Every year I grow pumpkins (squash). My particular favourite is the Waltham Butternut cultivar. These are smallish pumpkins and are excellent keepers over winter and into spring, if kept in a cool place where those stinking rats can’t get to them. I like to get a good yield from my pumpkin patch and I achieve this by doing some hand pollinating along the way.
This is what the female flower looks like. There will be a tiny pumpkin behind this flower, waiting for pollination. I can wait and hope that the bee that is visiting will have also visited a male flower. I can’t take chances with the shorter growing season so I help things along a bit.
I have selected a male flower. Male flowers grow on long stalks and are totally different to female flowers that will bear the fertilised pumpkins. Gently strip away all the petal as shown until the male flower is fully exposed.
Gently open up the female flower and twirl the pollen laden male flower around. I usually leave the stripped down male flower inside the female flower so that any passing insects can further increase the chance of pollination.
The pumpkin on the right is the actual flower I pollinated around 3 weeks ago. The pair on the left I pollinated two weeks ago. The pumpkins are growing quickly at this time of the year, especially with the benefits of the Indian summer we are enjoying this year. Of course, I also put in a care programme for each year’s pumpkin patch.
The site on the left is where I planted seeds in late November 2016. The photograph on the right is the rampant patch. I took this photograph on 20 March 2017. Out of control is what I aim for with my pumpkin patch and this year has been an outstanding success.
Pumpkins like a steady diet of food and water. Each station I prepared in the left hand photograph, I added one complete sack of sheep manure and a couple of hands full of complete fertiliser and a hand full of slow release fertiliser as well. I pressed seeds into each station and then gave each station a bucket full of watered down seaweed concentrate. A few times each week I have been adding seaweed water to each station. Now when the vines get to around 2 meters in length, there will be lots of male flowers and barely any female flowers. Not a problem. I chop off the ends of the long vines with a spade and this process will encourage female flowers to form in the lateral joints.
My favourite past time in late summer/early autumn is to visit the pumpkin patch every evening. I do this with some trepidation as I worry that the rats will start gnawing at the nearly ripe pumpkins. The patch has now sprawled out into our small orchard. I usually play “spot the pumpkin” with a long stick, trying to see how many pumpkins have been successfully pollinated. Of course, with my persistent dyslexia, I don’t know why I bother trying to count as every evening I arrive at a different number.
Teddy and Priscilla like to visit the pumpkin patch too. Teddy hunts out any rabbits that might be lurking. Priscilla gets very excited as there may be a “mousie” hidden there too. Prissy is blind so her keen sense of smell goes into overdrive when the three of us rummage about the vines. Prissy wears her Muffin’s Halo as this is a guide for blind dogs. The best thing since sliced bread as this device has given Priscilla confidence and happiness again. I’d say we all enjoy visiting the pumpkin patch. Very soon when the vines die off, I will be harvesting so I won’t know the true pumpkin count until then. The pleasure of gardening is the anticipation, I think though Teddy and Priscilla would reason that their great pleasure in visiting the vegetable patch is the possibility of finding rabbits and mice. That is, of course, unless Teddy tries to sit on Prissy and Prissy retaliates by biting Teddy’s hocks. There are other matters in life that need just as much attention as visiting the autumn pumpkin patch.