Friday, October 13, 2017

Great Pumpkins: Winter Squash and Heirloom Varieties

Pumpkins/Winter squash varieties offer so many possibilities.
1. 'Black Fatsu' 2. 'Musque de Provence' 3. 'Galeaux D'Eysines'
4. 'Tiger' 5. 'Strawberry Crown' 6. 'Jarrahdale'  7. 'Lakota'
8. 'Marina Di Chioggia' 9. 'Cinderella'
By J.S. Corser, Editor
Durham Co. Extension Master Gardener

Great pumpkins, aka. winter squash, grow in a multitude of colors, sizes, skin textures, not to mention edibility and flavors. These ubiquitous members of the Cucubitae family line front porches and always lend their sweet, savory flesh to soups and bakery sweets from October through November. With some research and diligent care, Durham gardeners can also grow a sincere pumpkin patch and expand their fall vegetable bounty.
The term “pumpkin” is a generic term for vine-growing winter squashes like Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita moschata or Cucurbita maxima. What differentiates pumpkins/winter squashes from summer squash is that winter squashes are varieties that are grown to maturity and store well.(1) They have a hard rind, firmer flesh and will keep for months in a cool pantry. Pumpkins are harvested when the foliage dies back and stems begin to toughen. Conversely, summer squashes are harvested when small and tender while vines are still healthy.

Pumpkin History (2)
The word pumpkin derives from the Greek pepõn for a large melon. The English termed it pumpion or pompion. Use of this term dates to 1547, yet did not appear in print until 1647. Native Americans planted pumpkins with their vegetable crops and introduced the vegetable to English colonists. The colonists quickly embraced Cucurbita pepo cooking it into sidedishes, soups, desserts and even beer. (In keeping with the spirit of our forefathers, several pumpkin ales are available at Triangle alcohol retailers: ) However, pumpkins also enjoy a celebrated, contemporary use for autumn and Halloween decoration. The tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack-o'-lanterns for the celebration of All Hallows Eve was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants who originally carved turnips. They switched to pumpkins given more availability, and since then, pumpkin carving has become a competitive, laser-precision artform for many Americans every October.
Growing Pumpkins (1)
Choosing a Site
Full sun, good air circulation, rich, well-draining soil and appropriate space are all key to growing pumpkins. Eight hours of sun is needed per day. Air circulation is crucial to fend off powdery mildew, which can be a significant problem in late summer. The soil should be enriched with compost and composted manure. Cucurbitae vines are long, so a large garden is non-negotiable unless using smaller varieties that can be trellised.

Growing From Seed
Using seeds is the easiest way to grow pumpkins. For Durham County, sow the seeds between April 15 - June 15. (Seeds can be started indoors under grow lights four weeks, then plant them after the soil has warmed.) Seeds should be planted 1.5 inches deep, spaced 48 inches apart. (Different varieties of pumpkins will require different spacing between plants; read the seed packet for recommendations.)

Growing Organic Pumpkins: Watering and Fertilizing
Vines grow quickly, and they extract nutrients from the soil just as quickly. Using compost-enriched soil at planting is the best way to ensure the proper amount of nutrients, however, granulated organic fertilizer can be substituted, as well as alfalfa meal that can provide an appropriate amount of potassium. After initial planting, feed the plants every month with fish emulsion or kelp meal. Be sure to water regularly; most plants need about an inch of water per week during the summer. Check the soil before watering! If the soil is moist, don't water or the plants will drown and be subject to rot. (Pumpkin leaves frequently wilt during the hottest part of the day, then recover.)

Pests and Diseases
Squash vine borers and powdery mildew are the villains to growing healthy pumpkins. Scout for squash vine borer moths which have bright red abdomens and are likely laying eggs. The eggs will hatch, and the pupa will start tunneling into the stems of vines. Cover the plants with floating row covers (though they must be removed when the plant starts blooming so the pollinators can do their job). Check the stems, especially near the soil, for signs of tunneling and/or frass. Slit the vine and kill the borer, then bury the damaged part of the vine under a couple inches of soil. The plant will often recover, since pumpkins are able to root all along their vines, wherever a node touches the soil. Powdery mildew can spread in areas of poor air circulation. If it's a regular problem, consider spraying vines with a homemade baking soda spray for prevention.

Maturity will occur between 115-120 days. A telltale sign to harvest is when the skin is hard and unpenetrable with a fingernail. Pumpkin skin color stops developing once it is harvested, so wait until it's the shade most desired. Harvesting simply entails cutting the pumpkin from the vine with pruners or a knife, leaving a few inches of stem attached.

8 Winter Squashes to Grow in Your Garden (3)
Here are eight beautiful, tasty, and unique heirloom winter squash varieties to expand your vegetable garden.
  • 'Musque de Provence':  This beautiful French variety is becoming more popular. Its gorgeous buff color and flat, deeply ribbed shape make this perfect for displaying for fall. The flavor of this squash is amazing: sweet, complex, and absolutely delicious roasted. These are large squashes, weighing in at fifteen to twenty-five pounds at maturity.
  • 'Long Island Cheese':  A classic pumpkin of the 19th century. Skin: Pale cheese colored. Ribbing: Light. Flesh: Deep orange. Shape: Medium; averages 10 pounds. Keeps well. Edible: Sweet Varieties include 'Long Island Cheese' 'Shakertown Field'. 
  • 'Marina di Chioggia':  This Italian heirloom variety has stunning greenish gray, bumpy skin and a sweet flavor that only improves in storage. The fruits typically weigh in at around six to twelve pounds.
  • 'Kikuza':  The somewhat cinnamon-colored rind of this Japanese heirloom variety is definitely unique, as is the flavor. There is a bit of a spicy note to the firm flesh of these small (four to seven pound) squashes. They are excellent baked or roasted.
  • 'Queensland Blue': This Australian variety has a deeply ribbed greenish-blue rind. The bright orange flesh is quite dense and very sweet. This is also an excellent keeper.
  • 'Strawberry Crown': Gorgeous squash is absolutely perfect for fall decorating. The brown rind of these squashes is accented by just a touch of salmon color at the crown. It is tasty as well; excellent baked or roasted.
  • 'Black Futsu': This rare Japanese squash has a black rind that is bumpy and heavily ribbed. The black fruits will eventually turn a chestnut hue in storage. The nutty flavor of this squash is perfect for roasting or even baking.
  • 'Galeaux D'Eysines':  The pinkish rind is covered with buff colored "warts." Good flavor to make "pumpkin" butter and puree with: sweet, deeply orange.
Best Porch Pumpkins (4)
  • Musquee de Provence  (see above Heirloom pumpkin list)
Blue and Green Pumpkins
  • Blue Lakota: An heirloom variety from the Midwest. Color: A mix of blue and green. Ribbing is slight, shape is oblate; top at step comes to a point or cone-shape
  • Kabocha:  Also known as Japanese Pumpkin, Ebisu, Delica, Hoka, Hokkiado Pumpkin. Popular in Japan; grown in other nations for export to Japan. Skin is tough and green, flesh is yellow, stays firm and retains shape after cooking. Shape is rounded, irregular.
  • Kakai: Produced in Japan. Skin: Grey with orange stripes or ribbing. Size: 5 to 8 pounds. Carvability: Good. Edible: Not a first choice for cooking, but Kakai is popular for its blue seeds, which can be roasted.
  • Jarrahdale: An Australian heirloom pumpkin that was developed as a cross between the Cinderella and Blue Hubbard. Shape: Flattened but rounded like Cinderella. Skin: Light blue/gray. Ribbed: Deeply. Flesh: Golden yellow. Edible: Some pumpkin experts believe 'Jarrahdales' are the finest pumpkins for making pumpkin pies.
  • Marina Di Chioggia (see above Heirloom pumpkin list)
Cheese Pumpkins
  • 'Long Island Cheese': So-called because they resemble a wheel of cheese, the pale yellow-orange cheese pumpkins come in a variety of sizes and are striking displayed at different levels on the porch or porch steps by themselves or with bright orange pumpkins and flower pots filled with fall-blooming flowers like chrysanthemums and calendulas.
Ghostly White Pumpkins
  • 'Baby Boo': Bright white skin; tends to turn yellow if exposed to direct sunlight. Size: Miniature. Ribbing: Deep. Edible: No. Carvability: Too small
  • 'Lumina': Skin: Brilliant white. Texture: Smooth. Flesh: Bright yellow and valued for its flavor; good for baking. Carvability: It can be carved or painted; however, it doesn't last long.
  • 'Casper:' Bright white. Shape: More round than squat with only slight ribbing.
  • Edible: Good for pies and baking. Carvability: Better to leave alone or paint than carve
  • 'White Ghost' (also known as 'Valencia'): Skin: Pure white. Flesh: Bright yellow and thick. Shape: Squat. Edible: Good. Carvability: Challenging.
Grayish Green Pumpkins
  • 'Fairytale': An old French heirloom variety. Skin:Dark green with orange/peach blush when young. As it ages, the dark green turns to buff orange. Flesh: Bright orange. Shape: With its flatness and deep ribbing, Fairytale bears a striking resemblance to the Cinderella pumpkin. Size: About 15 inches diameter; 6 inches high and 20 to 30 pounds. Carvability: Not good. Edible: A good choice for cooking or baking pumpkin pies.  
  • 'Baby Boo': See above, Ghostly Whites
  • 'Pump Ke Mon': Also known as 'Lil Pump Ke Mon'. Skin: Variable coloration; usually white or yellow with green or yellow stripes and splotches. Keeps well.
  • 'Tiger':  Skin: Yellow with orange mottling. Ribs: Deep at the top, then fading at the bottom. Shape: Flat with recessed stem. Size: About 5 inches diameter; 3 inches high
Red-Orange Pumpkins
  • 'Cinderella' ('Rouge', 'Rouge Vif d'Estampes'): Cinderella pumpkins have become increasingly popular in recent years for their shape, bright color and fairytale-enchanting name. To add further intrigue, legend has it that this variety inspired the pumpkin carriage in the story of Cinderella. Shape: flattened, yet rounded -- like that carriage. Ribbed: Deeply. Edible: Semi-sweet and good for pies.Display: Attention-getters because of their bright red-orange skin and whimsical shape.
  • 'Lakota': An heirloom variety that hails from the Midwest. Skin: Red with green and black markings that follow light ribbing (lines). Shape: Pear-shaped. Size: Weighs 5 to 7 pounds. Edible: Delicious butternut squash-like flavor.
  • 'Red Warty': Skin: Warty, bumpy, pimply red skin. Flesh: Non-stringy. Size: Can grow up to 20 pounds. Edible: Better for cooking and eating than carving a face. Display: Since it resembles a warty Halloween witch or creature, one or more Red Warties are effective displayed unadorned, maybe next to something slightly spooky.
Pumpkin Storage (5)
Store in a cool, dry place, such as an attic or spare room (root cellars are too damp) at 45 to 60 degrees F. up to a month, or refrigerate for up to three months. For extended storage, wash skins in a solution of about a tablespoon of chlorine bleach to a gallon of water to disinfect the skin and discourage mold or rot. Dry immediately as dampness encourages spoilage. If mold is present, wipe with vegetable oil to remove the mold and seal the spot. Leftover cooked pumpkin can be frozen up to 16 months or canned. (Canned pumpkin puree is actually retentive of vitamins and minerals.) Fresh pumpkin can be pared and cooked in the same manner as most any winter squash, usually by cutting into chunks and simmering for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on size and age. Drain. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and puree.

1. Colleen Vanderlinden. (2014).  Grow Your Own Organic Pumpkins.” Retrieved from, Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. (2014). “Pumpkin History: Native Americans wove mats out of dried pumpkin strips”. Retrieved from:  Colleen Vanderlinden. (2014). “Heirloom Pumpkins and Squashes.” Retrieved from,  Lisa Hallett Taylor. (2014). A Guide to Pumpkin Types: The Best Pumpkins to Display on Your Porch. Retrieved from,

5. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. (2014). “Pumpkin Selection and Storage: Choose smaller pumpkins for eating.” Retrieved from:

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