Decorative Pumpkin Seeds – Kilei Zera'im
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I bought a seed packet that says "decorative pumpkin small fruit – Curcubita pepo small mixed." The picture on the packet shows pumpkins of various colors and sizes. Am I allowed to plant them in my garden, with a 50 cm distance one from another?
Following a conversation with the distributor, these seeds are imported from abroad and the pumpkins are not meant for consumption.
There are several issues that should be considered when determining whether there is a problem of kilei zera'im:
- Does the fact that the vegetables are very different from one another (in size, shape, color, leaf shape, and perhaps taste) mean that these are different species and so they must be distanced from one another?
- Are these vegetables only decorative, or are they worthy of human consumption?
- Are pumpkins considered an invasive species that spreads out, and if so, what is the distance necessary between pumpkins and other species?
In practice, unless a comprehensive research is done regarding the first two points, it is proper to take precautions to avoid kilei zeraim. Since pumpkins do spread out, each seed should be planted at a distance of 204 cm from one another. Terumot and ma'aserot need not be taken.
A. From what you see on the picture, the pumpkins look very different from one another externally. Halacha defines species in the context of kilei zera'im as relying on three main factors: (1) leaf shape, (2) fruit shape, and (3) taste. Research is in order to see what these above factors are for each of the pumpkin seeds in the packet, so the appropriate halacha can be determined.
The fact that they are all pumpkins does not help since, for example, pumpkins and zucchini both belong to the Pepo species, but interplanting the two would nevertheless constitute kila'im.
Conventionally, botanical classifications break down into family, genus, and then species. Halachic classification relates only to species (min bemino, similar species, or min beshe'eino mino, dissimilar species).
The squash (Cucurbitaceae) family includes many different species, which are obviously considered kila'im with one another (cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, watermelon, melon). Pumpkin belong to the Curcubita genus.
In Israel there are three large species of Curcubita that are commonly available:
- The Pepo species, including squash, decorative pumpkin, and butternut squash.
- The Moschata species, the Tripolian pumpkin, sold simply as "pumpkin."
- The Maximad species, large pumpkin.
In a discussion with the distributor, I was told that the seeds are imported from abroad. From my Internet research, it seems that this mix includes other species as well, besides Pepo. As well, it says that the mix can include, besides the three species mentioned above, also Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd), as well as other Cucurbita: "Most "gourd" seed mixtures contain cultivars of Cucurbita pepo, C. moschata, C. maxima, Lagenaria siceraria, and other members of the squash family (the Cucurbitaceae)." So in this case, it is not only Pepo but other species as well.
B. The question is if these pumpkins are actually not fit for human consumption, or if they technically are edible, but are generally grown for decorative purposes. If they are not fit for human consumption, then kilei zera'im would not be a problem, However, if they are edible then they definitely constitute kilei zera'im. This is an issue that needs to be tested, but I cannot do so at this point. In any case, it stands to reason that they are worthy for human consumption, but are not as sweet as regular pumpkins.
C. Should the laws of kila'im apply, the question then becomes how far apart do the seeds need to be planted.
According to the Chazon Ish, most pumpkins today are not considered invasive plants, so they need to be distanced 1.5 tefachim (12 or 15 cm). Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli and Rabbi Yaakov Ariel consider pumpkin to be invasive, and require a distance of 204 cm (detailed explanation follows) between each seed, and this is the ruling of the Torah VeHa'aretz Institute.
In this specific case, there are a combination of several doubts:
- Perhaps all the squash family (Curcubitaceae) are considered the same species.
- Perhaps the pumpkins are not fit for human consumption.
- Perhaps the halacha should follow the Chazon Ish, who rules that most pumpkins today do not spread out.
It is for this reason that we wrote "it is proper to take precautions" and distance the seeds 204 cm from one another, not that this is an obligation. Between regular vegetables, there should be a distance of 12 cm (1.5 tefachim). Invasive vegetables that spread out (such as pumpkins, butternut squash, winter squash, melon, watermelon, cucumber) another 96 cm (2 amot) are added to each side. For this reason, a regular, non-invasive vegetable should be distanced from an invasive vegetable by 108cm (12+96), while two invasive vegetables should be distanced 204 cm from one another (96+96+12).
Note that the manufacturer's note on the packet states that the seeds should be planted 50 cm from one another (I found a German company that recommends distancing them even by 100 cm).
D. Another issue here is whether these pumpkins are subject to terumot and ma'aserot.
It is forbidden to eat and to benefit from the consumption (כילוי) of tevel produce, with actions such as: planting, burning, or use as animal fodder. However, benefit from its appearance and scent is not forbidden.
In addition, whether these pumpkins are indeed considered tevel is up for discussion.
The parameters for terumot and ma'aserot differ from those of kila'im.
For kila'im, the Rambam stipulates that the food in question would be "זרעים הראויים למאכל אדם" "seeds fit for human consumption." With regard to terumot and ma'aserot, however, his terminology is "אוכל אדם" "food for humans." So, only if the food is "אוכל אדם" would it be obligated in terumot and ma'aserot. The Rambam (Terumot 2:1-2) adds that food eaten in times of famine, even if not "food for humans" per se, citing lupines (כרשינין) as an example, are subject to terumot and ma'aserot. So we have to see what the situation is in our present case. Would people eat these pumpkins "in years of famine"?
Even if we are stringent regarding kil'aim, we might be able to be lenient in terms of terumot and ma'aserot. This issue has not been resolved, though, since it seems that these pumpkins are grown for decorative purposes, and their taste differs from regular pumpkins, and thereby considered not "food for humans" even in extenuating circumstances. This would exempt the pumpkins from the obligation of terumot and ma'aserot. However, people might eat these pumpkins during years of famine.
Moreover, the obligation for terumot and ma'aserot for vegetables is rabbinic, not biblical.
In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that there is no need to take terumot and ma'aserot from these pumpkins, even if we take precautions to avoid the prohibition of kila'im. Even for those who are stringent and define these pumpkins as tevel, there is no prohibition to look, smell, or use these pumpkins in ways that do not lead to their consumption.