Timely show­ing of spooky plants and gar­den ghouls Glow into win­ter H

The Herald Magazine - - etc GARDENING - DAVE AL­LAN

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

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