Most garden edibles only have one trick – you grow them, you eat them, you start again. But pumpkins break the cycle with their incredible versatility and usefulness. Learn all about this intriguing gourd and how you can pumpkin-spice up your life with your own home-grown treats.
Colors and Textures
When you think of pumpkins you probably picture rows of squat orange spheres sitting in a field. Their traditional orange shades derive from their high content of lutein, alpha- and beta- carotene. While orange is the most common hue, other less traditional colors are swiftly gaining popularity. Nowadays it's not unusual to see pumpkins in shades of cream, yellow, pale and dark green, gray, even blue and red. Some are hamster-sized while others break records weighing in excess of 2000 lbs. Some are completely smooth, while others are deeply ribbed or covered in curious bumps. No matter your tastes, there's sure to be pumpkin just for you!
Eating, decorating, catapulting – there's just so many ways to enjoy pumpkins! They're loved for their flesh, seeds and rind, which can be used in a host of ways to decorate for fall and winter festivities. If you've ever wanted to get in on the pumpkin craze, your only limits are your imagination.
If you want to grow pumpkins you'll need to start early. It takes anywhere from 75 to 100 frost-free days for these gourds to reach maturity. Before planting make sure to check two things: the weather and the soil. While pumpkin seeds prefer to be planted directly in the soil, it's important to note that they are extremely tender and easily damaged by frost. The optimum temperature for pumpkin seeds is 95 degrees (sweltering!) but as long as the soil has reached a minimum temperature of 70 degrees and you're past the threat of frost, you're good to sow!
Pumpkins are heavy feeders and flourish in nutrient rich, well-drained soil. Amend your soil with lots of organic compost and aged manure to pamper your pumpkins and insure a bountiful harvest. Once the temperature and soil are right, caring for your patch o' pumps is fairly simple. Give them plenty of room to spread their vines, consistent moisture, and direct sunlight/dappled shade and you can expect big yields come fall. Keep in mind that much of this depends on the type of variety. If you're low on space, growing a miniature variety is a fun way to enjoy this classic fruit without having it take over your entire yard.
When planting pumpkins in rows, make a little mound of soil and sow about 5 seeds into each small hill. This is doubly beneficial because it warms the ground more quickly and also helps improve drainage. Seeds should germinate in about a week to 10 days so you won't have long to wait to see the results of your hard work.
You can protect your patch from cold and insects with row covers, but remember to remove them before flowering! Otherwise local bees can't visit the blooms. If there's a lack of pollinators in your area, try planting some nectar-rich flowers nearby to encourage these vital winged visitors. On the subject of pollinators, try not to use too many harsh chemical pesticides on your pumpkins because it will discourage beneficial bugs along with the pests. If you must apply pesticides, apply them in the late afternoon or evening when most of the blooms have closed and the bees are gone for the day. Remember: No pollinators = no pumpkins!
Water deeply and often (an inch a week) and avoid dampening the foliage and growing fruit because it leads to rot. Try to focus on watering the soil only for best results. Pumpkins set shallow roots so try not to disturb the soil too much. Avoid damaging the vines as well. They look sturdy, but they are the life's blood of your patch, so be gentle. For the roundest and most appealing shape it's a good idea to turn your pumpkins so they don't get flattened or misshapen as they grow.
A ripe pumpkin is typically a solid color and makes a hollow sound when lightly thumped. They should be handled with care as they will bruise despite their thick rind. Press your fingernail into the rind and if it doesn't give easily it's ready to harvest!
Whether you carve a jaunty grin into it, serve it up at dinner, or use it as a flower planter, you can't go wrong with pumpkins. And now you know how to grow some of that orange treasure for yourself!
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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