Hue loves autumn for all its myriad splendors: pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin-scented candles…. But all that pumpkin has to come from somewhere. And as Leona Rocha Wilson, Fashion Design ’72, discovered, they’re not that easy to grow.
Wilson, who lives in Maui, accepted a handful of seeds from the USDA Cooperative Extension System Office, as part of a program to teach local gardeners about the difficulties that farmers face. Those who grew the largest pumpkins would get to display their bounty at the county fair in October, alongside exotic chickens and tropical fruits.
“Across the country, farmers are closing up, digging under, selling to developers,” she says. “When the farmer gives up farming, that soil becomes housing. And somebody has to grow the food that we’re consuming.”
She was already an experienced gardener, growing rare trees called koai’a to sell the wood. She dug 3-by-3-foot holes underneath the trees and planted the seeds in the corners. She kept a journal to track their progress.
Leona Rocha Wilson measures one of her pumpkins.
As soon as the vines began to unfurl their enormous leaves, she worried she had planted them too close. Every day she watched and worried. But each one grew in a different direction. “Even plants want to survive,” she notes, her voice full of wonder. “Their survival skills were amazing.”
Once the pumpkins began to grow, she also had to cope with fruit flies. If a fruit fly stings a pumpkin, she says two things can happen. One, the larvae eat the pumpkin from the inside and the pumpkin implodes. Two of hers “melted” in that way. Sometimes, the flies produce a gas inside the pumpkin, and it blows up! Thankfully, that didn’t happen to her.
From eight seeds, she was able to grow five pumpkins with a combined weight of 500 pounds. After presenting them at the county fair, she donated them to a local church, where they will become pies and roasted pumpkin seeds for Thanksgiving.
Her final conclusions? “It was fun. And now I have an added respect for farmers.”