Pumpkins come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and textures. (ALBERT PARSONS/FOR THE SUN)
It is almost Halloween so get out the carving knives and some pumpkins to create your one-of-a-kind jack-o’-lanterns.
This time of year is meant to be fun and if you have young people to share the fun of carving pumpkins, your enjoyment will be greatly increased.
The amount of decorating done for Halloween has increased immensely over the last few years and there are great quantities of decorations of all types available at retail outlets.
However, I think the old standby of a natural pumpkin carved into a unique creation is still the best Halloween decoration to be had. I guess I am old fashioned and prefer natural materials when I decorate for any holiday.
Combining straw, colourful leaves, burlap, and various decorative squashes and pumpkins can create wonderful, natural autumn displays, which can be enhanced for Halloween by adding some jack-o’-lanterns. The displays can be maintained for a while after Oct. 31 with the Halloween touches simply having been removed on Nov. 1.
Pumpkins have been available at garden centres and retail outlets for a month now and those of us who grow their own pumpkins harvested them before hard frosts occurred.
The vines have long since been pulled up — a job that takes considerable effort — and the pumpkins have ripened and are ready to carve.
I do not grow regular pumpkins — I leave that to my brother-in-law and his wife to do in the part of their farm garden that I haven’t expropriated for my own use! However, I do grow all sorts of decorative pumpkins.
All pumpkins like the same growing conditions; they prefer rich, deeply dug soil, lots of hot weather, and they do like a steady supply of water. Pumpkins of all types also require lots of space as their rambling vines can cover a huge area by late fall.
This summer we had all the heat the plants needed, so the pumpkin crop has been excellent. The pumpkins had to be watered a few times but other than that, the growing conditions this summer suited pumpkins to a "t".
There are several types of pumpkins, ranging from miniature ones to those huge monstrosities that we read about that are grown for competition. These light orange giants are too large for the average person to lift and require a lot of care during the growing season so they are usually only grown by dedicated enthusiasts.
I like to grow decorative pumpkins, particularly the miniature varieties. Jack-Be-Little, a miniature orange ribbed variety, is one of my favourites, while a white version called Baby Boo is a close second. Wee Be Little is a miniature, smooth-sided pumpkin.
White pumpkins — and blue ones as well — have been developed to cater to the jack-o’-lantern trade, but the traditional orange ones still seem to be the most popular. Including some of the white or blue ones in a display, however, can add variety and interest.
Most people grow what are commonly called pie pumpkins and jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. These varieties are all orange and of a reasonable size to be managed by the ordinary person.
Some of the pie pumpkin varieties tend to be a bit smaller and of course they have been bred to have sweet flesh suitable for use in pumpkin recipes, including my favourite — pumpkin pie!
If you only carved it a day or so before Halloween, you do not need to discard your jack-o’-lantern after Halloween; remove the peel and cut off any flesh inside the jack-o’-lantern that is discoloured or has been scorched by the candle used to light it up. The rest of the pumpkin can be processed or used as you normally would do.
If you have a large number of pumpkins, including some miniatures, and want to make a unique Halloween display, but you don’t feel like carving them all, use felt markers to draw faces on some of the pumpkins. This works well on the miniatures, which are sometimes more difficult to hollow out and carve.
Sadly, Halloween brings to an end my discussions about the rewards of outdoor gardening. Next week I will write about some of the successes and failures that I experienced in my 2012 garden; after that, it will be time to turn our thoughts to our indoor gardens.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2012