Pumpkins are a garden favourite. These hardy vegetables have a variety of uses. Roasted, added to soups or salads or even mashed, pumpkins are easy to grow and are able to be stored for months after harvesting. Learning how to grow pumpkins is worth it if you tend to use a lot of pumpkins in your cooking all year round.
How to grow pumpkins
Many varieties of pumpkins have rambling vines that need plenty of room to run, though there are some smaller varieties available today. Pumpkins make a great companion plant, and are part of the trio grown together that is commonly referred to as the ‘three sisters’.
This consists of growing corn, beans, and pumpkins together. The corn is planted first, and when they are large enough, the beans are then planted around the corn. The corn stalks provide the beans with a trellis while the beans provide nutrition for the corn. Pumpkins are then grown underneath, acting as a living mulch for the entire garden section, creating a wonderfully balanced garden bed.
Pumpkin vines should not be planted in the same place for around 2 years, or in the place where members of the same family, such as cucumbers, zucchini, melons and squash have been growing. This will help reduce the risk of diseases. they also don’t get along well with tomatoes or potatoes, so shouldn’t be planted next to them.
For those in humid areas, outbreaks of fungal diseases such as rust and powdery mildew can occur. To help prevent this, grow vines in full sun and water only in the mornings.
Growing from Seed
Pumpkins are best started from seed in the spring after the risk of the last frost has passed. They can be planted from spring through early summer, though in warmer climates, they can be grown year round.
Choose a space with full sun as it takes a lot of energy to grow these heavy fruits. As previously mentioned, plant in an area where they have room to run. Smaller pumpkin varieties can be trained up a trellis to save on space.
Pumpkins should be grown in mounds or hills that are raised above the ground. This is due to the mounds heating up faster than soil that is level, which allows excess water to run off. This helps in stopping roots from becoming waterlogged, something you don’t want, especially in young tender plants. These mounds should be around 1 metre apart. When building a mound, gently mix some fresh compost into your soil to help provide nutrition for your hungry pumpkin plants.
Then place 2 to 3 pumpkins seeds into the top of the mound before covering them with another inch or two of soil and watering well.
As the seedlings grow, thin out to the two strongest plants if needed.
Mulching with sugar cane or something similar will help the soil to retain the moisture.
Water when the soil is dry, especially in hot and windy weather. Heat and water stress can affect the fruit, so ensure that plants are well-watered. Try not to wet the leaves, watering the base in the mornings.
If you want to contain the growth better, you can pinch out the ends of some of the vines.
As your pumpkins begin to flower you will notice that male flowers do not arrive at the same time as female flowers.
Those first few female flowers should be removed to encourage the plant to focus on growing more vines rather than putting all of its energy into flowers. Once the first male flowers appear you can allow them to blossom and grow.
Once you have strong, healthy pumpkins, you can start to remove newer flowers that appear to encourage your plants to focus on growing larger healthier pumpkins.
Like most plants, the pumpkin flowers will need pollination. Encourage bees to your garden by planting some flowering plants.
Pumpkin flowers can also be hand pollinated by picking a male flowers, removing the petals and gently brushing it over the centre of the female flower. As the flowers are short-lived, it is best to do this in the morning.
As the pumpkins grow, place a thin board or cardboard under the ripening fruit to avoid decay and damage that can be done by insects.
Feeding Pumpkin Vines
Pumpkins are heavy feeders and need plenty of fresh compost and fertiliser, especially over the hotter months to produce the largest fruits. There is a reason that you see many pumpkins growing out of your compost bin!
Adding more compost or a quality organic fertiliser monthly, will help produce more pumpkins. Mulching your pumpkins can help prevent them from getting too dry, as your pumpkins will need plenty of water to absorb nutrients from the soil.
Pumpkins that are left on the top of the soil, can rot. To help prevent this, try and lift them up slightly off the ground. Melon baskets are a great way to help keep your pumpkins off of the ground and allow air to circulate around them.
How to Harvest Pumpkins
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the closest tendril to the fruit is dead, the vine has withered and the stalks have turned brown and dry. This is usually between 70 and 120 days after planting. At this time, the outer skin should have reached the desired shade and hardness, and your pumpkins should make a hollow sound when you knock on them.
Use clean garden shears to cut them stems leaving 3 to 4 inches of stem attached to your pumpkin to help keep it fresh longer. Do not carry your pumpkin by the stem or you risk damaging the top of your pumpkin.
If you are not planning on using the pumpkins straight away, set them out in the sun for about 7 to 10 days to cure, then store in a cool, dry and dark place. When doing this, they can keep for up to 10 months of longer, providing the skin has not been damaged at all.
This yummy pumpkin, feta and rocket salad is a delicious side dish that goes well alongside a bbq or as part of a pot luck dinner.
Why not try this delicious Pumpkin and Blueberry Bread with Maple Syrup butter.
Warm up during winter with this delicious pumpkin soup that can be made on the stove, in the slow cooker or in the Instant Pot.