P-p-p-p-p pick up a pumpkin!
Halloween just wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins. So, who better to ask about these glorious fruits of autumn than Pembrokeshire grower Gary Rees, of Brooksgrove Farm.
We’re going on a pumpkin hunt…
We’re going to find a big one…
Sisters Ellie and Matilda Green squealed with delight as they ran into the field of pumpkins at Brooksgrove Farm, on the outskirts of Haverfordwest. On a suitably misty, murky morning the girls scoured the array of glowing, orange fruits to find the ideal specimen for their jack-o’-lanterns.
This year Gary Rees has grown half an acre of pumpkins at Brooksgrove Farm. Demand has outstripped supply and he is already planning on growing even more next year. Four years ago Gary says he made the ‘sensible decision’ to give up his day job in IT. He has taken over his parents’ farm and completed a course in horticulture. In the spring he supplies bunches of daffodils to Welsh supermarkets, in the summer he has fields of pick your own strawberries and for autumn he grows pumpkins. He has some wholesale customers, mostly local grocery shops, but also opens his pumpkin patch to the public for kids, and the young at heart, to pick their own.
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes and offer great value for money.
They provide hours of Halloween fun for children; scooping them out, carving them and watching the candlelight flicker through their grisly grins.
You can also cook them. In the right conditions they can be stored for weeks and even months.
“More people should cook with them,” said Gary. “They are incredibly versatile. A favourite recipe in our house is pumpkin soup. Add onions, black pepper and lots of ginger.”
You could also bake the American favourite, pumpkin pie, or why not try a curry, pickle or simply roast them with vegetables.
Some varieties are better for cooking than others, sugar pumpkins and cheese pumpkins are two to choose from, and have a dense, sweet flesh.
Choosing the right pumpkin can be a bit like choosing the right Christmas tree, some of us take longer than others to find ‘the one’.
Gary’s field is full of traditional Halloween pumpkins but in 2015 he is hoping to expand his range and grow other varieties.
The pumpkins are grown from seed, germinated in a heated propagator on the farm. When they are planted out as small plants Gary says they need close observation for the first couple of weeks while the plants are still soft.
After that, as long as you provide them with everything they need, Gary says they look after themselves.
The benefit of a pick your own pumpkin patch? The search tires out little legs, fills the lungs with fresh air and provides a novelty experience that will live long in young minds. Gary loves to see the reaction of the children when they arrive and the obvious glee and smiles on their faces is infectious.
After a thorough hunt, six-year-old Ellie found her perfect pumpkin. Even though it was a little heavy to carry back up the field she was determined not to leave it behind.
The pumpkins were planted out in early June. Some varieties differ, but on average they take 120 days to fruit.
Younger sister Matilda went for a very different choice to Ellie. “I like it because it’s small and I like the patterns on it,” she said.
Once chosen the pumpkins get a good wash with a bucket of water and a sponge. If, like Matilda, you ‘love washing things’ you can do it yourself.
Gary uses a highly scientific method of grading the pumpkins – a piece of string a plank of wood. These simple methods proved highly entertaining for the young visitors and as they clambered, giggling, back into the car to take their treasures home they declared: “That was the best fun.”
Gary shared some of his tips for keeping your pumpkins in perfect condition before Halloween:
- Keep them cool and dry;
- They must have air around them – a garden shed makes a perfect storage place;
- Ideally keep them on straw, newspaper or cardboard;
- Try not to damage the skin, otherwise they will start to go soft.
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