Happy Pumpkin Day – well maybe not quite yet but very soon, indeed. So how did the pumpkin become the much celebrated Jack-O-Lantern? It’s all because of Stingy Jack.

It seems that Stingy Jack, of Irish Mythology, tricked the devil not once but twice. Jack also extracted from devil a promise that he, Jack, would never go to hell. After Jack passed from this earth he headed straight for heaven where God refused him entrance. It was Stingy Jack’s fate to wander the earth carrying a lantern made with candle inside a hallowed out turnip.

Now it so happens, that in Ireland and Scotland it was traditional to carve on and into turnips and potatoes. In England the carving was done on beets. So the tradition began of carving faces and putting in a lighted candle in these root vegetables at night to scare away Stingy Jack and other such creatures who were wandering the earth. These lanterns were placed in windows and doorways. And thus “Jack of the Lantern” was born.

When the Irish immigrated to the New World they discovered the pumpkin and a new chapter in the myth of Stingy Jack began. They discovered that the pumpkin was easy and effective to carve. We now have the Jack-O-Lantern which has come to be associated with our celebration of Halloween along with other scary creatures of the night.

The pumpkin is related to the gourd and the squash. In size, pumpkins vary from about 3 inches to the giants we see at this time of year. One year when my husband and I were in Tualitin, Ore,. we happened upon a Giant Pumpkin Regatta. Huge pumpkins were lifted by a crane and dropped into a City pond. The pumpkins were hollowed out, decorated, and rowed around the pond. It was quite the race and, what with the near total absence of both maritime skills and rules, it was very fun to watch!

The giant pumpkin requires a great deal of work and diligence in order to attain its huge size. Most pumpkins do not require that type of dedication to grow. If you are growing pumpkins for Halloween, they should be planted around the Fourth of July. In this area, depending on the kind of pumpkin you select, they will be ready to pick in 90 to 120 days.

To plant pumpkins, drop about 5 seeds about one inch deep in a hill. The hills should be about 6 feet apart. When the seeds sprout, thin them to two plants. Your pumpkin plants needs full sun and regular water. Stand back and watch them grow. As the pumpkins develop, you will want to put a wood shingle under each pumpkin to keep it from rotting because of the damp soil. If you have very sandy soil, you can skip this step.

Pumpkins add to your larder, provide fall decorations and you can even eat the seeds. They come in various colors: orange, white, green and speckled. Next summer, grow some pumpkins. Choose from the many colors, sizes and varieties available. What a great family project. Enjoy!

The Red Bluff Garden Club Inc. is a member of Cascade District, California Garden Clubs, Inc. and Pacific Region, National Garden Clubs, Inc.

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