Pumpkins, Soil Health & Harvest Fest
Synonymous with Halloween and seasonal flavors from Starbucks, pumpkins are a staple of American autumn for many different reasons. Whether it be decoration, Halloween carving or Thanksgiving pie, pumpkins truly come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, the word “pumpkin” has no agreed upon scientific or botanical significance and is often used interchangeably with “squash”. In New Zealand and Australia, “pumpkin” refers to all winter squash whereas throughout North America and the United Kingdom, they refer to the brightly colored and bumpy mainstays of the Fall months.
Pumpkins are one of the most popular crops throughout the United States, and in 2017, there were over 1.5 billion pounds produced throughout the country. Pumpkins, being a crop suited for warm weather, are typically planted in late June or early July. Traditionally, pollination was completed by the Indiana native Squash Bee. As bee rates decline likely as a result of pesticide usage, other pollinators such as honeybees are utilized in commercial farming operations. In some instances, agricultural producers must pollinate by hand.
Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District planted a number of pumpkins at the gardens in Will Detmer Park. A primary reason the district planted pumpkins was to prove the methodology and widespread applicability of different environment and soil-conscious planting techniques. One of those methods is cover cropping, which is the process of utilizing plants to cover the soil for the purposes of soil health rather than for the purpose of harvesting. Cover crops are able to help maintain soil quality, fertility and microbiological diversity while also helping to prevent erosion, weeds, pests and draining all nutrition from the soil.
Notably, cover crops work to help replenish the nitrogen levels in the soil—an element which is necessary for healthy and prosperous plant growth. Cover crops are an important alternative to something like the Haber-Bosch process, which is the technique of introducing artificial chemical nitrogen fixation to the environment, which oftentimes results in environmental impacts such as eutrophication and hypoxia in large bodies of water. Eutrophication is the nutrient-loading process which occurs when chemical nitrogen fertilizers are lossed into local waterways. Hypoxia, which is the process of oxygen depletion, then occurs in rivers, lakes and other bodies. The lower levels of oxygen usually result in a severe reduction of aquatic life in these regions, through either the direct killing of animals or the migration of food sources and animals out of hypoxic waterway.
Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District also chose to use a “no-till” planting approach to the Will Detmer pumpkin patch. While the MCSWCD no-till planting process is different in specifics from large-scale agricultural operations, it is the same in principle. By choosing not to till and turn over the soil for the purposes of planting, a large amount of organic matter is retained in the soil. By continually implementing no-till practices, there is an increase in soil microbiological diversity and organic matter, a reduction of soil erosion as well as economic benefits for large-scale operations. By choosing to forego field plowing, an individual farmer is able to save time and money which would otherwise be spent on fuel and labor costs. While no-till methods may seem new, unnecessary and different from tradition, it is easy to implement, cost-saving and does wonders for the health of the soil and the overall environment.
Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District planted two specific pumpkins at the patch in Detmer Park: “Gumdrop” and “Renegade”. Gumdrop is notable for its rich color as well as its large, sturdy vine which may function as a handle. On average, the pumpkins are 11 to 13 pounds and are perfect for kids and autumn decoration. Renegade, on the other hand, is described as “highly uniform with few culls”. The Renegade variety is slightly larger than Gumdrop at about 14 to 18 pounds on average and has a strong handle and medium vine.
Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with Monroe County Parks and Recreation Department for Harvest Fest. Located at Will Detmer Park on October 22, community members were able to pick out a free pumpkin and learn about the microbiological processes which contribute to growing plants and soil health. There were also a number of fun games and activities, including a jack-’o-lantern toss, pumpkin painting and more. The district was super excited to hold the event and have the opportunity to connect more with the Bloomington-Monroe community—as well as give locally-grown pumpkins to good homes.
We at Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District are incredibly thankful for the local Earth Team Volunteers, which did a large majority of the work with the pumpkin patch at Will Detmer Park. If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved with MCSWCD or other related environmental volunteer opportunities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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