Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension
One of my favorite times of the year is upon us- Halloween! I love the opportunity to dress up like someone or something else, I love going around town with the kids and visiting with my neighbors, and I love stealing the occasional piece of candy from the kids’ stash. But my favorite part of the holiday is celebrating the fruit that takes center stage Halloween night.
|Even our cat gets in on this Halloween tradition|
A week or two before Halloween, my family chooses a few of the largest, heaviest fruits we can find and bring them home. We enjoy having them around the house before we massacre them, driving pins and knifes into their flesh and destroying their skin. We dig out the inside, then roast and eat the germs we separate from the mucilaginous pulp the fruit has produced.
Sounds like a really scary Halloween tradition, right? What might be most frightening is that this ritual takes place all across the country prior to and on October 31st, not just in the hills of northwest Colorado.
The fruit I’m talking about is, of course, a pumpkin. A botanical fruit, we tend to think of it as a vegetable, but it’s a versatile and fun squash that brings joy to millions this time of year.
Pumpkins are grown with ease in many areas of the state. While different varieties require different conditions, most that can be carved for jack-o-lanterns will require about 100 warm, frost-free days to reach maturity. Some pie pumpkins and smaller varieties can fare well with 20-30 days less, but having a microclimate that holds heat and protects pumpkin’s large, thin leaves will help ensure you get fruit that looks (and eats) like a pumpkin.
|CJ Mucklow's harvest|
from an elevation of 7300'!
While carving pumpkins tend to have a bit less meat than many pie pumpkins, nearly any pumpkin can be eaten. This time of year we love to make pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, and of course, pumpkin pie. But it’s not all about the baked goods, either: we love roasted pumpkin mixed in with other squash, pumpkin soups, and if we can find it, pumpkin ice cream.
|Routt County Extension Agent|
Libby Christensen taking her
pumpkin to donate to the piggies
As you gather the pumpkins from your garden this year or buy them from your local farmer or grocery store, remember that even the pumpkins you carve are great food. No, you may not want to eat the dried-out flesh yourself, but this Halloween’s jack-o-lantern is a wonderful treat for chickens, hogs, cattle, and other livestock. Every year we toss our sad, depressing looking carvers to the chickens and they think Thanksgiving has come three weeks early. Locally in Routt County, the Pumpkins for Piggies program collects pumpkins for consumption by local hogs. And of course, pumpkins easily break down in a compost pile and help create additional organic matter to add back to the garden next year.
One word of caution before you throw your pumpkins out, though: take the seeds out before you compost or dispose of it in the chicken coop or yard! Seeds will not break down in a backyard composting situation and if not removed, you’ll have little pumpkins springing up in your compost, the garden, or wherever else a seed may sprout. Two years ago my kids threw one down our slide to see it explode at the bottom, and while the chickens came and cleaned up most of the mess, the next spring we were surprised to find a new, vibrant pumpkin vine cushioning their landing. A fun surprise for sure, but not an ideal location for a pumpkin.
Enjoy the fruit of the season and appreciate the wonderful, versatile pumpkin. It’s no trick- they’re a treat for all!
|A portion of the pumpkins gathered last year for the Pumpkins for Piggies|
program in Routt County. What a haul!
Photo courtesy of Meredith Rose, Community Agriculture Alliance