Shaking my head in self-disgust, I grumbled at the goopy mess that decorated part of my left sneaker. Yes, the problem should have been addressed sooner and now I was at least a day late in dealing with it.
Blame it on the weather. This year, we can probably blame just about anything on the weather and no one will argue.
What’s more iconic of fall — which officially “falls in” on today’s calendar square — than the classic round, bright-orange, jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkin, complete with pudgy, dry stem topping its head?
Growing a pumpkin crop has never been one of my top-priority garden goals, but it’s always nice to have one or two for the festive fall season, for both decoration and baking purposes.
Often, in recent years, I’ve planted a hill or two at the back of the garden, aiming for pumpkins to be sheltered by and also twining through the sweet corn, after the tasty corn ears have been yanked off the stalks for use.
Usually I can squeeze a pumpkin or two from that minor effort, most likely a beige-colored neck pumpkin, which is much preferable for cooking than the carving types. Too many years, though, a late-season invasion of squash bugs or stink bugs or whatever vine-destroying bug happens to descend on the garden with August’s heat will kill the pumpkin vines, at just about the time the fruits are ready to start turning color.
Aggravated with that too-frequent result, this year I plotted a different strategy at planting time, moving the pumpkin patch to beneath the purple martin houses, a considerable distance from the garden and its vine-killing insects. The area is generally left unmown, since field equipment is usually parked nearby anyway and it tends to be a bit soggy if we have much rain.
The pumpkin hills went on the higher side of the area, where they could run into the grassy area along the big pond. Periodic peeks under the sprawling vines and large leaves revealed some promising pie potential, as well as jack-o’-lantern material.
Through the endless days of deluge, downpours and drizzle, the meadow pumpkins continued to grow, and were beginning to show some color several weeks ago. Gently, I checked them for signs of rot, but the very slight slope seemed to be well-drained, despite frequent puddles collecting nearby after every pass of moisture-dumping clouds.
Ripening ahead of the pumpkins isolated from other plantings were a couple of nice, orange, carving pumpkins, volunteers from some seed that had taken root in a flower bed.
Despite frequent checks and efforts to boost them slightly off the ever-damp ground, one rotted almost overnight. The other, larger one seemed fine … until another weekend of inches of rain. A few weeks ago, before it showed any more signs of deterioration, I removed it from the vine and set it on display on our roofed front porch.
Despite walking past it several times daily, I suddenly realized late last week that the pretty pumpkin with its perky stem, although still bright orange, was listing to one side, not a good sign. I thought I’d better move it to a safe place where I could let it go down and salvage some seeds.
Splat! Out fell the bottom of the pumpkin porch decoration, spewing mooshy orange guts and seeds onto my foot and the porch floor. Since it is a concrete porch floor, a bucket of water and a broom took care of the mushy mess. Cleaning the sneaker required a bit more effort.
Before another day had passed, it seemed wise to start harvesting the ripe meadow pumpkins. A pair of iconic carving pumpkins, pudgy stems intact, now perch on the front porch, along with a pair of curving-necked pie pumpkins.
I’ll gamble with a couple more of each, slightly less mature and seemingly still solid. With a bit of luck (and a stretch of bright, sunny, breezy fall weather), there should be a few extra neck pumpkins to share.
My thoughts go out to all those folks who grow pumpkins to market them commercially, and I hope that they have been able to harvest their crop for the intended market.
And, if you have a pumpkin, or a couple of ‘em, on your porch for decoration, may I suggest checking them periodically.
Trust me. You don’t really want pumpkin-orange-tinted sneakers.
Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.