** Long-time readers have requested that I post this essay I wrote last summer.**
Who doesn’t love selecting that perfectly shaped, deep orange Halloween pumpkin? No other fruit or vegetable evokes such thoughts of autumn’s colorful leaves and cooler days. Since picking a pumpkin is fun, I thought growing my own pumpkin would be even more fun. I have friends who were surprised to see pumpkins emerge in their yards on the site of the remains of last year’s squirrel ravaged jack o’ lanterns. How difficult could it be to purposefully plant pumpkin seeds and nurture them into would be jack o’ lanterns?
In past years, I’ve attempted this feat with marginal success. I’ve planted seeds and coaxed them into sprouts only to be defeated by assorted mammals, insects, drought and unintended neglect. Vowing this year would be different, I sowed my seeds outdoors and soon sprouts sprouted, leaves unfurled and vines began trailing. Optimism for a home-grown pumpkin was at an all time high. Each day I watered my little pumpkin patch occasionally indulging the fledglings with fertilizer. When the first pumpkin blossoms formed, then bloomed, my husband and I were euphoric. We’d never had blooms before. Surely little round pumpkins couldn’t be far behind.
It’s August now and the euphoria at seeing pumpkin blossoms has faded to concern for the well being of my pumpkins to be. There is nothing that even remotely resembles a baby pumpkin growing in my pumpkin patch. No round bundle of joy to nurture and rotate so it doesn’t grow to be lopsided. How will I ever have a pumpkin by Halloween? I did what any expectant gardener would do; I consulted the internet where thirty minutes of research yielded quite a lesson in pumpkin procreation.
Pumpkin blossoms are only open for one day before they shrivel and die. Bees are the primary pollen distribution network, so if the bees aren’t in the mood or aren’t in the neighborhood, the pumpkins miss their window of opportunity to leave their mark on the world and die as virgins. There seems to be a lot that needs to happen in a short period of time to create that little miracle of life known as a pumpkin. Most of the gardening websites suggested human intervention in the pollination process to improve pumpkin production. To be honest, that’s a little more involved than I was planning on getting with my pumpkins, but I really want little orange pumpkin babies so I’m willing to resort to artificial insemination. After reading up on the various methods of pumpkin matchmaking I was ready to help my shy pumpkin flowers do the deed. One website even jokingly suggested setting the mood with a little Marvin Gaye or Barry White.
As is important in most baby-making processes, a male and female are necessary. It is crucial for me to tell the difference between male and female pumpkin flowers and after searching Google images, I confidently returned to the pumpkin patch to get personal with my pumpkins. Since it was late in the day, blossom shrinkage had already occurred and I was forced to pull the petals apart to peek at my pumpkins’ private parts. This seemed akin to pulling down their pants and I found myself apologizing to the pumpkins for this invasion of their privacy.
All too quickly it became obvious why I didn’t have any pumpkin babies budding on the vines. I had a homosexual pumpkin patch! There wasn’t a single female pumpkin blossom in the entire patch. My dreams of a home-grown jack o’ lantern were withering and dying faster than a day old pumpkin blossom. Trying to stem my disappointment, I stripped off my gardening gloves and consulted websites where I learned that this was a common issue. Apparently the male flowers are first to arrive on the scene to attract the pollinators to the area after which the female flowers should begin to grow. Mother Nature, being a wise woman, doesn’t want to waste her females’ precious six hours of fertility waiting to get laid if there’s no one around to get the job done.
Each morning now I trek to the pumpkin patch to peek at the newly opened flowers hoping a female has decided to crash my all male pumpkin party. Some may consider this the behavior of a pumpkinphile. While I do find my new fixation on the sexual orientation of my pumpkin blossoms a bit unusual, I prefer not to think of myself as a pumpkinphile. I am not doing anything criminal nor do I have any intent on harming the pumpkins. I am not getting some sick satisfaction from this – well at least I won’t until I see a baby pumpkin growing. Since I am in this for the offspring and not the sex, I would prefer to classify myself as a pumpkin fertility facilitator. I find myself in a situation with which The Peanuts character Linus would be very familiar; I am waiting for The Great Pumpkin to arrive. When that female pumpkin blossom does finally rise from my pumpkin patch she’s going to have her pick of guys and I will be at the ready to quickly pollinate her before she withers away.
Several weeks after I wrote that essay I visited the Green Animals Topiary Garden near Newport, Rhode Island. While walking through the various gardens that day I recognized male and female pumpkin blossoms and vines. I was curious to see how this professional pumpkin patch was progressing. As I approached, I saw that there were small, green pumpkins maturing on the vines. It was at that moment, on a rainy day, in a pumpkin patch far from home, that I understood the dreams of my own home-grown jack o’lantern were squashed.
Doesn’t this give you a whole new appreciation for your Halloween pumpkin?