Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins

uFor a couple weeks around Halloween, I ran an ad: "Wanted--old pumpkins." Thought maybe I'd get a few retired jack'o'lanterns to feed the chickens. No response.

Or, at least I was consoling myself that the ad only cost $4, because I hadn't gotten a single call.

And then the phone rang. A nearby market gardener with a farm stand & small pumpkin patch. He'd seen my ad, it just took awhile to get around to calling. He had about 70 pumpkins left over he was sick and tired of looking at. Did I want some?

It happened to be Thursday, the day my apprentices come for a weekly teaching session. So, the lesson was pumpkins.

We loaded over 100 pumpkins on the truck, piled high above the bed. Really too many for the springs, but it was less than 2 miles to travel, and we didn't have time for a second trip. Topic of conversation while loading was reiterating a conversation I'd had with my mentors when I first started envisioning my farm.

We started the conversation by going over some of my personal strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, then moved on to aspirations. I thought it would be great fun to have a pumpkin patch.

"Wait a minute...didn't you mention one of your limitations is no health insurance?"

"Yeah, what does that have to do with pumpkins?"

"They weigh a lot. Hard on your back. Easy to hurt yourself, then you'd have medical expenses."

So scratch that idea. They did have a point--I should focus on small, light, high-value crops that would give me a good return and capitalize on my penchant for detail work.

The apprentices and I agreed that this was very good advice. Loading them on the truck once was about enough...oh, yeah, and then we unloaded them at the barn. But growing them we would have handled each one many more times than that between field and customer.

Never mind that pumpkins are difficult to grow in this area because of squash bugs, unless you use some sort of insecticide. We also have a squash vine borer moth. Cucurbits are not one of our specialties.

So we have approximately 100 pumpkins, weighing an average of 15 lbs. each. Now what?

Smashing pumpkins, of course.

The rotten ones we immediately threw into the chicken coop. They are enjoying picking out the flesh from the hard rinds.

And a new part of our sheep feeding chores is to divide a pumpkin between the the breeding subgroups. Here's the current method:

1. Lay the monster wood splitting maul blade up on top of an old bedsheet on the barn floor.

2. Choose a pumpkin from the pile and spike it down on top of the maul a couple times. This breaks it into a few large chunks.

3. Wipe off the maul and put it aside.

4. Hack at the chunks with the machete until the whole pumpkin has been reduced to pieces less than 4" square. Helpful hint: aim your blow at the ground under the chunk of pumpkin, and the additional momentum (compared to aiming for the visible surface of the piece) and the increase in effectiveness will astound you. This works for hammering nails, too.)

5. Wipe off the machete and hang it up.

6. Gather up the sheet and pour the pumpkin pieces into a 5 gallon bucket.

7. Divide chunks among sheep, tossing them over the fence.

The sheep quickly learned that pumpkins are delicious, and will even leave their alfalfa hay for them. Pumpkins supply extra vitamins and minerals in their diet. Plus they're free, and the sheep really like them. Plus it's kind of fun hacking them up! Good exercise and machete practice.

It will be interesting to see how long into the winter they'll keep in the barn without turning to mush. We'll probably bed them down with hay to insulate them soon.


Joe said...

Sounds like more fun than Counting Crows.

Anonymous said...

Read some of your "stories" from last December wish I was just a little closer. Waiting for more. Hope all is well.