As holidays with botanical ceremonies go, Hallowe’en is right up there. The giant bins of orange pumpkins begin arriving at the stores in late August now, which seems a little early, especially if you happen to be in a warm climate. The squirrels and fungi will invade before you realize it, especially if you carved them early, and then you have to go buy more pumpkins. Fortunately, pumpkins are great for the compost bin with their fleshy masses reliably activating the decomposers.
Last year I bought seeds for an interesting variety of cucurbit, the Styrian pumpkin, which is known for its “naked” seeds that are pressed into an aromatic, delicious oil in Austria where the type was bred. I buy a lot of pepitas at the store, and I thought it would be fun to try to grow my own. It soon became apparent, however, that climatic conditions in Styria are significantly different from here, at least from the point of view of these pumpkins. Last year the slugs enjoyed my plants in totality, and this spring I managed to keep one little sprout alive and even got it out in the garden where it began to grow, flower, and set fruit. One little pumpkin was happily growing when we had a heatwave followed by a drought.
The only benefit of the drought was an increase in my upper body strength which was buoyed daily via the hauling of five-gallon buckets of water across the yard to pour around the rooted end of the vine. I did manage to keep the plant alive, but it began to brown and shrivel from the growing end, and pretty soon the tendril opposite the little pumpkin had turned brown. And therein lies the tip for harvesting all those winter squash that don’t conveniently change color for you. When the tip of the tendril on the same node as the fruit in question begins to brown and shrivel, the plant has finished feeding it, and you can safely harvest knowing that the pumpkin, watermelon, butternut squash, etc. is ripe.
I hoped that my watering had provided enough time for the seeds to mature, and it had, although the harvest was a tad meager. These are the Styrian propagules next to some mature zucchini seeds I harvested for planting next year. It’s easy to see why the Austrian seeds make for an immediately edible product – no shelling required. I’m currently storing the seeds in the fridge in a little glass container, although I should probably freeze them. Based upon my initial taste test, they are about the same in flavor as typical pepitas from the store, but a little more intense. Granted, the intensity of flavor could very well be because of the droughty conditions. I will give them another go next year, though, and hope for more rain.