The Great Pumpkins

Sweden’s climate isn’t ideal for pumpkins, but this organic farm beats the odds.

By Irene Virag

Photography by Pernilla Bergdahl

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Giant pumpkins of SwedenBecause of Sweden's cool climate and long summer days, seed for giant and regular-sized pumpkins as well as dozens of winter squash varieties is sown around the end of April. The everyday pie-fillers are sown and grown outside, while the giants get jump-started in large pots in a cool greenhouse. When seedlings are about 3 weeks old, they are planted outside, but only on a warm day. No less than full sun will do, because lots of sun equals better taste. These growing practices apply to most of the places across the globe where pumpkins grow.

As is often the case with potential champions, the heavyweights are coddled. Young plants are protected from a chance late frost with nonwoven row cloth, which lets light in but keeps cold out. To encourage pollination, the cloth is removed when flowers appear. And before long, the flowers turn into pumpkins great and small, ready for soups, pies—and the scale.

The farm is a sustainable operation, and its livestock makes a valuable contribution. Manure is essential to soil preparation, since mammoth squash require deep, rich soil and plenty of moisture, which is provided by an irrigation system. The Swedish summer sun shines for as much as 18 hours a day. And the farm's organic tradition is stronger than ever, thanks to Gossling, who is finishing his second season as the man behind Solberga Gård.

By his own description, Gossling is "the green guy" at Lund University who teaches courses about such things as the impact of air travel on climate change and how corporate social responsibility and tourism affect the environment. "When I was a boy, we had a plot of land in Germany. I grew carrots and potatoes. My father was very fond of the different types of apples, cherries, and plums we grew. If anybody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd say, 'a farmer.' " Now he spends as much time as possible at Solberga with his wife, Meike Rinsche, a schoolteacher, and their 6-year-old daughter, Linnea, who—yes—is named after the botanist's favorite flower, Linnaea borealis, commonly known as twinflower.

Linnea is especially fond of the farm's three horses, but other farm animals include pigs, sheep, and three cats. The farm is renowned, however, for its vegetables. Asparagus is a big crop at Solberga Gård, and the fields are filled with garlic, potatoes, six varieties of tomatoes, melons, squash, raspberries, corn, beans, onions, cucumbers, beets, peas, celery, red and green lettuce, artichokes, and Swiss chard, to name a few. And Gossling brought peanuts from Barbados. And, of course, pumpkins—40 varieties in all.

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