RSS Feed

Jack O’Lantern Seeks Jill O’Lantern

** Here’s one from the archives. In other words, I wrote it three years ago when I could count the number of readers on my fingers and toes.** 


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 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, Oregano and I were euphoric. We’d never had blooms before. Surely little round pumpkins couldn’t be far behind.

By August,  the euphoria at seeing pumpkin blossoms faded to concern for the well being of my pumpkins to be. There was nothing that even remotely resembled 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 would 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. 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. My desperation for  little orange pumpkin babies was so strong, I was 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 was 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 I trekked to the pumpkin patch to peek at the newly opened flowers hoping a female had decided to crash my all male pumpkin party. Some may consider this the behavior of a pumpkinphile. While I found my new fixation on the sexual orientation of my pumpkin blossoms a bit unusual, I did not to think of myself as a pumpkinphile. I wasn’t doing anything criminal nor did I have any intent on harming the pumpkins. I was not getting some sick satisfaction from this – well at least I wouldn’t until I saw a baby pumpkin growing. Since I was in this for the offspring and not the sex, I preferred to classify myself as a pumpkin fertility facilitator. I found myself in a situation with which The Peanuts character Linus would be very familiar; I was 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 later 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 on the 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.

Seeing this pumpkin growing squashed my delusions that I’d have a homegrown jack o’lantern.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

23 responses »

  1. I always thought it would be cool to try to grow pumpkins, but never tried it. We have the most fantastic pumpkin patch in our town, so I live vicariously.

  2. who knew? almost tmi, and at the same time very fascinating. and of course i had to go and google to learn about the difference between the two blossoms. again, there is lots of info about that. and now i too am in the know. as i was saying – who knew!
    have never tried growing pumpkins, but i have always admired seeing their orange glow at various farms in my travels. the fact that there are so many of them in pumpkin patches gives me a whole new appreciation for them after reading this post!

  3. Great post.

    I particularly enjoyed the way you have described the sexual orientation of the pumpkin blossoms. If I may ask, as you walked around, what is it tghat made you think that way?


    • Thanks for reading, Shakti. Glad you enjoyed the post. To answer your question, after doing research I learned what the male and female pumpkin flowers looked like. When I went out to the pumpkin patch each day, I noticed that every flower was male. That struck me as funny (and also explained the lack of baby pumpkins).

  4. As much as I love pumpkin everything, I never tried growing any. Neither did my Mom when we lived on a farm. Based on your experience, I won’t be waiting in the pumpkin patch with Linus for the Great Pumpkin. I’ll go to the grocery store and bring a pumpkin home from there. Best wishes, Paprika.

    • I’m definitely done trying to grow my own pumpkins. The supermarket or local farm can supply them for me from now on. The attempt wasn’t a complete loss. I didn’t get a pumpkin, but now I know waaaaaaaay more than I should about how pumpkins procreate. Happy Halloween, Judy.

  5. Enjoyed this story, a lot. My balcony is not equipped to handle pumpkins, so I am glad to hear that I can avoid challenges by not even attempting to grow them. The local market was giving away (free!) the left-over pumpkins last year (on Hallowe’en night), so I may head over there this year to see if there are any on offer. This way I can think of myself as an adoptive parent — much like your role of fertility specialist. I have never had any success with tomatoes — and everyone else I know does well. Perhaps tomatoes have the same challenges?
    Aside from that: Bees! so important, and so at risk. May they survive the pesticides, or else we’ll all have to grow our own food, and take on the task of fertilizing each little promise. Not on my list of “things to do.”

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my tale of pumpkin related woe. Free pumpkins! That’s awesome! I’ve never seen anyone around here doing that.

      I’m a total failure with tomatoes, too. The groundhogs, chipmunks and squirrels always beat me to them. I got tired of feeding the neighborhood wildlife so I just stick to flowers now.

  6. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Sorry Paprika, but the sexiest equipment you’d need to get would be a couple of qtips to transfer pollen from the male to female blossom.
    If the female flowers don’t start to come on the vines until stimulated by pollinators, then I suggest, you get busy tickling your boy flowers as soon as they start producing pollen… (Either that, or consider locating polinators of some description somewhere in the neighbourhood ; ).
    Oh, and you should also ensure that your local plant suppliers aren’t using Neonicotinoid Insecticides on their plants.

  7. From time to time I’ve grown the Jack Be Little pumpkins. They are those little orange ones. You can’t put them on your front porch or carve them but they are wonderful in large numbers dressing up the dining table. One year I did get a “volunteer” pumpkin sprout and ended up with a large pumpkin but the vines were all over the place. It was like kudzu, growing several feet a day. I haven’t planted pumpkins in years. It’s just easier to buy them. Now that I understand the sex part, I may give it another whirl. Did you try wine with Barry White? I did that for the fish and my population exploded.

  8. So much fun to read this again!! And very timely! xoxo

  9. …and so you turned your creative energies into writing your wonderful stories? For all the joy and chuckles you’ve given me I will treat you to a brand new pumpkin that you can pick yourself at any number of local farm stands nearby!

    • Thanks, Ronnie. I think it is fair to say that I have more success writing stories than I do growing pumpkins. As a master gardener, I’m sure this story gave you extra chuckles. I had no idea pumpkins were so persnickety.

  10. Humm…interesting info. I had tremendous success with blooming cucumber plants this summer but no cucumbers – however I had plenty of tomato blooms and tomatoes! Lol!

    • I really thought that once we had the blooms we were in the clear for pumpkins. I had no idea it could be so difficult. It has given me a whole new appreciation for growing fruits and vegetables.

      Glad you got to enjoy the tomatoes. Nothing tastes better than a home grown tomato.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: