Bertha the pumpkin

I didn’t have much joy with my munchkin pumpkins. Actually… scratch that. I didn’t have *any* joy with my munchkin pumpkins this year. I had visions of the tiny pumpkins merrily hanging from my arch amidst the fronds of Spanish flag flowers… but after a slow start and an (apparently) cooler summer, the fruits just withered and went soft.

Lucy, Tortoise the cat & Bertha the pumpkin

Lucy, Tortoise the cat & Bertha the pumpkin

Luckily all was not lost in the pumpkin department. Bertha the knucklehead pumpkin was romping away of her own accord. I’m not sure why I decided to give my pumpkin a name, and a gender. It just happens like that sometimes.

She grew well despite minimal attention from me – I unceremoniously shoved the pumpkin plant on an old compost site around June (I think) by the blackthorn hedging, and watered sporadically.

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

The vine scrambled and grew and grew, flowered when it was about 6 metres long, and grew more to about 10 metres, and Bertha was born.

Bertha my knucklehead pumpkin

Bertha my knucklehead pumpkin

I harvested Bertha at the weekend because my fingernail could no longer puncture the skin of the pumpkin, and the stem from which she was growing was rock hard. These are two great indications that pumpkins are ready to harvest, so I took a sharp knife and cut the cord, giving her plenty of stem to encourage a healthy cure process (where the skin hardens, goes orange and makes the pumpkins perfect for storing).

Tortoise is not so impressed...

Tortoise is not so impressed…

I was pretty pleased with Bertha. She’s not large by any stretch of the imagination, but I grew her from seed (thanks Marshalls Seeds) and she’s the biggest pumpkin I’ve grown in eight years of my journey to the good life. My previous record was an 8lb butternut squash. Bertha will be left to cure for now, and I’ve got visions of pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup next month. At the weekend I went to the Bromham Apple Day festival in Bedfordshire and bought a small pumpkin loaf, which was incredibly tasty! So now pumpkin bread is also on the menu too.

Knucklehead pumpkin

Growing squashes for Autumn

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

This year I was given a selection of squashes to grow by Marshalls Seeds, and whilst I’m still trying to find a way to use up all the courgettes, the other cucurbits are also romping away. The happiest of all is my Knucklehead Pumpkin plant, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 metres long and is producing two large fruits. Well, that’s two fruits that I can see as the vine has scrambled its way across the scrubby area by the compost bins. There could be more lurking.

The knucklehead pumpkin is yet to start going orange or knobbly… but I’m hoping that by mid to late October we’ll have a lovely pumpkin to harvest for pies, soup and all sorts of autumnal foodie treats.

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch

And on the arch – my biggest, bestest bargain of this year – nestling amongst the flowering Spanish Flag, my munchkin pumpkins from Sarah Raven are also starting to fruit. Although it’s fairly late in the year for the vines to be producing flowers, I’m hopeful that they’ve got a lot of growing left in them and we’ll have more than just a small handful of the impossibly cute and pretty mini pumpkins for harvesting this year. I’ve counted about ten flowers and buds so it’s a game of wait and see… not sure the persistent damp conditions and lack of warm autumn sunshine will help my cause though…

Funnily enough, the sunniest side of the arch has been swamped by the Spanish Flag climbing vines, so the munchkin pumpkin plants have struggled to compete. On the less sunny side that faces to the east, the munchkin pumpkins are thriving. Something to bear in mind next year as I’ll most definitely be going for a Spanish Flag-munchkin pumpkin combo again. It’s been my little crowning glory this year.

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and climbing Munchkin pumpkins

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and Munchkin pumpkins

The Squash Arch

squashes growing in the greenhouse

My squashes have been growing at a rate of knots in the greenhouse and in the past, this has been the time that I’ve really started to neglect them and just left the plants in their pots, restricted and begging for more nutrition. Bad veggie mum. But this year I’m a bit more prepared… although I have way too many squashes and not enough space to put them all!

Whilst I need to have a think on the best way to accommodate the bigger cucurbits like the spaghetti squash, knucklehead pumpkins and courgettes, the munchkin pumpkins will have smaller fruits that will happily scramble up and over the arch.

Squash arch in the garden

Taken a couple of weeks ago, the squash arch is in and ready for planting, just as soon as the squashlings are ready! (Can you also spot the black and white furry beast in the veg plots?)

I kept a space free between the big veg plot and the bare patch of the asparagus bed, and have bolted together a metal arch between the two to grow the squash over. I found the metal arch in Poundland for £6.99, and although it probably won’t last more than two or three seasons, it was the next best option (no plastic, thanks). Originally I had wanted to construct the arch with hazel or willow, but Wasseldine, my local supplier, were all out by the time I got around to enquiring about some bean sticks and poles. Organisation skills… not.

Squashes are thirsty and greedy little beggars, and with our sandy soil we needed to add in some manure and compost to give them plenty to feed on. As I’m doing no-dig this year I decided to just dump a load of manure and compost onto the space I’d been saving for my plants, and plant direct into that. Easy peasy.

They will of course need support to scramble up, so we’ve started fastening some garden wire as extra support. I was originally intending on putting in mesh panels but Rich decided to go for a more aesthetically-pleasing option (hopefully it’ll work just as well).

Spanish Flag plant

Image ©Sarah Raven – Spanish Flag scrambling – a perfect companion to scrambling munchkin pumpkins? Only time will tell.

While I wait for my squashlings to get a little bigger before planting out, I’ve put in some mina lobata (Spanish Flag) plants to start scrambling. The idea is to have both the red and white of the Spanish flag flowers intertwined with the squash vines and fruits… it’s all very pretty in my mind so hopefully it’ll come true before the blackfly have their way this year.