Pumpkin Seeds

Humble newspaper is such an incredibly useful tool. For years, we tossed it in to the heifers, who ran and kicked the newspaper around before happily flopping down into its bedding softness. Newspaper is perfect for polishing window glass, sopping up dirty, wet footprints right inside the door during snowstorms and “mud” season. It is invaluable in the garden as mulch and handy for soaking up the hot fat from bacon and French fries, as well as for my current use — absorbing the excess moisture from pumpkin seeds.

These pumpkin seeds are from the garden’s largest, decorative jack-o’-lantern-type pumpkin grown this past season, a hefty orange orb I had trouble even picking up to haul to the house. It spent the last many weeks keeping company with the heirloom scarecrow on a bench off the front porch made years ago by our granddaughters during a 4-H fundraiser.

This pumpkin’s ancestry actually traces to a friend on the opposite side of the state, from whom some saved seeds of the giant were salvaged and shared by our daughter. But, the “orange” season of decorating has been replaced by that of wintry green pine, red bows and berries. Pumpkins had become outdated décor.

None too soon, either, since my fingers poked through an unexpectedly mushy bottom, its demise hastened by recent sub-freezing mornings. The intent was to load it on my Gator with several other smaller pumpkins headed to the pasture for the cattle to munch, if they wished. If not, the wildlife would no doubt enjoy the treat. Simply too fragile to move, the big pumpkin’s deteriorating flesh instead is feeding all the bugs and bacteria in the soil of the nearby field.

For those folks who grow giant competition pumpkins so huge it takes a forklift to move them, pumpkin seeds are big business. You can buy the seeds of those monsters, but they are pricey. The seed harvest from ours is worthwhile only to us as the source of next year’s planting.

Saving seed has become a bit of a hobby for me, costing basically nothing but a little time and proliferating certain varieties that we enjoy that have performed extremely well or are sometimes hard to find.

Once thoroughly dried, these fat pumpkin seeds will go into an airtight container and hibernate over the winter in the refrigerator, along with a sister collection saved from our neck pumpkins.

Also waiting to be tucked away in storage is a seed crop from mountain mint, beloved by pollinators. The “mother” plant was shared by a fellow-gardening friend, from her patch of this minty perennial. It was forgotten in our flower bed after being overrun by pineapple sage, zinnias and sprawling chrysanthemums. Only when I cleaned up the bed after frost wilted it did I find the dried mint blooms, full of black seeds smaller than a pinhead.

Later in winter, I’ll partially cut off the top off a plastic milk jug, fill it with a couple of inches of sterilized soil, plant the mint seeds, and set the container out in a protected, shaded place to freeze and thaw, mimicking nature’s seed-stratification process. It’s a technique I first tried last spring, successfully starting a few red butterfly milkweed plants. They later bloomed in the border where they’d been transplanted and eventually yielded a few small pods of their own fluffy seeds.

Rudbeckia and purple coneflower seed heads await similar treatment, along with seed heads clipped from a red-blooming sedum, rescued by granddaughter Sarah from a “free plant” offering set out along a nearby country road. Several varieties of annual seeds also wait on hold for spring in the seed stash.

Kale and arugula, from seeds saved last year, currently provide greens from under the mini-tunnel. Despite the new and improved seed offerings each year, I still go back to long-proven heirloom and self-saved seeds from plants that thrived and matured here, attuned to our own local conditions.

Currently gracing our daughter’s home at the moment, and beautifully decorated with lights and ornaments, is part of a Ponderosa pine grown on a sheltered, pond-side spot nearby. It was brought years ago as a seedling from their vacation rental property in central Idaho. Against all conventional horticultural wisdom, the transplanted seedling “took,” thrived and grew tall in its new environment, nearly 3,000 miles from its home.

Seeds of that Ponderosa, pine cones to be exact, now fill a basket on our front porch, awaiting spring when I will plant them. It will be an attempt to replicate the success toward another generation of “Christmas” trees.

There’s nothing to lose and a new growing challenge if the attempt “succ-seeds.”

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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