Cool then cut in half, scoop out seeds, then scoop out orange flesh. Freeze any leftovers.

    Home-grown squash pie

    In food processor add:
    2 eggs
    1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar

    Blend then add:
    1 1/2 - 2 cups 'Jarrahdale' pumpkin, cooked
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon cloves
    1 teaspoon sea salt
    1 1/2 cup milk

    Blend together and pour into unbaked piecrust.
    Bake at 400° F for 15 minutes, turn down oven to 350° F and bake an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour until knife comes out clean. Enjoy!


    Assorted pumpkins and gourds.

    Seed Sources:

    Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Catalog has wonderful pictures and descriptions that include history at www.rareseeds.com.

    Other sources include:

    Seed Savers Exchange: www.seedsavers.org,
    Thompson and Morgan: www.thompson-morgan.com,
    Seeds of Change: www.seedsofchange.com,
    Johnny's Selected Seeds: www.johnnyseeds.com,
    Fedco Seeds: www.fedcoseeds.com and
    Stokes: www.stokeseeds.com.

    Penguin gourds Pumpkins
    Small pumpkins Tennessee dancing gourds

    Cindy Shapton writes, speaks, blogs and gardens with her canine helper Sweet Annie, who isn't really crazy about turnips. She is the author of The Cracked Pot Herb Book available at cindyshapton.com


    October Articles:

    Announcing our New Magazines
    Ode to Autumn
    Black Velvet Petunia
    Armchair Gardening
    The Thrashers' Chicken Chalet
    Highlights From the Magazine