Firstly, let there be no illusion, Pumpkin growing needs space – a LOT of space! Even the smaller varieties can produce vines of significant length; therefore growing pumpkins is not a well suited task to a small garden.
However, if your do have the space then pumpkin growing can provide a serious amount of food in a reasonably short time (about 4 months). It’s very easy to do and dare I say it – fun, so it’s a great way to introduce the kids to gardening. Give them their own pumpkin patch and they’ll be out there every day checking on its progress.
Pumpkins are a good versatile fruit (yes they are a fruit not a vegetable). They have zero cholesterol and are rich in vitamins, especially vitamin A and beta carotene.
They can be roasted, boiled, added to soups or curries, made into biscuits & muffin’s, cake, wine, beer, pie, bread, cheesecake or pancakes. They can be stuffed, pureed, or made into soup. The seeds can be roasted to make a Moorish snack, and that’s just some of the food options thet come from pumpkin growing! Apart from the obvious Halloween lanterns, they can also be used for a myriad of other non-food things including; skin care products, punch bowls, floating candles, and even musical instruments!
Pumpkin growing is a very easy process, but it’s important to understand that pumpkins are a warm climate plant and require full sun at least 6-7 hours a day. They have no tolerance for frost or cold weather and if you plant them out too early, you are likely to loose them if the weather turns cold. Aim for May/April for planting.
All they need is sunshine, and plenty of it., water, and plenty of that too, and some good quality growing medium.
As I said, you need to grow pumpkins on the ground – they will not grow vertically simply because the fruits will get too heavy and will snap the vines.
To create your pumpkin growing patch, make a mound of rich compost about three feet wide and then dig a trench all around it about four inches wide and deep. The trench will help to retain the water. Alternatively use a raised garden bed – but with this option you will need to keep an eye on the moisture levels. Using a mulch will help to keep the soil moist
Sow four or five seeds spaced about eight inches apart and cover with another inch of soil / compost.
Water the new seeds in and then keep the area moist at all times – not wet, just moist. a drip feed irrigation system will pay dividends here, otherwise water them well in the mornings to give them a fighting chance to stay moist during the day.
Germination will take place within 7 – 14 days.
Now comes the hard part – look at the seedlings and select the three largest, strongest and healthiest looking plants. Remove the other seedlings. These plants will begome very large, so you do need to thin them or you will have overcrowding problems later on.
Pumpkin vines can grow up to 30 feet in length, and they’ll be sending vine shoots outwards all along the way. They grow vigorously and will climb over anything in their way unless you re-direct them. If left to its own devices, you could end up with pumpkins growing on your roof! The vines have barbs so use gloves when handling them.
Pollination is very important in pumpkin growing – you won’t have a crop without it!
Soon you will be getting large flowers appearing on the vines. The male flowers are just a big orange or yellow flower, the female flowers have a small bulbous fruit behind them. Ordinarily, this is where nature comes in to the equation by providing bees! The bees are attracted to the flowers and will take pollen from the male flower and transfer it to the female flower at which point the fruit has been pollinated and will start to grow into a pumpkin fruit.
However, the female flowers are only good for a day or two. If the pollination process has not taken place within that time, the fruit will not develop, and the female flower, along with the fruit attached to them will wilt and die. If you do not appear to have any bees in your garden you may need to look at hand pollination.
Hand pollination is very simple; Just look for a male flower that is about to open. Carefully remove all of the petals to expose the centre part of the flower. Then find a female flower and rub the male flower against the inside of the female flower. Try to get as much pollen as you can onto as many lobes as possible inside the female flower.
You can try setting the mood with dim lighting and playing some Barry White as you do this. It may or may not help, but will certainly add to the occasion! :o)
You’ll need to do this for each female flower that you want to turn into a pumpkin.
Watch out for critters and pests. Larger animals can also be drawn to your pumpkin growing patch, rats mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits & deer. If you are in the US, then I understand raccoons also have a particular fondness for pumpkins. You can defend your pumpkins in a number of ways. You can make a dome over your growing pumpkins using chicken wire. You can raise them off the ground by placing them on an up-turned flower pot. You could even make a hammock for them using old t-shirts etc. A scarecrow can also be a semi-effective deterrent for birds.
Pumpkins are also susceptible to Squash vine borers that can attack the vines from the inside out. They can be a major problem for plants in the squash & marrow family. A single creature can cause a lot of damage. You have to hunt it down and destroy it by looking for a small entry hole (usually at the base of the vine) and then by slicing the vine open lengthways, following the path of the insect until you find it. With luck your crop will go on for the rest of the season unhindered, but without hunting down the creature, you may loose the crop.
As the pumpkins grow, rotate them occasionally this will help to avoid flat spots.
Harvest when the pumpkins turn a deep orange colour (unless you are growing a specific coloured variety). A brown pumpkin is too far gone and should not be used.
Cut them from the vine using a knife or secateurs. At this stage the vines will be shrivelled and tatty.
Marigolds make good companion plants for pumpkins and will help to fend off some of the smaller critters.