View from the Garden: Perusing the East End’s Pumpkins and Gourds

A gourd turned into a cat-themed birdhouse.
A gourd turned into a cat-themed birdhouse.

This week I harvested the birdhouse gourds that I planted on a client’s fence…Two seeds yielded 11 gourds! I would have liked to leave them on the vine as this helps insure that they will dry successfully. But that was not possible here as this visit was the fall cleanup. So I will cure them in my cool garage until they are dry and the seeds rattle…about six months, and then make them into birdhouses and take them back to the client to be used by their birds.

I have made many birdhouses with these types of gourds. They last for several years and they are consistently in use. One must learn the necessary techniques for drying and construction but such a rewarding undertaking!

I don’t see them at the local farm stands so you will need to grow them yourself. The vine is very long! I usually grow them on a trellis; a walk through one where possible, so they can be watched while growing but a teepee or fence works also. Seed packages are labeled “birdhouse gourd,” and if not found locally, can be ordered online. Children will enjoy the whole process from growing to birdhouse and this could be one of the several ways to teach them about growing things.

The assortment of squash, pumpkins and gourds available locally is amazing; it seems like there are new colors, shapes and sizes of pumpkins each year: various shades of orange, white, grey, grey and cream, flat, tall and skinny, short and fat and those with warts! The assortment of squash…and the enormous variety of gourds! I want to buy one of each of the gourds and have had a lot of difficulty deciding which pumpkin to get for my Jack-o-lantern. But only some pumpkins make good lanterns, some are for decoration and some are for eating. You don’t want to get this wrong—so if in doubt, ask.

When I was a girl, the classic fall dinner was baked potatoes from the storage room, baked acorn squash and meatloaf (for which I now substitute a bean loaf) and that’s still the meal I want when fall is in the air.

The classic butternut squash is also a favorite and I use it in as many ways as I can. Just baked with butter is good. Many guests at my house have been surprised at the delicious squash soup! It’s a good substitute for pumpkin in any recipe and makes a superb pumpkin bread. Spaghetti squash is, in fact, a good substitute for spaghetti, and is also good with a little butter and capers and/or black olives.

For holidays, I like to make a stuffed Hubbard squash. It can be stuffed with any favorite stuffing and makes a great presentation at the table…a good turkey substitute for us vegetarians.

Pumpkins, squash and gourds all make long vines but are easy to grow if you have the room and all but the heaviest can be grown on a trellis. It might be necessary to make a sling for some fruits that become too heavy—the slings can add to the intrinsic fun of growing these plants. Watch out, though, the vines can climb hedges and travel great distances!

My husband and I picked the pumpkins for our Jack-o-lanterns and carved them, but by Halloween, they were sagging and looking very ghoulish. In the garden, the autumn blooming aconitum is electric blue contrasting nicely with aging hydrangea heads and would be good with fall blooming asters. Roses are blooming again with the cooler air. At this time, I cease deadheading them so they can begin winter preparation. Soon I will shorten their canes and tie them securely against winds. Final pruning is done in spring. Plants are succumbing to changing temperatures, each in its own time and can be de-leaved or cut, as this happens. While I like to leave many plants standing, beds that have many spring bulbs will need to cleaned with this in mind.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067.

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