Before long it will be pumpkin time again in our neck of the woods. Pumpkin plants are one kind of tough skinned winter squash that has been given a life of its own with Halloween and Thanksgiving. Every fall we decorate our homes and children spend countless hours creating and carving jack-o’-lanterns.
As a food source the pumpkin plant are extremely healthy and versatile for use in stews, soups, vegetable dishes, puddings and of course pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are full of seeds which can be dried and roasted for a great healthy snack. If you didn’t grow pumpkins this year they are readily available at grocers and farm stands but watching your pumpkins grow throughout the season is great fun, especially for children. You can always prepare yourself for pumpkin planting next season.
To be successful with planting pumpkins you need a fairly long warm growing season as pumpkins take a long time to mature. They also require a lot of space so if garden space is limited they may not be the best vegetable for you to grow. They are capable of growing into a 20 foot vine, but 12 feet is more the norm. In a small garden you might try tying up some of the vine.
Plant pumpkins in fertile soil, supply ample water and place them in the sun. Sow seeds into the garden as soon as all danger of frost has passed. Plant directly into the soil, 6 seeds in a cluster or hill about 1 inch deep. When the seedlings are up thin to the strongest 3. Once the plants are a few inches tall thin back to 1 strong plant. The plants should be spaced 4 feet apart and if you have a lot of garden space rows should be 6 feet apart.
As your pumpkins start to grow place some mulch like straw or a shingle under the pumpkin to help reduce ground rot. When your vine has around 6 nice fruits growing remove the late developing flowers so your vine will concentrate on growing those fruit. If your aim is to grow giant pumpkins for Halloween pinch off the tips of the vines once they have a few small fruit then shortly after remove all but the best fruit per vine so the remaining fruit gets all the plants energy. Continue to remove the flowers, water often and top dress every few weeks. Gently turn the pumpkin often to avoid developing a flat bottom.
The varieties ‘Connecticut Field’ and ‘Big Moon’ will produce large carving pumpkins. For cooking and baking try a smaller variety such as ‘Small Sugar’.
Once a pumpkin has been picked from the vine it will not ripen further therefor leave them on the vine until they are mature. Often the stems will dry out. Do not let them freeze, they must be harvested before the frost appears in your area. Pick your pumpkin by cutting off a few inches of stem along with the fruit with a knife. Do not just tear or rip it off the vine as a jagged cut leaves the pumpkin more open to rot.