Clucks and Ducks, Gardening

The Accidental Pumpkin Farmer

While I enjoy the idea of growing my own food, gardening just isn’t really my thing. I tend to get really excited, plant a bunch of stuff, then lose interest midway through the growing season. I think this is likely because I’m just not very good at it.

In the past, my attempts to grow things have largely been a disappointment. Bugs ate my broccoli. My tomatoes got blossom end rot. The wind blew over my pepper plants. The only things I seem to be successful at growing are onions, lettuce, and cucumbers. Basically things that are easy.

Lucky for me, my backyard flock is always ready to lend a helping hand.

Because my hens and ducks aren’t really able to free range, I do my best to add greens and veggies to their diet. In the spring and summer, I pull weeds from the yard. As winter approaches and free greenery isn’t as readily available, I switch my tactics. I pick up pumpkins and squash from the farmer’s market and grocery store. I also like to sprout wheat in the kitchen window. The chickens and ducks enjoy getting fresh produce and it helps to supplement my feed budget.

There isn’t any grass left inside the run, so it’s important for it to get scraped out periodically. The mud, muck, and dirty bedding from the hen house gets dumped into the compost pile out back. What I like to refer to as “duck water” also gets dumped out there. This is the water from the pool and tubs that the ducks get into. They like to swim, bathe, and use the bathroom in it. It gets pretty nasty and has to be dumped daily. A fresh new layer of sand gets put down in the run several times per year, as well as bags of pine shavings to help soak up any moisture. This helps to ensure there’s a constant mixture of green and brown for compost.

Earlier in the summer, my dad noticed something odd growing around the side of the chicken run. I went out to inspect, quickly realizing it was a vine originating from the compost pile. Obviously, some sort of seed hadn’t decomposed in the pile and was sprouting out the top. There were no flowers or fruit yet, so it was really impossible to tell what was growing out there. We decided to just let it grow.

Flowers eventually showed up on the vines, following by green fruit. Thinking back on what I’d fed the flock over the previous fall and winter, I knew it had to be watermelon, squash, or pumpkins. I was really hoping for watermelon!

After much internet searching and continuing to watch the vines as they grew, I soon realized that the vines were indeed pumpkins. The chickens and ducks rejoiced. Pumpkins are their favorite!

I’ve never really grown anything on the vine, so I was surprised by how much space those pumpkin vines cover. They grew all around the chicken run, out into the yard, then over the hill and into the woods. These things are crazy! It seems like they grow ten feet overnight, especially if there is rain. I read up on how to trim them back, but it was confusing and there were pumpkins near the end that I didn’t want to kill.

Once the fruit started to set and the pumpkins grew larger, I kept patiently waiting for ripening to begin. I didn’t plant these seeds, so I really had no timetable for when they should be ripe. Doing more internet research, I soon realized that my unripe pumpkins didn’t look like other pumpkins I was seeing online. I vaguely remembered buying some heirloom pumpkins to feed to the flock; some of those were white.

Eventually, I realized that what I had growing was ghost pumpkins. The change is subtle, but they do go from a pale green to a bright white when ripe. It’s just hard to tell because the vines are so thick. It’s an adventure just trying to find a pumpkin in there, much less a ripe one!

Overall, this has been a fun little adventure. So far, we’ve collected 9 large pumpkins, with more still ripening. My dad had to provide assistance because I’m a wimp and can’t lift heavy objects. We weighed some of our harvest and the results were pretty astounding. The smallest pumpkins were still over 20 pounds, with the largest coming in at just over 46 pounds. Pretty crazy for something I didn’t even plant!

I’m actually very pleased and will likely grow pumpkins again next year. I might even plant some myself!

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