Fall Harvest History

Harvest from American Indian Town at Roanoke Island Festival Park
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Fall is the season of the pumpkin! If you enjoy a variety of squash in your fall diet and decorations, you have the American Indians to thank. The Algonquin Indians on Roanoke Island were skilled farmers and innovators that passed down their knowledge to the next generation as well as the English settlers. Their creativity and resourcefulness allowed them to use the crops they harvested in a variety of ways, from food to storage.

Pumpkins in American Indian Town

Pumpkin in American Indian Town garden at Roanoke Island Festival ParkPumpkins are a type of squash and part of the three sister crops that also includes beans and corn. The American Indians discovered that when these crops are planted together, they help each other grow. Pumpkins and pumpkin seeds were an important part of the American Indian diet. Visit our blog to learn more about the three sister crops. 

Harvesting Pumpkins

When the park staff plants the American Indian Town garden in the spring, we use heirloom pumpkin seeds of American Indian origin. Pumpkins typically take 105 days to harvest and can last up to a year if stored at room temperature. The pumpkin seeds in the park’s garden are adaptable to hot, humid weather and disease-prone areas. For a successful harvest, these plants need ample water and plenty of room to roam. 

Gourds in American Indian Town

Squash growing in the American Indian Town garden at Roanoke Island Festival ParkThe American Indians planted gourds for their usefulness and versatility. Gourds are also a type of squash that the Algonquians typically used for storage. They would dry out the gourds and use them as containers for corn meal, dried beans or other food items. Once full, they would hang the gourds high inside their longhouses and use the stored food as needed. Smaller gourds were also used to make cups and bowls. 

Another function of the gourd was a birdhouse for purple martins. Purple martins are a welcome sight in any garden because they like to feast on mosquitoes and other insect pests.

Harvesting Gourds

The gourds currently planted in American Indian Town are known as the lagenaria siceraria species. These seeds take around 95 days to harvest and are known for their strength and shape. If properly cared for, these plants can produce up to 12 gourds each. 

Girl walking in the American Indian Town garden at Roanoke Island Festival ParkTo learn more about Algonquin Indian agriculture, visit American Indian Town at the park. You can see first-hand how gourds were used in the longhouses, search for growing pumpkins and visit the garden’s watch towers.