A Guide to Growing Pumpkins
Pumpkins are a familiar sight at Halloween, carved into lanterns, and are more popular for decoration than as edible crops. However, they are easy to grow, fun for all, and spectacularly announce the onset of fall.
How to Grow
Pumpkins are a type of winter squash and require plenty of time to develop their bold coloring, as well as a lot of space. Sow seed indoors in mid-spring into small pots to help minimize root disturbance when planting outside. Harden off the seedlings once the risk of frost has passed, and plant 3–5 feet apart in a sunny, sheltered spot in well-drained, fertile soil that has been prepared with plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost or manure. (If you’re short of space, plant pumpkins directly into a well-rotted compost heap.)
Water in, and mulch well, covering with cloches or fabric during cold spells. Water regularly, particularly in hot, dry weather, and feed with a liquid fertilizer every other week. Lift trailing varieties off the ground with netting. If you want large pumpkins, thin the baby fruits, limiting each plant to bearing just two or three. For pumpkins to eat fresh, pick when they reach a good size. For large, decorative fruit, let them grow on and color up, but pick them before the first frost.
Drying and Storing
Pumpkins can be stored to eat later in the year but must be prepared properly. Leave the fruits on the plant to develop a thick skin, then cut them off, leaving a long stalk (this delays rotting, which starts at the stalk end). “Cure” the pumpkins by leaving them outside in the sun for around ten days to dry. If rain is forecast, move them indoors or cover them. Turn them occasionally so that the whole surface dries. Once “cured,” store the pumpkins in a dry, well-ventilated, frost-free space that is consistently cooler than 59 degrees F. Check occasionally for signs of damage or decay.
Varieties to Try
Mix up your pumpkin crops by trying different varieties, including: ’Atlantic Giant’, ‘Baby Bear’, ‘Becky’, ‘Jack Be Little’, ‘Jack of All Trades’, ‘Mammoth’, ‘Mars’ F1, ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’ and ‘Sunshine’.
Watch Out for These Pests
Pumpkin, cucumbers, zucchini and squash are related and are affected by the same pests and diseases. Slugs will attack all parts of young plants and may hide beneath the large leaves. Spread slug pellets, or use beer traps and gritty barriers to keep slugs away from vulnerable plants.