Photo bySeeds of Change
The Great Pumpkin
A plant that we humans have grown for 10,000 years is bound to have a complicated family tree. Take the pumpkin. Five different species in the cucumber genus (Cucurbita) can claim parentage or partial parentage. We simplify (wisely) by saying that it’s a pumpkin if the fruit is roundish, smooth-skinned with shallow ridges, orange, and has thick flesh and lots of seeds. Never mind the parentage.
Our ancestors were patient. They started with a small, bitter fruit and bred it for more flesh, less bitterness, more and bigger seeds. Pumpkins today also have a lot of carotene (hence the color of the flesh) which our body converts to Vitamin A and nutritious seeds that store well when cleaned and dried. Most varieties need full sun, warm weather, lots of water, and a long season (up to 120 days) to produce mature fruits, whatever the size of the fruits.
Pumpkins come in all sizes. They can be as small as 2 pounds (‘Baby Pam’ and others) to 25 pounds (‘Connecticut Field,’ the standard pie and Halloween variety) to way over 1,000 pounds. Yes, over half a ton. The squash record in 2009 was 1236 pounds. Such giants take five months and longer to mature. Some explode or collapse from their own weight before harvest or on their way to the weigh-in.
Giant pumpkins are contest fruits, grown for fame and fortune by competitive gardeners. Today, there are weigh-ins in many states. The current record is 1810 pounds. All the excitement started with Howard Dill, a farmer in Nova Scotia, who saved seeds of an unusually large pumpkin and over several growing season managed to grow larger pumpkins by saving seeds of the largest specimens. Eventually he grew a 500-pound pumpkin, enormous for the time, named it ‘Atlantic Giant,’ and offered the seeds for sale. His family carries on the tradition today.
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