Wednesday, January 09, 2013

My Affair with Pumpkins

All I wanted to do was to crawl into a corner and sleep. I had just completed  my last ‘assignment’. It involved researching and co-writing a coffee-table book. It was a huge project to undertake with a small team (which eventually shrank to four people) as it also included reading, editing, proofreading, etc of articles and stories for the book. That project and personal commitments left me mentally exhausted. So I ignored the invitation to join AEG, a Fb gardening group created by Ms Vera, until a second invitation came along. Only then did I go and have a look-see at the members’ discussions and view photos of their gardens and plants.

What I saw and read led me to believe that I could revive my kebun too. I could grow organic vegetables just like the members of AEG! I now had a reason to reclaim the backyard from the lalang and rumput sundal.

Within a day or two I had cleared the tiny—but overgrown and long-neglected—vegetable bed. (That was an achievement for a couch potato whose most strenuous daily activity had been climbing up the stairs once—at bedtime. Gravity helped with the walking down in the morning.) It was there in the compost heap—where I had discarded chunks of moldy pumpkin—I stumbled upon two healthy baby pumpkin plants smiling in the sun.
Baby pumpkin plants

Ten days later...

My experience with pumpkins had been limited to buying sliced sections at the tamu. The only time I had planted a pumpkin was years ago. My vine had produced many orange-coloured blooms which fell off and left a stump filled with tiny, white, wriggling maggots. The lone pumpkin gourd produced by this plant was discovered by my mama—who happened to be visiting—sitting atop the orchid shed. It had made my day, getting that single gourd, because I had already given up on that plant.

So when I saw these two tiny pumpkin plants among the old charcoal pieces and broken egg shells, I let the babies grow. I threw around them a handful of chicken manure, the only fertilizer I had. Later, I discovered that horse manure could make pumpkin plants grow almost as fast as Jack’s beanstalk.
My 'tie and die' method

Using odds and ends, I built a simple four-posted frame topped with a sheet of wire-netting which would support the pumpkin plants after they’ve crawled up a post. It was really a ‘tie and die’ thing… I used strings to tie sticks to wooden posts stuck in the ground and if the frame fell, die lah. I thought I could save the space below this structure for other plants. Big mistake bah! Plants need sunlight and too much shade inhibits growth. My chili plant grew tall and spindly and didn’t flower at all. The tomato plants did very well initially and then just wasted away as the pumpkin vines thrived on the wire netting above them. Before I could stop marveling at the egg plants, they too began to show signs of ‘ill health’. They needed the full sun too.
Pumpkin vines on the wire netting

Okay, back to those pumpkin plants. They started producing big, orange flowers before they were two months. At first all the flowers dropped without a single one turning into a gourd. It reminded me of my first experience and I wondered if these flowers were also infested with those tiny, white worms. I didn’t know that they were male flowers and that the female flowers would appear only much later. Then one fine morning I found a flower with a cute, little pumpkin at its base. A female flower at last! Had I known better, I would have fertilized all the female flowers manually. Unfortunately, I left everything to the bees and the ants. Many flowers withered without being fertilized.
Male flower

Female flower

Fertilizing a female flower manually

Fertilized flower

At three months old the plants produce mainly female flowers. Without the male flowers, they are not good. Somebody likened the flowers to boys and girls arriving at a party. The boys arrive first, in big numbers. The girls shyly trickle in later. Then, much later, more girls, encouraged by each other perhaps, arrive in a crowd. But the boys, having waited so long, have all left! The last girls don’t even get to meet any boys.
My beautiful pumpkin gourd!

Now, how would one—with limited space for pumpkin growing—solve this problem? I think by sowing a second seed (Plant B) two or three weeks after the first seed (Plant A) the novice gardener could use the early male flowers of Plant B to fertilize the late-comer female flowers of Plant A.

Had I been smarter I could have had several pumpkins. However, I am still very happy to have harvested five beautiful pumpkins. The biggest weighed a hefty eleven kilos!

The vegetable patch has already been prepared for another round of crop. I hope to be able to produce a 15kg pumpkin gourd. My seedlings are just a week old but I’m already wondering what to do if there’s a bountiful harvest! I guess I can make pumpkin pies, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin/santan dessert and pumpkin anything for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  

Thanks to AEG, this great group of happy and generous gardening enthusiasts, I was inspired to wake up from hibernation, get off my bum and rekindle my interest not only in gardening but also in photography. Who would have guessed that an online gardening group could inspire this ‘old and mighty writer’ (someone’s description of me… sniff-sniff… long story) to change couch for cangkul and turn over a new leaf?
A brown-throated sunbird in the backyard

May your plants and gardens bring you joy and serenity… and may they get visited by beautiful birds. Cheers!


  1. i recently read a book 'Mandela's Way' and found out, Nelson Mandela gardens to get away from the world.

    pumpkin! versatile plant that one. Good Luck!

  2. Thank you, Kukuanga, for visiting and for the 'good luck'. I'm fighting snails and mosquitoes and trying to outwit the cat too. My luck has been with the pumpkins and kunyit, not so good with other plants. But I'm not giving up!