Nature Notes – Pumpkins offer many uses

By Jim Gilbert

Pumpkins are a symbol of autumn’s harvest and the bounty it brings. They are made into pies, are a fair source of vitamin B, and one of the essentials for a festive Thanksgiving dinner. Often raised for cattle food, they are also carved into jack-o’-lanterns for use at Halloween celebrations.
Since a pumpkin contains seeds, it is a fruit. Both squashes and pumpkins belong to the gourd family. Different kinds of pumpkins and squashes were being grown throughout parts of North and South America when the first European explorers came. The pumpkin is most likely a native of tropical America, and was cultivated in America as early as 1500 B.C.
The harvest of pumpkins takes place close to four months after the seeds are planted, when the leaves are dry and the fruit becomes a rich orange. Cut pumpkins from the vine with a pruning shears, leaving about 3 inches of stem on the fruit; pumpkins decay quickly if the stems are broken rather than cut. After harvesting, set pumpkins in the sun for a week or so to harden the outer skins, and then store in a cool, dry place.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in both fats and proteins. Instead of throwing away the seeds inside your jack-o’-lantern, try roasting and eating them. Just wash the stringy matter off the seeds under cold water, blot the seeds dry between paper towels, spread them out on a cookie sheet in a single layer and sprinkle them with salt. Then put the seeds in a preheated 350-degree oven where they should roast for 30 minutes to an hour. They are done when dry and a light brown color. Whole seeds are eaten after they cool. If you want to grow some pumpkins for next Halloween, save a few unroasted seeds in an envelope until next spring.

What’s happening outdoors now?
Farmers are busy with field work, including corn combining and plowing. Tamarack trees have smoky-gold needles. The end of October is a perfect time to walk through crunchy leaves in the woods and enjoy the special aroma. The peak of the leaf-raking season has been reached. Some leaves can be shredded with a power mower and then left on a lawn or put in flowerbeds and vegetable gardens to enrich the soil and help hold moisture. A few chipmunks are still running about but most are safely in their underground burrows.

On Oct. 31 a year ago
We had a sunny day with a low temperature in the morning of 25 degrees and a high of 52 degrees F. Thin ice was seen on ponds at sunrise. Sod was still being put down for new lawns.
Thousands of American coots could be seen along the north and northwest side of Lake Waconia. Weeping willows displayed much golden-yellow foliage and winged euonymus shrubs continued to exhibit beautiful rose-red leaves.
The American witch hazel, the last shrub to flower each year, showed its 1-inch yellow spider-like flowers on this Halloween.