Monday, October 30, 2017


As many of you may know, at times, my thumbs can be fairly green.   The 2017 gardening season was no different, and this Spring I couldn't wait to get my pumpkin seeds into the ground.   Planting pumpkins is a double-edged sword endeavor: First, if you're lucky enough to have them take off, avoid hail, early frost, critters, you end up with a healthy crop of orange beauties.  The down side to growing pumpkins is that, IF they do take off...that's literally what they do; they take off and take over the entire growing space, creating a canope of giant leaves over other crops.  You have to hope that everything underneath is either ready for harvesting, or can stand quite a bit of shade.  I just didn't care about that.  I ... wanted ... pumpkins!

Last year I was not very lucky.  My pumpkin hill (unwisely planted outside  of the mail gardens to avoid aforementioned downside) never got off of the ground.  Voles, moles, gophers and seven-banded ground squirrels annihilated the baby roots.  It was pitiful.  Really pitiful.   I succumbed to failure but faced 2017 with pumpkin determination.

This year I headed back into the main garden and wished the surrounding vegetable crop "Good luck!"   I wanted pumpkins.  Heirloom pumpkins.   Big pumpkins.   Pumpkins not for carving or catapulting, but to bake and then put to so many wonderful, healthy uses.  And I got    lucky.

The bed on the left was "Rouge vif D' Estampe" and the one on the right was "Musquee De Province."  For you gardening buffs, here's a description of the two pumpkins:

" Rouge vif D' Estampe" - A very old French Heirloom, this was the most common pumpkin in the Central Market in Paris back in the 1880's. (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

"Musquee de Province" -  The skin is a beautiful, rich brown color when ripe. The flesh is deep orange, thick and very fine flavored, fruit grow to 20 lbs. each. This is a traditional variety from southern France. Pure European seeds. (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Pumpkin blossoms showed up over 20 feet away from their home base.   And once pumpkins started growing on the vines, it was "Katie, bar the door!"  There was no stopping them.  Harvesting other vegetables became a precarious game of  tip-toe hop scotch, trying to avoid the hearty but delicate pumpkin vines and not instantly giving those babies a death sentence.   I truly had no idea what my yield was going to be because I just couldn't get around all of the vines to peak! Until....the pumpkins became so big and so obvious, there was no denying the behemoths were there.  Nirvana. 

I harvested my pumpkin crop at the beginning of this month.   Not hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins like you see in the fields near Pueblo and La Junta, but a gratifying abundance for a small-time gardener.  (Can you seen the green flesh on the smaller one in the back? - Masquee! Do you see the color differentiation of the skin between all of them?)  There was a good split between Rouge and Marquee. And all month, I have taken some time to bake a few to puree and freeze for future use and also have given quite a few to friends. One of the larger ones weighed in at 28 pounds.  That's an incredible amount of  delicious pumpkin flesh.

So why a blog about pumpkins...this is supposed to be about parrots?!  Well, it is about parrots, (and us as well).  Pumpkin is so good for us, and for our birds.  Here's the process I'm going through with my orange beauties and how I plan on using them and how you can, too.

1 - Buy (or grow) an heirloom pumpkin - one good-sized one will do you!  (I've seen the Rouge pumpkins with all of the Halloween pumpkins at some stores).  Yes, it will cost more...but the quantity and quality of pumpkin flesh that you reap will be well worth it.

2 - Before you bake it, be sure to rinse and dry it, then cut it into chunks and scrape the seeds and pulp from the flesh on each piece.  Set the pulp and seeds aside.   Those seeds are important: Save the seeds for seasoning and roasting,  for your parrots for treats, to sprout, and TO GROW MORE PUMPKINS OF YOUR OWN NEXT YEAR!  

3 -  Here's some easy instructions for baking:
(I don't use the oil - as I will be giving some to my birds.  And...I'm lazy and don't use the water, either.   Skin side down on the baking sheet, nothing sticks.   Everything cooks fine. Just pure pumpkin.  There is lots of moisture in the pumpkin.

Musquee de Province Pumpkin seeds drying
Rack of Rouge Vif d' Estampe beneath on second rack
4 - While your pumpkin bakes, separate all of those seeds from the pulp and spread on a piece of parchment paper or drying rack.  Compost the pulp...or let your birds nibble on a bite.  Leave the seeds alone for days...until they are completely dry.  If you bag them too soon, they will have some pulp on them, they may be moist, and you will end up with bad seeds.  Dry. Dry. Dry.   Bag and label them when completely dry.
5 - When you remove your pumpkin from the oven, let it cool completely, and then scrape  all of the flesh from the skin.   Put the flesh into your food processor and puree.   Scoop up 2 cups at a time and save in air tight storage containers in your freezer. (two cups because it's a pretty universal amount of pumpkin puree for recipes)

As you are processing your pumpkin, you MUST do taste tests.   Pumpkin is's even more delicious because it's not coming out of a can.   Share small bites with your birds. They will love it! And of course, have another bite yourself.  And another.  Mix a little pureed pumpkin into your bird's chop in the morning.  (Give a bite or two to your dogs - it's great for digestion.)  Bake it into your bird's grain mix or muffins.   Lots of healthy possibilities for your critters and you can't go wrong. 

So...that's it: nutritious additions to our birds' diets, and of course the endless options of nutritious and/or decadent recipes for human consumption: pies, soups, breads, muffins, scones...oh, my!

Remember: pumpkins are not just for carving at this time of year.  Take advantage of the plethora of varieties at your grocery store, take some time and bake one up, and I promise you won't be disappointed with the results.  It's much more creative, IMHO, than carving a face on a beautiful fruit (yes, fruit!) and just pitching the best part in the garbage.

Even though I am now inundated with pumpkins and processing them, I'm already planning on the garden planting schematic for next Spring. Hmmmm, where to plant the pumpkins... Can you ever have too many pumpkins?

Gotta go...the timer just rang on my stove.