Our first harvest - Pumpkins
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
When we moved into our house in June last year, we knew we wanted to start a food garden. We had originally envisaged a veggie patch in an empty back corner garden bed, with a sandpit next to it covering over some of the extensive lawn. However, once we watched where the sun was moving and thought about it some more, we ended up converting the garden bed into our sandpit and play area, and covered over the lawn to create our veggie patch (we figured having kids in the shade and veggies in the sun was a better way of doing things).
We didn’t see much point in starting straight away, June is the middle of the dry season, the reticulation system just kept on blowing fuses (it turned out ants had eaten all of the solenoid wiring), and it would have been an uphill battle getting any plants to take off with no water. By October, the humidity was rising rapidly and we knew rain would come eventually, so we got started. Our plan was to establish the beds then allow them to settle over the wet season, so as to plant out in the next dry season (dry season is the time for growing more ‘traditional’ veggies, such as tomatoes, although I’ve since been inspired by the number of tropical fruits and veggies that produce in abundance year-round, and have changed some of my plans).
After covering our patch of unwanted lawn with cardboard, palm fronds, and assorted other organic matter, we figured we’d better start planting something. On the advice of a seasoned gardener from our local community garden, we threw handfuls of mung beans into the bed as a cover crop. I also picked up a sorry collection of seedlings from the local hardware store, including a few herbs, chillies, beans, and a yellowing pumpkin plant.
Within a week of planting, the rain arrived. Through November, we added a moringa seedling (planted by X at a playgroup at the community garden), a banana sucker (also from the community garden), a mulberry bush, and some lemongrass, to grow up around the veggie patch. As the wet season arrived, our garden began to take shape. The sporadic rain and intense heat of October-November killed off a lot of our original seedlings, but the pumpkin just grew, and grew, and grew.
It wasn’t until January that the first pumpkin flowers appeared, and we watched with excitement as the first ‘mini pumpkins’ formed but were soon disappointed as they quickly rotted away. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I saw a thread on a local gardening page mentioning the need for hand pollination. I had thought the bees and butterflies that flitted from flower to flower would be doing the job, but it seemed not. I don't know if this is an issue specific to the tropics, or our local area, but if your pumpkins, zucchinis etc aren't developing further, it's worth a try. As soon as we started hand pollinating, pumpkins began developing all over the veggie patch (and the plant did its best to take over the whole space, it’s good that the other veggies didn’t survive as they would likely have been overrun).
Through February and March the pumpkins continued to grow and ripen, and we picked our first two in the days before Easter. Since then, we’ve harvested more pumpkins than we could eat ourselves, and have given lots away to neighbours and friends. In the past couple of weeks, the vine has been dying back, although it is still putting out some new shoots and flowering a couple of times a week. There are four pumpkins which will be ready to pick in coming days, and another five smaller ones still growing, but the vine is slowly making space for us to plant other things.
I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin on its own, so we’ve been cooking lots of pumpkin curries, soups, cakes and muffins. I think I actually prefer it in sweet, rather than savoury dishes. That said, this has been a great first crop for us, X has been fascinated by the way the vine just kept growing and growing, and has been active in sending escaping tendrils back into the garden patch, pollinating the flowers (he’s more of a morning person than I am), picking pumpkins, and delivering them to our neighbours in his wheelbarrow. Knowing you’ve grown so many large pumpkins from such a tiny seedling gives a huge sense of satisfaction. We'll be saving some of the seeds from the tastiest pumpkins to plant again next season. Now, we’re wondering how long this vine is actually going to last, given we won’t be experiencing any ‘winter frosts’ that the internet suggests leads to the plant’s typical demise.
I’ll be sharing a couple of pumpkin recipes in coming weeks, including a very forgiving pumpkin muffin recipe (these are easy to make with small children, so this is how most of our pumpkin ends up, haha).
I’m not sure what we’ll plant in the bed once the pumpkin has died (if that is what it’s doing), although I would like to have a go at a corn maze. We’ve also extended the garden bed further out over the lawn, where I plan on creating a couple of individual beds (perhaps one for ‘salad ingredients’ and another for eggplant, chillies, tomatoes and so forth).
We probably should have had these all in already (it’s usually recommended dry season crops are in ‘by Easter’), but gardening with two small assistants takes time, and we’re in no rush. If we don’t get our dry season crops in until next dry season, so be it, there are plenty of other things we can grow in the meantime. I will be posting periodic garden updates, as well as some ideas for giving children ownership of the garden and tips for tropical edible food gardens (I’m still learning, but I can share with you as I go).
What are your favourite tropical food plants to grow with children?