Saturday, October 3, 2015

Orange Globes Again

It’s hard to avoid those large, orange globes — you know what I mean. What do they call them — pumpkins? Yes, it’s that time of year and they’re sprouting everywhere, even crowding out election signs. They’re also a big news story — that is the big ones are. It seems there’s a record broken every fall for size and weight.

Besides the challenges of transportation to the weighing arena, there’s clearly a lot more involved in competitive pumpkin growing than just scattering a few seeds in the garden. I have grown pumpkins on occasion, and it was exciting the time I had one climb into a tomato cage. When it bulked up it absorbed the whole cage and became a goofy Halloween display all on its own, a performance artist pumpkin tottering on its three spiky legs with wires growing through its head — sort of a man in the iron mask look.

Yet I'm not competitive enough to dive into record breaking attempts, and besides, I really don’t have the room. My suburban lot isn't large enough to grow something the size of a garden shed, although it does sound almost like a practical idea. Plant it in spring, stop feeding when it reaches the appropriate size, scoop out the inside, then cut in the doors and windows and voila —  an orange garden shed. Not large enough? — I could grow a fresh one each year.

Durability might be an issue though, given how regular pumpkins tend to implode over time if left too long on the porch. I imagine a shed sized one could become its own compost pile overnight, then there’s an awful mess to clean up. I think I’ll stick with regular sized pumpkins — or even miniatures ones. Why not? Down sizing happened with pet dogs. If they get any smaller, we’ll be keeping them in bird cages.

As it happens, I did grow miniature pumpkins this year and I’m pleased with the results. They’re not really pumpkins, but they sure look like pumpkins. They’re just as orange, just as creased, and what’s more, my one plant produced dozens. They’re actually a plant in the nightshade family — same as potatoes and tomatoes. In fact, they've been called mock tomato. They’re also called Ornamental Eggplant, pumpkin bush, and my favourite, pumpkin on a stick. Solanum Integrifolium is the botanical name and it’s native to South East Asia.

It’s cooked there in stir fry dishes, but I'm not planning to eat mine without a little more research, but I am happy to grow it as an interesting ornamental plant. It was easy to grow and could have reached over a meter high if I’d given it a sunnier spot. I bought it as a plant in spring, although it can be grown from seed. I thought it looked interesting and stuck it in an out of the way corner in part shade then forgot about it until I saw golf ball sized pumpkins growing. 

Despite a lack of attention, my plant managed to produce a few dozen fruit. They’ll look perfect in a fall display basket — one with gourds and stuff. Not my thing, really. I think I’ll carve them as Barbie sized ghouls — or Barbie sized garden sheds. 

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