Timely showing of spooky plants and garden ghouls Glow into winter H
ARE pumpkins invasive aliens? Our forebears would certainly have thought so. The Celtic feast of Samhain, later known as Halloween, celebrated the end of harvest and the start of winter, a time when the worlds of the living and the dead were very close.
So people hoped and expected their ancestors would attend their Samhain feast. They even laid a place at the table for them but I wonder if grandfaither would have touched such alien fare as pumpkin pie.
Although I warmly welcome fruit and veg from the New World, I’m saddened to see the American pumpkin invading Halloween and almost driving our poor old tumshie lantern to extinction, just as its “trick or treat” has replaced traditional guising.
Using a neep [swede] to carve out a lantern is tough work even for a parent, while removing pumpkin seeds and bits of stringy fibre is less spoon-bending.
My sons were always delighted to see me struggle away with their precious neep and have since come to value Scottish traditions and culture.
But however different, neeps and pumpkins are both important for gardeners and cooks. Like courgettes and cucumbers, pumpkins are tender summer veg that need warm sun, good fertile soil and plenty room to crop well.
They’re planted out after the last frosts in well composted ground and, ideally, on a hotbed of fresh horse manure or, failing that, grass clippings.
For best cropping they should be a metre apart and produce larger and sometimes grotesquely vast fruits when growing stems are restricted to as little as one fruit.
But unlike other gourds, pumpkins improve when cured through storing in a cool, frost-free place. This toughens the skins and makes pumpkins usable right into winter, when neeps are coming into their own.
These winter brassicas are much easier to grow than pumpkins. Like pumpkins, they need plenty of water but the soil must be far less fertile and they perform well when only 30cm apart.
Unlike pumpkins, neeps must be direct-sown: I like to station sow, thinly covering a tiny pinch of seed every 30cm along a row.
When large enough to thin, I snip off all but the strongest plant and put a cabbage collar round it. Neeps don’t need protection against cabbage whites but, as ever, pigeons are a different matter.
Neeps store beautifully in the open ground and, unlike pumpkins, withstand whatever the winter throws at them. The flavour intensifies after frost, but