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  • Nikki Conley

Our Obsession With Pumpkins


Over the years through Autumns past, a prevalent symbol has always existed that signals a particular feeling or frame of mind for anyone who cherishes this particular time of year. A return to the more simpler and slower-paced times, for me, a time when more were aware of the classic cartoon of Disney's Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. My absolute favorite part: Ichabod Crane is chased down in terror by the headless horseman on his dark steed. The horseman hurls the fiery jack o lantern at Ichabod as he attempts to run through the covered bridge. After the scene fades, we recall seeing only the shattered pumpkin on the ground where Ichabod had run for safety. Every Autumn season I looked forward to this ancient tale. Sad that many younger generations aren't even aware of the story, or that Disney produced their own version of the tale. An icon from this story however still harald's the start of The American Autumn. The pumpkin.

In our current culture, pumpkins have taken on the roll of a flavor; or at least, what most Americans "think" pumpkin should taste like. Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin flavored coffee creamer, even Pumpkin M&Ms (NOT a fan). The traditional pumpkin I feel has been lost in a flurry of commercialism these days. At Athol Orchards, I have an overarching goal that has really become more of a mission . We will strive to grow and nurture heirloom/heritage/antique varieties of apples and pumpkins almost exclusively.

Not only will we offer these beautiful harvests to the community through farmer's markets and directly from our farm, but we strive to educate children and grown-ups alike about the rich histories behind these Autumn American icons. When walking through the grocery stores in the Fall, we see the typical red, green and yellow apples, and cardboard bins full of the typical jack o lantern varieties -perhaps some jack-be-littles, maybe two or three decorative varieties of pumpkins. Most Americans are not aware of the uncommon and unsung heroes of the pumpkin world. Lady Godiva, Big Moose, Winter Luxury, Gills Golden Pippin and more.

I want to share these varieties. I want our customers to experience what a pumpkin pie tastes like that comes straight from the vine. A Fairytale pumpkin is a beautiful specimen, but many would prefer to use it as a decorative piece rather than slice into it to uncover inches of rich, deeply orange flesh it offers for baking and cooking. This goes for many pumpkins. They are beautiful, but many would prefer to use them as decoration and save the L-brand canned pumpkin for their pies, breads, pancakes, etc. A future endeavor of Athol Orchards will be offering farm "classes" on the history of pumpkins and apples in America as well as teach participants how to process a pumpkin from vine to pie plate- one of the most rewarding Autumn customs there is. There are so many more plans in the works for educational offerings. As a previous educator, I take great joy in educating people about our rich American history - in particular, the history of apples and pumpkins.

Currently, we have approximately 13-14 different varieties growing in our humble orchard/field. Our virgin soil was tested by University Of Idaho and results were extremely positive. So to further prepare our ground for our pumpkins, we amended with composted chicken manure, bone meal, and nothing more. We will see how our harvest fares this season, and amend our soils with compost and more composted horse and chicken manure before winter sets in. By utilizing only natural pest management ( ranging chickens are amazing for this), rich healthy soil, and watering deeply and infrequently with pure 100% North Idaho spring water from our own private spring, we pray our efforts will pay off with a beautiful, bountiful harvest this Autumn season. Blossoms are just now beginning to set and our busy bees are wandering into the vines and finding these blooms. I couldn't help myself as I hand-pollinated a few varieties. I'm sure the bees don't mind as they still have plenty of work ahead of them. I'm just so excited to see pumpkins flourishing on the vine. Let's keep our fingers crossed to see how our hard work pays off this Autumn!


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