I know it’s not even officially Summer yet, but it’s already time to start thinking about Autumn, and selecting your pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Whether you grow pumpkins for decoration or for cooking, now is the time to get those seeds in the dirt.
If you haven’t grown your own pumpkins before, don’t be intimidated. They’re easy to grow, don’t require much care, and are fast growers! The hardest part is choosing which type of pumpkin to plant.
Pumpkins (Cucurbitaceae Cucurbita) are native to the Americas, where they have been cultivated for at least 5000 years. Native Americans roasted pumpkins on the open fire. When Europeans arrived in the Americas they began carving pumpkins and using them as a “Jack ‘o’ Lanterns”.
The name pumpkin originates from the Greek word pepon, which means large melon. In fact, the Pumpkin is actually a large winter squash that grows on a vine. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. The internal flesh can be cooked and used for many recipes, and is especially delicious roasted and cooked in soups and pies. The seeds are edible and great roasted.
Types of Pumpkins
- Giant: These are enormous pumpkins, weighing anywhere from 100 to 300 pounds! They were originally cultivated in the early 19th century, when experimental farmers crossed the hubbard squash with kabocha pumpkins. While some varieties are better used for jack-o-lanterns, others also make surprisingly good pie pumpkins, like the Big Max. It’s best to double check each variety before you plant it.
- Medium to Large: These pumpkins typically have an orange shell with creases from the stem to the bottom, just like you imagine a jack-o-lantern to look. They tend to be stringy and are generally grown for carving, like the Howden variety.
- Small: These little guys are generally the pumpkins you see used as decoration on holiday tables. Some can be quite sweet, and make a lovely decorative and edible “bowl” for soups or grain dishes, such as the stunning white mini, Seminole.
- Pie: Sweeter, smaller, and with a fine-grained texture these pumpkins are perfect for cooking, like the Small Sugar.
- Specialty: Specialty pumpkins have been bred by blending traits from pumpkins and other winter squashes, to give them different colored skins, such as blue, like the Jarrahdale, or white, like the Casper, or change the shape, like the Cinderella’s Carriage.
Tips for Growing Pumpkins
- Space: Pumpkins need a fairly large space to roam. Select an area approximately 9 square feet. This will give it enough room for the vine to spread out along the surface of the ground. This can be a square, 3 foot by 3 foot, or a longer rectangle. For smaller varieties, you may even consider training them up a trellis, as long as you make sure to provide support for the developing pumpkins.
- Location: Pumpkins, like other winter squash, like full sun. Because the vines like to trail, many gardeners plant them in hills along the outer areas of the garden, and let them run freely into open space.
- Care: These are quite hungry plants and need a soil that is loose, fertile, moisture retentive and rich in organic matter. In fact, they grow the best near the compost area.
- Disease: If you live in a humid area, your squash plants may be affected by Powdery Mildew. Keeping them protected is difficult, so acting quickly is a good way to ensure you get a good harvest. You can spray the leaves with a homemade mixture of 1 tsp baking soda and 1 quart water. If your plants are large enough, you can remove the infected leaves, but do not use these leaves in your compost — it will contaminate your compost.
- Harvest: You’ll know your pumpkins are ready when their stems begin to shrivel or you can no longer pierce the skin with a thumbnail, but be sure to harvest before the first hard frost.