Growing Pumpkins

PumpkinsThis annual, warm-season vegetable is related to squash, gourds and melons. Growing pumpkins in the home garden can be a fascinating experience providing you have plenty of room – a single plant can cover over 500 square feet.

Note: In 1996, Harold Baird of Kinburn, Ontario grew four pumpkins – weighing 774, 686, 652, and 603 – on a single vine!

Site Preparation:

Pumpkins require full sun, ample water and plenty of room to grow. Choose a site that is protected from cool winds and work in large amounts of compost and aged manures. The soil should be tilled deep and over a large area – roots and vines can wander for 15 feet in any direction.

Tip: Old compost piles make great pumpkin patches.

How to Plant:

Start pumpkins indoors from seed or from nursery stock. Transplant outdoors when the soil is truly warm in the spring. Fertilize regularly with a balanced organic product, but try not to wet the leaves to avoid fungus disease. The entire root growing area should be moist at all times.

Once flowers begin to develop, hand pollinate female flowers (those with a bulb-like growth attached directly to the main stem) with a male flower (those with a slender stem). Pick a male flower, then touch it gently onto the female flower to ensure pollination.

Continue to provide ample water during the growing season. As temperatures warm, mulch the garden area with compost, leaves or straw to prevent weeds and conserve moisture.

Tip: If you want to grow a giant pumpkin, allow only the first two flowers on a vine to become pollinated, then pinch off all the other flowers so that there is only one or two pumpkins per vine.

Harvesting:

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they have a deep solid color and the vines die back and turn brown. Use floating row cover during a light frost and avoid leaving pumpkins out during a hard freeze to prevent softening. Allow 110-120 days to reach maturity.

Insects and Diseases:

Common insect pests that attack pumpkin include; cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs. Apply organic pesticides to establish control. Remove crop debris and roto-till the garden after harvest to prevent future problems.

Bacterial wilt (spread by cucumber beetles), powdery mildew, downy mildew, and anthracnose are common plant diseases. Choose a site with good air circulation to prevent many fungal problems and apply organic fungicides (copper, sulfur) early, when symptoms first appear.

Seed Saving Instructions:

Pumpkins will cross-pollinate, so isolate by 1/4 mile. Seeds should be taken from fruits that have gone past maturity by three weeks. Remove seeds, wash and let dry.

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