One thing I love about that time of year, when the days get shorter and the air becomes crisp, is the abundance of pumpkins at every turn. I love to see the classic, round, orange pumpkins dotting stoops around the neighborhood, and the tiny ornamental variety lined up on kitchen windowsills.
Pumpkins are very American
Villages hold pumpkin festivals, bakeries fill their display cases with seasonal pumpkin spice breads, cupcakes, and muffins, and our favorite coffee shops whip-up tasty libations that call to mind the coziness of hearth and home. Pumpkins have become an integral part of our autumn tradition, and we’ve come to regard them as being as American as, well, pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins have had a place in our hearts and on our tables for hundreds of years. First introduced to early European settlers by Native Americans, they were among the earliest crops grown by colonists for food, thanks in large part to their versatility in cooking and the thick rind and dense flesh that allowed them to be stored over the winter. While native to Central America and Mexico, today they are grown throughout the world.
Pumpkins are members of the gourd family, which also includes cucumbers, melons, and zucchini. Pumpkins are a nutritious food source, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins A and B, protein, potassium, and iron. And best of all, they are easy to grow at home! With so many different varieties of pumpkin seeds available to the home gardener, whether you have a large space or a small, whether you plan to admire them or bake them into pies, (or both!), there is a pumpkin that’s just right for you.
If names like Jack Be Little, Wee Be Little, and Baby Boo aren’t reason enough to have you reaching for the seed packets, these diminutive charmers also have the advantage of being some of the easiest pumpkins to grow at home, and they are especially good choices for gardeners like me, who are working within a small space. Reaching sizes of only 3 – 4 inches across and 2 inches high, there are a number of creative ways to incorporate these little fruits into the garden.
If you are short on space in the veggie patch, seeds of the bright orange Jack Be Little and Wee Be Little, or the ghostly white Baby Boo can be planted along fences, or trained to grow on trellises or over arbors. They can even be grown in containers on a sunny porch or patio – as long as the vines are tied to a supportive structure that they are able to climb. Miniature pumpkins can be brought indoors and used to make great fall decorations, and, because they are tiny enough to fit in their little palms, growing small varieties can be a fun project for kids. When planting pumpkins, seeds should be direct sown in spring in full sun; they’ll take about 95 days to reach maturity.