Garden to Table: Pumpkins

Leave Pumpkins on Vine for Maximum Size and Color

Leave Pumpkins on Vine for Maximum Size and Color

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pumpkins and squashes can be left on the vine during the fall to reach their maximum size and develop brightly colored skins. Once cured in the sun for 10 days, they can be stored in a dry, well ventilated, frost free place.

The first thing we need to say about pumpkins is that there are (practically speaking) two kinds: edible and ornamental. For the purposes of this article, we prefer to contemplate only the edible kind.

Pumpkin is in the same family (Cucurbitaceae) as squash, melons, gourds, luffas and watermelons. All originate in the Americas, and each plant has fantastic qualities and uses. We could go on and on about how productive and essential this entire order is, but focus is of the essence: right now we are only concerned with those delicious edible varieties, rich in antioxidants and vitamins, low in calories and brimming with vitamin A. 

The more you learn about plant history, the more you realize what a gift the New World truly was. So many things that we think of as staples of Western cuisine (tomatoes, squash, potatoes, peppers) originated in the Americas.  As farmers, we are eternally grateful to the native cultures that lived here for thousands of years and evolved plants to suit the landscape, the climate and the nutritional needs of the people of these lands. It’s funny to think that, like winter squash, pumpkin plants start growing in the summer and mature well before the fall equinox. The plants are associated with fall because they store well, and for a time become sweeter. 

We like to grow pumpkins that work well in pies, roasts and braises. Whatever you do with them, don’t miss the joy of this autumnal gift. —Joe & Judith  

Varieties Grown: Potimarron, Kikuza, Amish Pie, Long Island Cheese, Seminole Pumpkin

What I’m Wearing: Count them orange in all shades, but pumpkins are not exempt from expressing feelings of yellow, blue, gray and green. One color scheme or another, they never fail to catch the eye. 

Tasting Notes: We hate to continually stress the texture found in food, but pumpkins are decidedly firm, succulently grainy or downright “melt-in-your-mouth” soft. To perfectly roast and puree a pumpkin is to invite both sweetness and aroma. 

How to Grow: 

  • We usually start with young plants seeded in the greenhouse, but you can seed pumpkins directly. Like watermelons, you may want to seed 2 to 3 seeds for uniform success and go back and thin extra plants down to 1 after germination. 
  • We usually plant young plants 1.5’ to 3’ apart in the row and 3’ to 6’ between rows. The closer you plant young plants, the more -- but smaller -- fruit you will reap. For larger fruit, plant young plants further apart and pinch off all but one or two young fruit per plant. 
  • Pumpkins demand high fertility from both nitrogen and phosphorous. We usually amend with dehydrated chicken manure to provide sufficient nutrition. 
  • To shade weeds, get plants established quickly, and increase the soil temperature around seedlings, we transplant into plastic covered rows. 
  • Pumpkins are especially sought after by leaf- and flower-chewing cucumber beetles that also transmit plant diseases. To protect plants from this pest, we cover the plants with thin row cloth to hide them from the bugs.  Make sure to take off covers before first blooms arrive. 
  • Like winter squash, all pumpkins must be harvested after the stem of the plant has dried out completely. 
  • For better tasting fruit, cure pumpkins for 2 or more weeks before consuming. The longer a plant rests off the vine, the sweeter it will become. 

Time to Eat: 

Call us a little pumpkin crazy, but it's hard to resist the allure of this quintessential seasonal flavor. Let's reach a little here and move beyond the pies and the breads. Let's give pumpkin its due and entertain some ideas in addition to the tried and true. With pumpkin puree so easy to prepare and freeze, you can make sure this seasonal treat lives on beyond fall. Rachael Ray puts her canned pumpkin to good use and offers up a winter-ready Pumpkin Soup with Chili Cran-Apple Relish. Two great tastes that taste great together: Claire Robinson's Ginger Pumpkin Tart incorporates Swedish ginger cookies. And we love the sophisticated variation on a traditional pumpkin pie in Food Network Magazine's Ginger Snap Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cream. Another sweet treat, the Pumpkin Roll Cake from Paula Deen for Food Network Magazine, boasts a luscious filling featuring dark rum and English toffee pieces. So get into the spirit of this harvest season and grow, puree and cook up some more pumpkin recipes at FN Dish this fall.

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