A Pumpkin In The Apple Tree


My sister Jenny went out to pick apples the other day and found a Cinderella pumpkin growing up in her Winesap tree. See the photo. Some of you, being as disbelieving as I am, will suspect that someone stuck that pumpkin up there just for fun, but I assure you that is not the case. You can imagine how it happened. Turn your back on a pumpkin vine and it will run off down the road and join the army. This one snaked up the apple tree when no one was looking and put on blossoms. One of them formed a pumpkin which just so happened to be in a position to balance itself between branches and prosper, almost hidden from view.

This tree pumpkin conjures up all sorts of ideas. What other crops could we save space with by training them up trees? I once visited a farmer in Pennsylvania who allowed grape vines to grow up his yard trees to produce a visual delight: golden fall leaves dripping with bunches of purple Concord grapes.

My contrary mind goes in another direction. I wonder how often in human history has the juxtaposition of unrelated objects led to wrong conclusions. I doubt even the most primitive cave dweller would conclude that there was such a thing as a pumpkin tree, but look how often similar silly notions have gotten started. As a child, I was told that horsehair snakes (Nematomorpha) really came from horsehairs and that toads generated from lumps of mud. Being the consummate disbeliever even then, I put some hairs from our draft horse, Flora, in the horse trough and waited quite a long time for them to come alive.

Rural people of my age often suffer from “hawk-o-phobia,” to coin a word. I know a couple who are convinced that “hawks” are to blame for the disappearance of their cats. Sometimes a great horned owl will kill a cat, the books say, but I can’t find any case of a hawk doing the same. In my generation’s childhood, hawks were blamed for killing chickens because hawks are always circling around in the sky. Most species of hawks do not kill chickens. The red-tail hawk will, but only very rarely. Most likely what is killing these folks’ cats are cars on the road or a neighbor who is tired of prowling cats killing his chickens.

When I suggested that hawks were not to blame, the couple then decided that the problem was coyotes, another animal often wrongly blamed because of juxtaposition-thinking. I suppose anything can happen, but it would take a mighty stupid coyote to try to kill a cat. I have often watched dogs attack cats. If the cat can’t find a post or tree to climb, it sends the dog packing with a mangled nose.

Coyotes often get blamed unfairly for dead sheep too. There are lots of coyotes in my vicinity, but the sheep I have lost were all killed by dogs. Very often the dogs belonged to neighbors who insisted that their good ole’ Bowwow wouldn’t harm a flea.

I wonder how often we are still making errors because of juxtaposition-thinking. For example, medical science has insisted for forty years now that eating certain foods causes blockage of the arteries which in turn leads to heart attacks. But in the last ten years, a significant amount of evidence has been piling up that puts that contention in doubt. I wonder if some day the cholesterol-diet-heart disease relationship might be just another case of juxtaposition thinking.

Anyway, I do know that pumpkins don’t grow on apple trees, but the idea has its own practical logic. Overpopulating deer in our area have grown fond of gnawing on our pumpkins. Why not train our future pies to vine up the orchard trees. Take that, you infernal deer.


Since becoming interested in self-sufficiency back in 2008, and then working at it as much as I can since then, I have really had my eyes opened. I’ve done a lot of reading; “All Flesh is Grass” is one of my favorites. Then, there’s the hands on experience. What I meant by my eyes being opened, is that I’m now noticing people’s gardens as I go by. I was travelling in France in September of 2010. There, it seems everyone with a backyard has a small garden, and I noticed lots of interesting techniques. I observed many times that squash plants were being grown up and over fences, with the heavy fruits dangling from the vines.

This is the last time, the very last last last time I am going to believe “what the books say.” Evidently, red tail hawks do kill chickens more than rarely, from what you all say. I had a hawk, a sharp-shinned hawk I think, try to take a chicken. It must have been very hungry. The chicken was almost as big as the hawk and carried on so the hawk gave up the battle. Our red tails and red shouldered hawks get plenty of mice in the pasture, I guess. They don’t bother our free-roaming chickens. We have a very comical rooster. If he thinks the cats are stalking his hens, he takes off after them like a dog would. Really funny. Maybe he is keeping the red tails at bay. Thanks for all your very interesting comments. Beth, I loved your line, “the squash that ate Chicago.” Gene

We got some of the nicest looking butternut squash this summer by accident. We added a mudroom on the back of our house and a squash plant sprouted in the fill dirt we used around the new steps. I didn’t plant it and didn’t know what type of squash it was until it set fruit. Even then I thought it might be a gourd until it started to mature.

“Tree pumpkin(s) conjures up all sorts of ideas.” Interesting words to ponder. I have a student who likes to say “I like to think inside the box”. Most would consider him as one who marches to his own drummer, but I think he just realizes the box is much bigger than most of us realize. Juxtapositions, as you point out, are prime culprits in the rush to confirm desired conclusions. Correlation can be very seductive but often lives far away from causation.

On the other hand, if red tail hawks rarely bother chickens then we have been the victim of rare occurrences on numerous occasions.
My son-in-law has seen them in the act several times and found dead broilers with the same tell-tale kill pattern on several other occassions. Even electrified poultry netting and deer-guard netting draped over poles to create a top barrier did not keep them out. He witnessed them working their way under the fencing. I have the remains of a red tail at the barn that I killed with a pitch fork. I heard a big ruckus in the old milk stable in the barn where we keep layers while choring. I rushed into the stable and found a big red tail who had come in a one foot opening into the hen house and had a hen penned down ready to rip its neck. That day was his last day. They are majestic creatures but my expression of disappointment in his brazen actions and kindly request that he not repeat them did not seem like a viable option to protect my hens.

I also remember eating breakfast a couple years ago on a Saturday morning and looking out over the hillside watching a coyote carrying a large black object in its mouth. It was a hen. We found remains of 2 others that had been killed and eaten. I think it was probably a mama taking lunch to the young’uns. Maybe pumpkins do grow in trees.

Don’t tell the red tailed hawks in my neck of the woods that they rarely kill chickens, or they may start doing it even more often. We lost one chicken to a hawk last week. How do we know it was a hawk? It was standing over the chicken and eating it when we walked into the back yard. A neighbor a few miles down the road lost two chickens to a red tailed hawk last week as well. Both times the hawk was caught in the act.

Perhaps it is the same hawk, and perhaps he has an unhawk-like taste for chickens, but it seems to be more common than not, at least where I live.

Granted, we have seen the hawk circling all summer, even landing in the back field a few times to look around, and last week was the first time he got a chicken. So maybe it is rare, depending on your definition of rare. But when I think of “rare” it means “Not happening to me”.

What annoys me about this is that there are more than enough rabbits and squirrels running about my property to feed a whole extended family of hawks, and I’d be more than happy to have the hawks set up house in the barn if they’d leave the chickens alone and take care of the varmints. But, of course, nature rarely does what you want it to do.

We grew squash this year and also last year. Last year from nine plants we got 42 squashes (acorn, butternut, scarlet kabochas). This year, because of the large amounts of rain we got during the summer, the squash tried to take over the universe (or at least our small corner of it) and we got 135 squashes from, again, nine plants. That’s 3 times as many as last year!

Some of the vines grew up the garden fence and several kabochas developed hanging from their vines on the fence. One kabocha in particular, a rather large one, was in fact supported by the vine from which it grew. The vine had grown threw the fence and then upward where it blossomed and the squash was resting on the vine.

Lesson learned: water early, water often, water intensively to grow many squash.

I have read the indians due to one circumstance or another allowed their squash to climb trees where the squash would hang from the branches like chrismas lights or some such thing. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells seed for a Seminole pumpkin said to be from the 1500s. It is a smallish pumpkin and seems like it might well work for this.

Very good article here
(printing that one!) describes how seeds were planted at the base of trees that were deadened by girdling. It makes sense plant wise, and also for people with or without metal tools. The sunlight gets through and the trellis remains for years, which also seasons the tree’s wood in a very humid climate (florida in the article) in the most spread out way possible. As branches weaken and fall off, theres some firewood. Maybe, anyway, I only have plans to try this.

I agree about the hawks – I see different types frequently, but I’ve never seen one go for our chickens. Bald eagles and ravens are a whole ‘nother story, though I have to say that now we have a bald eagle nest in the neighbourhood (less than 1km at the bird flies)we have had no eagle issues. The ravens are interesting. They’re not scared of us humans, nor the dog. The juxtaposition of unrelated objects leading to wrong ideas is tough to wrap my brain around…I get it when you tell me the examples, but have trouble thinking of my own. Perhaps something like our understanding of the relationship between sickness and bacteria leading to our impregnating everything,from sponges to socks (!) with antibacterial substances. Or using antibiotics as a preventative measure rather than a treatment of illness, especially in farming? Or is this more the theory of “if a little of something is good for you, a whole lot must be better”?

We have a neighbor with a gourd vine growing up a tree. I don’t think that one was planned either, but they’ve got several nice long gourds hanging down out of the tree and it’s difficult to see the actual gourd vines. Looks pretty awesome.

I like the tree trellis for grapes (on my want list: good fall foliage tree with grapes!). The only thing to worry about would be making sure the vine goes straight up the trunk rather than winding around it– otherwise as they both grow, girdling would be an issue for both of them you’d have to decide which one to keep and which one to axe. Not a fun place to be.

Also, regardless of how many leaves there are, there are still only so many photons for them to catch, so I wouldn’t expect either plant in this situation to be up to full yield. That’s not usually a problem in home gardens, but something to be aware of.

I’ve always loved the look of morning glory vines in an apple tree, and since I always used open pollinated seeds, it’s a good thing I do. Having tried it once, I had them forever (I didn’t actually try it on purpose; I spilled the seed, and nature just took over from there). I’ve never had a pumpkin climb a tree, but we had a squash one year that took over its bed, the one next to it, and the chain link fence. It probably would have moved on to the neighbors if the deer hadn’t kept it trimmed back. We called it “The Squash That Ate Chicago”.
I agree completely with Paula about looking at who funds studies. Or who funds the universities who conduct the studies. Or where the people who sit on the college boards come from. Frankly, I don’t believe in a third of the health-care remedies we use in this country–maybe not even a quarter. And I’ve been in the health care business for over forty years! The drug companies in particular have been less than honest about the results of the studies, and frequently bribe doctors to write learned papers pontificating about a particular drug, or to give educational presentations for the same purpose. What happens all too often is that medicines are released by the FDA and then you are doing drug testing in the real world, which is VERY different from a lab.
Gene, your juxtaposition idea works in other respects. I remember how many times I got blamed for something being broken or dirty or misplaced just because I happened to be the kid nearest whatever it was!

I let a bottle gourd vine take over a peach tree one year, it had a pleasant effect on the imagination.I have been playing around with Permaculture ideas like this through the years- its fun to freak out the neighbours!

You know why people stopped eating lard and butter? Because companies in the business of selling plant oils (peanut, corn, then safflower etc.) funded university studies that found a result that they could use to sell their plant oils. I tend not to believe studies until I’ve figured out who funded them.

I like the idea of training something else up a tree! I am espaliering some apple trees in my back yard and I really like the idea of being able to get something else out of the same area. I’ll have to give that one some thought!

The ancient Mesoamericans planted corns, beans, and squash together so that the squash would prevent weeds from crowding out the corn, and the cornstalks would offer the beans something to cling to. So your pumpkin-in-a-tree is not so out of the ordinary.

Yes! Well said. And “Turn your back on a pumpkin vine and it will run off down the road and join the army” made me laugh out loud–thank you!

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