Fall is a special time of year for farmers and home gardeners alike. We’re harvesting our final bounty, putting our soil to sleep for the winter, looking forward to a well-deserved break, and (yes, already!) starting to dream about next season. It’s a time to reflect on what went wrong this year, what went right, and what we will do differently next time around.
Growing produce is a risky venture. There are many variables we can’t control, like weather and pest populations from year to year. It’s important to stack the deck in our favor wherever we can! In the next few months, I will be sharing some of my successes and failures from the 2020 season (both at Old Trail Farm and in my home garden), why they happened, and what I learned from them.
One way to increase our odds of a successful harvest is through careful crop selection and, especially, researching which variety of a particular crop will work best. Since Halloween has just passed and both Thanksgiving and Countryside’s Virtual Squash Tasting are on the horizon, I thought I would share a seasonally appropriate example of a crop/variety I had great success with this year – the Dickinson Pumpkin.
Despite some apparent controversy about this, pumpkins are a type of winter squash. (Ag nerds, learn more about that here.) As such, they are subject to common squash pests in our region, including the dreaded squash vine borer. Squash vine borer moths lay their eggs at the base of squash plants and when the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the stem of the plant to feed and grow (hence the name). This is bad news for the squash plants, which generally keel over and die.
I usually avoid this issue by not growing pumpkins. But this year, I thought my five year-old nephew might need a pumpkin in his life. After a bit of research, I found an heirloom variety of pumpkin, called Dickinson, that was supposed to resist squash vine borers because of their extra woody stems. This wasn’t your average jack-o-lantern style pumpkin. It was elongated and tannish, kind of like a butternut squash. (Which, incidentally is also resistant to squash vine borers.) I grew it.
Dickinson shrugged off the borers, and the squash bugs (referenced here). I grew it in an open part of my yard and the deer and rabbits left it alone. I ignored this plant and it gave me an adorable pumpkin for my nephew.
I also got several other large pumpkins with a sweet, deep orange flesh that is so delicious. It is actually what most of the canned pumpkin on our grocery shelves is made of (again, read this). We baked it in our brick pizza oven with brown sugar and butter and man. I will definitely be growing Dickinson again next year!