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Country bumpkin grows pumpkin

Steve Meyrick from Pinehaven Orchard. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

GIANINA SCHWANECKE

They appeared out of nowhere practically overnight, like something out of Jack and the beanstalk.

Mysterious green tendrils and vines of the planting spreading out across a corner in the garden formerly neglected and relegated to the half-abandoned compost bin.

Upon closer inspection I realised that this is where my “magic beans” have emerged from and they are not so much beans, as they are the makings of my very own pumpkin patch.

A pumpkin patch popping up at the back of my garden. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

It’s not an uncommon story, says Greytown’s Pinehaven Orchard owner and operator, Steve Meyrick.

“They’re so easy to grow.

“A lot of people have them come up in their compost bin where you’ve thrown seeds out and one has managed to survive.”

Meyrick is a third-generation apple and fruit grower.

His grandfather, Stan Meyrick. bought the original orchard from James Hutton Kidd in 1953.

Pumpkins are a small but steady part of the fruits and vegetables they now sell at their shop along SH2.

“I’m an apple grower mostly,” Meyrick says.

“But we’ve always had a little orchard shop and always grown a few pumpkins for the shop. Pumpkins are a really small part of our operation.

“We’ve got 50 acres of orchard which we run, and they do quite well in the gaps.”

From the acre or two he has planted in pumpkins, Meyrick sees about a 15 to 20 tonne yield.

He grows crown pumpkins mostly — the classic green-grey variety you can find in most supermarkets.

He also stocks a few butternuts and buttercup pumpkins, though they tend to run out of life earlier he explains.

Growing pumpkins for Meyrick comes easy.

“You don’t do anything.

“They say you need the plant starting to run by Christmas time.

“As long as you plant the seed after Labour Weekend when the frosts have finished. It’s very frost sensitive.”

He says the only real work is picking them up out of the patch and giving them a wash.

This year wasn’t as high a yield for him as he didn’t have as many planted.

It’s important to be gentle with the pumpkins when loading them into bins, he says.

“The rougher you are, the more losses you get later in the year.”

They are more likely to rot faster if the stalk breaks off and exposes the inside of the pumpkin.

One year he experimented with growing the giant varieties of pumpkins most often associated with American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Halloween.

“People have competitions to grow the giant varieties.

“You’ve really got to look after those one, water and fertilise them every day,” he says.

This year pumpkins have been fetching lower returns.

Greytown’s Pinehaven Orchard stocks crown pumpkins, butternut pumpkins and buttercup pumpkins. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

“This year they’ve been extremely cheap,” Meyrick says.

He says pumpkin’s real competitor, the kumara, can drive prices down.

“One year there was a glut of kumara, so the pumpkins were very cheap.”

They may not seem like much but growing your own pumpkins for the basics can save people money.

“I like pumpkin soup and roast pumpkin,” Meyrick says.

This raises an important question — are pumpkins really a vegetable or a fruit?

“It’s a fruit, but you wouldn’t call it a fruit,” Meyrick says, referring to Siri for expert advice. “You wouldn’t put it in a fruit salad.”

Although pumpkins traditionally take the place of vegetables in cooking, pumpkins are scientifically considered fruit as they contain seeds.

Pumpkins are also closely related to melons.

But there’s more to the green-grey, fruit-not-fruit exterior than meets the eye.

Hidden in the fleshy orange, one Marton farmer has found a new business growing pumpkins just for their seeds.

He sells the seeds as snacks or for baking but also uses them to make pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seed flour which he sells online and at markets.

I myself, with unexpected pumpkins to harvest, have discovered that roasting the seeds with your preferred mix of seasonings makes for a delightful snack.

Growing pumpkins may be incredibly easy, even for the most novice of gardeners, but I’m still proud of my little crowns — I have 12 pumpkins resting in unoccupied spaces in my kitchen.

My next goal is to get the most out of my pumpkins.

Perhaps I will figure out a way to use the skins as a type of vegan leather, then again, Siri tells me they might make for tasty chips.

 

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