Plants: Our Friends and Enemies

Pumpkin: the Useful and the Curious

Pumpkins have been favourites with gardeners for a very long time. Old gardening books point out that they can be cultivated without much effort – unlike cucumbers and tomatoes, they are perfectly happy to grow in open air. Their most vital requirement is deep and rich soil, fertilized with compost and manure, where they can spread their roots and grow big. The soil should be also moist – in dry soil the plants will be week and quickly decline. Another important requirement is the sun. Ideally pumpkins should be grown away from buildings and trees in a open position, exposed to the sun all day. It is also useful to put pieces of wood or tiles under developing fruit to prevent rot.

18th– and 19th-century gardening books often recommended growing pumpkins over structures, such as arches and gazebos, where they can be enjoyed as decorative plants and, if necessary, create shade and privacy. They are indeed highly ornamental, with large gorgeous flowers, loved by bees. Their ability to grow fast and climb tall structures in a single season is equal to none, as long as the soil is rich and moist. In fact, if there is anything to climb on, pumpkins will be sure to take advantage. This year in my garden, before I had time to notice, a pumpkin climbed on the beans, and then over the fence into the neighbours’ garden. It produced huge beautiful hanging fruit on beans and on the roof of the neighbours’ shed.

I come across some very curious advice in 18th– and 19th-century gardening books:

1. Plant pumpkins after the full moon – they will produce better fruit and fewer male flowers than those planted when the moon is waxing.

2. Before planting, soak pumpkin seeds in milk, then put them in thick sugar syrup for 3-4 days. As a result, the fruit will be sweeter and plants less susceptible to cold.

3. To grow a very large pumpkin, wait until the fruit is of the size of a tennis ball, and make two or three holes in it by cutting out small segments. Put in the holes several mustard seeds as deep as possible, and close the holes with the cut-out segments. The fruit will grow very large, but will not taste as good as the smaller, more tender fruit.

 4. It is possible to grow a pumpkin inside a house, as a decoration, by directing a vine through a small window and positioning growing fruit on a table or window sill. As long as the flower has been pollinated, and the plant has good soil and enough water, the fruit will grow normal size.

And here is a cosmetic recipe:

To get rid of sun spots on the face, grind raw pumpkin seeds to a paste in a mortar. Add the same amount of water to make ‘milk’. Mix in some honey and put the mixture on the face for 30 min. Do it until the spots disappear.

Image credits: featured image – Jack-o’-lantern by William Warby

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