Pumpkin is the squash of myths. But it’s not just the romantic carriage of Cinderella, this hearty crop was once a staple of the American diet. Now pumpkins are mostly used for pie and jack-o-lanterns. The famous orange pumpkin (Cucurbita Pepo) grows as a vine along the ground and is in the same family as cucumber and cantaloupe. They are rich in vitamin A, antioxidants and minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, and the seeds are good sources of iron. Most, American pumpkin crops are used for producing carving pumpkins (many canned pumpkins are actually butternut squash).
Thanks to Peter Martinelli’s Fresh Run Farms, Marin’s famed pumpkin patches are stocked with a great selection of organic pumpkins, from Nicasio Valley Farm and Toby’s Feed Barn in Western Marin to Marin Country Mart in Larkspur Landing. Fresh Run Farms’ pumpkins also adorn various restaurants and stores in West Marin during the autumn months to help locals and visitors catch the spirit of the season.
“I grow a great many varieties on four acres of our farm,” comments Martinelli. “Our organic pumpkins thrive in the mild climate and great soil in the Pine Gulch bottomlands north of Bolinas.”
Fresh Run Farm grows mostly pumpkins for carving. Martinelli says The Howden, for example, and a few patented hybrids such as Rock Star and Big Doris, are best for Halloween creations. The Cinderella (not her carriage but the variety) are the best for eating. They are also a gorgeous red with deep ridges so they make great seasonal decoration alongside a white pumpkin and perhaps some pumpkin-like winter squash.
Marin patches (with organic pumpkins, of course) provide great fun when hunting down the right sized and shaped pumpkin. A great patch offers pumpkins of a variety of good sizes, good quality, interesting shapes and surface characteristics like ribs.
The alternative to pumpkin patch tradition is to create your own backyard patch next year. If you are so inspired, Martinelli suggests keeping the crop well irrigated for the optimal growth during the key growing months between June and September. You should rotate the crop to a new area of soil each year, never planting the same thing in the same place within a 4 to 5 year period for optimal results. Be sure to use mulch, compost and other natural and organic soil additions. Traditional growers use herbicides for weed suppression, fungicides for controlling powdery mildew, and insecticides to control striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers and aphids. Yuck. You don’t want little children searching around in that mess.