Here’s another one from the Garden Journal: Ken’s Special Pumpkin. This is the most common type of pumpkin grown in Singapore and also termed ‘Japanese pumpkin’. I recall seeing dozens of these being sold at Spectra Primary School’s farmer’s market last year and wanted to grow it ever since. Its a highly ornamental ribbed-skinned pumpkin which tastes great roasted with some sea salt and pepper.
I bought the seeds off a florist at block 453 Ang Mo Kio at Chong Boon Market, the stall vendor owns a small plot at Lim Chu Kang (‘LCK’) and always sells bags of freshly picked young four-winged beans or Chinese traditional medicine (weeds mostly). We became friends after she caught me snooping around the bags of herbs and asked if I knew what they were – at that point I had just set up the SMU TCM Herb section and replied with their names. She was shocked – could a lowly millennial really know the wisdom of Lao Tzu.. I convinced her by saying the only thing aunties get assured by: “aiyah aunty… my ah ma teach me one”.
Nowadays when I walk past she’d be sure to say “girl today have wild bitter gourd” or “Si Fang Dou lai le (four winged bean is here already)” – she knows that I’m her most loyal customer and will buy anything she throws at me from the LCK plot. Recently she started to sell seeds too, from a brand called “Go Organic”. This is the same brand I saw being sold at Gardener’s Day Out, so I bought one pack of pumpkin seeds to try out.
HOW TO GROW KEN’S SPECIAL PUMPKIN
First, plant the seeds 2cm deep into the soil and at least 15 cm apart. I grew two vines in one big styrofoam box. I recorded planting my seeds sometime late November 2019.
Relying on whats recorded in my book:
The vine started to reach across out of the styrofoam box, into the vegepod and it started to sink its roots into the empty patches of soil. Usually these roots would emerge from a node under a leaf before diving into the soil.
(Following from sowing on November 2019) By 21 December 2019, the vine had its first buds of male flowers. Typically the flowers form around the same height as the leaf stalks. The leaves tend to adjust themselves to be sun-facing but as a result they are susceptible to catching rain drops (the leaves are also furry resulting in trapping of moisture) causing powdery mildew (fungus) to form. For my vine, the risk of mildew forming was even greater since I was growing the pumpkin as ground-cover for my Thai solider beans which covered the upper canopy and caused the growing site to be very humid and shady. I mitigated this by only watering onto the soil avoiding the leaves, and by cutting away any yellowing or weak leaves which tend to foster the evil mildew. Proper fertilisation is needed to prevent fungal attacks – high P / K.
NOTE: Pumpkins tend to form male flowers first, (approx one week) BEFORE producing female flowers, the reason for this is simple; the vine “trains” nearby bees to visit the male flowers regularly so that when the female flower appears the bees would already be in the habit of visiting the (male) flowers on the vine and would pollinate the females.
On 24 December 2019, the vine was 3.5 meters long and bore its first female flowers. There were two of them. But unfortunately, both decided that the vine was not ready to fruit, so they turned yellow and fell off after 3 days. The disappointment was immeasurable ( I told myself that I would be happy with just fried pumpkin flowers stuffed with cheese – *I wasn’t*).
Then came 12 January 2020, when I brought my friends Jie Hui and Hailin to the garden and we saw the first promising female bloom. Admittedly, by the time we spotted it, it was already pollinated by the bees. This was obvious from the exaggerated bulge of the ovary. But I did my due diligence: plucked off one male flower and positioned the fused pollen-covered anther (male parts) to touch the stigma (female part). I then left the male flower over the female flower and went away for the afternoon. The next morning, I removed the spent male flower and repeated the process with another fresh male flower. The point of this is to (1) ensure that the pollen touches the stigma and (2) to use the male flower as a shade to cover the stigma whilst pollination is happening so the pollen is not exposed to direct sunlight. This trick was taught to me by a farmer at Green Valley Farms who successfully grew 15kg winter melons, she didn’t provide any reasons for why she fused the two flowers together but this much I can guess.
By 16 January 2020, the ovary was swollen and the ridges started to form. I covered the fruit with shade netting and supported it on a metal pole that I hung above. I chose to grow the pumpkin aerially so that it wouldn’t rot on the moist soil or be vulnerable to pest attacks – seems like a good decision as the pumpkin was free from blemishes and developed an even colour throughout its skin (I notice that some pumpkins have slight discolouration at the spot where they were placed on the ground).
The netting allows sufficient air and sunlight through.
HOW TO HARVEST A KEN’S SPENCIAL PUMPKIN
On 5 February 2020, I harvested the pumpkin, there are a few ways to tell if a pumpkin is ripe:
- gently tap on the pumpkin to see if it makes a hollow sound, if it does it should be ready for picking;
- the outer skin should be covered in a white coating, the colours (green and white) should become duller (into olive and yellow respectively);
- the stem connecting the pumpkin to the main vine should be brown and dry;
- the skin should be very hard and difficult to pierce with your finger nail (don’t try this with supermarket pumpkins, people sure will scold you);
- For ken’s special harvest it 1 month after confirmed pollination of the female flower;
- Weighs usually between 1 – 3 kg (mine was 1.8kg, approx 50 inches circumference).
Leave the pumpkin to “cure” for 10 – 14 days after harvest this allows the pumpkin to develop more flavour and ripen up. The pumpkin turns orange after being cured.
Me: Clearly very chuffed with my pumpkin and thinking “who was I kidding I would have been devastated with just cheesy stuffed pumpkin flowers.“
The Ken’s Special taste little like sweet potato but with a firmer flesh, it is not particularly fibrous which is a good thing. My recommendation would be to cut it into thin slices and roast it in the oven with salt and pepper until browned. The sugars from the pumpkin will caramelise and release all of its umami flavours. The benefit of growing pumpkins is that they improve with time and storing pumpkins for a few months is an option if you have a bumper harvest – if not, Im sure your friends and family wouldn’t mind taking a few off you.
As always, I am trying a new variety of pumpkins in the garden this season – Thai Rai Kaw Tok Pumpkin which is flatter, speckled and more ribbed than the Ken’s Special. Will keep everyone updated on the process.
Till then – keep growing,