31 October 2014

Pumpkins and penny sweets.

Pumpkins can be fickle creatures at Hill Top, some years they grow like Topsy and threaten to take over the whole garden and other years they seem to just sit and sulk for weeks before reluctantly producing a few bowling ball sized fruits. This year hasn't been great, I only managed to produce two decent sized pumpkins, one of which was snaffled by Jess for the Wray Castle halloween shop display and another smaller one which I've left 'on display' in the garden too long and is slowly being eaten by slugs.

This years pumpkins - must try harder next year.

The pumpkins I grow at Hill Top are the French heirloom variety 'Rouge Vif d'Etampes which are yellowy orange 'cinderella' type and in a good year will produce 4 or 5 large fruits per plant. 
I usually sow the seeds in the greenhouse in May and plant the seedlings out in mid June but they can also be sown in late April directly in the soil. Either way it's a good idea to make a planting pocket by digging a hole about 30cm square and filling it with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil. Add some general purpose fertiliser too if you've got some. If you've grown plants in the greenhouse, make sure you harden them off before planting them out.
Once they're established, it's just a matter of feeding every couple of weeks with a high potash fertilizer once the fruits appear and making sure they have plenty of water. 
If you don't have a garden you can even grow pumpkins in a growbag.

Spooky spider's web!

The association between halloween and pumpkins and the rise of 'trick or treating' is, like Miley Cyrus, a recent (and some would say unwelcome) American import. When I was growing up in the 1960's only the really well-off kids had pumpkins, we had to make do with the more traditional hollowed out turnip (I'm not joking here - anyone under 40, ask your parents)! If you've ever tried hollowing out a turnip you can imagine the number of cuts and stab wounds which resulted from the combination of small children, sharp knives and rock hard root vegetables - never was the Blue Peter advice 'get a grown-up to help you' more appropriate!
Having hollowed out our turnips and bandaged our fingers, a string handle was attached, a candle placed inside and the turnip lid put on. This was invariably followed by the acrid smell of burning turnip as the flame from your Mum's 'power cut candle'  slowly cooked the turnip lid (tea lights hadn't been invented in the '60s kids).
The more entrepreneurial children would then set off around the estate stopping at houses and reciting the enchanting verse

"The sky is blue
 The grass is green
 Can you spare a penny for Halloween"

The 24p profit from an evening trudging round in the drizzle was spent the next day on Curly Wurlys, Black Jacks and white mice (again - under 40's- ask your parents) or sometimes a box of bangers to be let off well before bonfire night (don't do it kids, it's not big or clever).

Autumn colours

Anyway, I digress! Elsewhere in the garden the Autumn colours are in full swing. The Crimson Glory vine on the pub wall has been...er...glorious, as have the deciduous azaleas. The Eucryphia and the Enkianthus are just colouring up now but the Wisteria on the house is staying steadfastly green, probably kept warm by the warmth from the south facing wall.
Flower-wise, the Michaelmas daisies have given up and the soapwort is all but over. Rose 'Felicia' is still bravely flowering as are the Evening Primroses and the Pot Marigolds. My runner beans, still not killed off by frost, were blown over in the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo.

Hill Top house closes on Sunday, although the garden and shop are open right through to Christmas eve, so with fewer visitors around, the hard work of cutting back the borders, lifting and dividing perennials and digging over the vegetable garden can begin. My fingers are crossed for a nice dry, frosty winter.

With all this talk of Halloween my musical link this week had to have a spooky theme so I could have gone for 'Walking With a Ghost' by The White Stripes or 'Ghost Train' by Elvis Costello or even the very obscure 'Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead by XTC but in the end I couldn't decide between the old school Halloween-ness of this or the rather tenuous Trick or Treatiness of this (skip the advert).

Happy Halloween and see you next time.

Words and pictures by Pete the Gardener