Those pumpkins have been quietly growing in your garden since early summer. Now it's time to pull them off the vine and get them ready for Halloween.
Pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon. Its scientific name is Cucurbita maxima and it is related to squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupes. Its history can be traced back over 9,000 years to Mexico. American Indians grew pumpkins here, and Columbus carried the seeds back to Europe.
Not all pumpkins are orange. Some are white, green, or a mixture of all three colors. The vines die after the first hard frost, making the pumpkins easy to spot.
Pumpkin seeds are usually started with the rest of the garden in May or June. The plants need room to spread out. Some gardeners plant the vining crop around the base of their corn or sunflowers. This helps control weeds in the corn or sunflowers and gives the pumpkin vines something to wind around. Smaller varieties of pumpkins can be grown on trellises. The structures must be strong enough to hold the heavy fruit.
After the pumpkin vines blossom, the fruit can be formed into shapes. Stick a blossom into a gallon jug, or into a two-liter plastic pop bottle. Once the fruit forms on the blossom, it will start to take the shape of the container. When the pumpkin outgrows its container, cut the container away and let the pumpkin finish growing. It will keep its square or oblong shape and you will have some fun pumpkins to decorate.
As pumpkins grow, you can personalize them. Scratch your name or words into the surface with a nail or ballpoint pen when they are small. As they grow, the skin will heal over the scratch marks and the words will grow along with the pumpkin.
When you are ready to harvest pumpkins, don't lift them by the stem. Leaving the stem attached gives you a handle once the lid is cut into the top, and it makes the pumpkin last longer. If the stem breaks off, it leaves an open door for bacteria and fungi to enter.
After you remove the seeds from your pumpkin, rinse them, sprinkle them with your favorite seasonings such as garlic or season salt, and bake them at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes.
As you carve your pumpkin for Halloween, smear the edges and inside with petroleum jelly. This will help it last longer. Once you pick the size of candle that will fit inside the pumpkin, scoop out a spot inside the bottom so the candle will fit securely. Wrap a piece of wire around the candle base, leaving two long ends free. When you place the candle in the pumpkin, stick the ends of the wire into the pumpkin to hold the candle in place.
Colorful gourds also make great Halloween decorations. Wash them with a mild vinegar or bleach solution to cure them and to remove bacteria or fungus on the skin. Let the gourds dry and harden in a warm, well-ventilated place.
To make a fall swag of lights with gourds, choose about 20 round or bell-shaped gourds in different colors. Cut off the large ends and scrape out the pulp. Using a 1/4 or 3/8-inch drill bit, drill one large hole at the top of the gourd. Drill more holes all around the gourd for light to shine through.
Using a long string of holiday lights, stuff three to four lights into each gourd through the hole in the top. The gourds will be held in place by the lights stuffed tightly inside them. The string of gourds and lights will be clunky and heavy. Carefully drape this gourd swag of lights over a door or along a porch for weeks to come. As the gourds dry, the hole at the top will enlarge, and the lights may slip out. You can replace the gourd by carving out a new one, or stick the lights through a hole on the side.