Pumpkins are a favorite garden vegetable. Not only do they make pretty fall decorations for your front porch, but they perform beautifully in the kitchen — starring in a number of savory and sweet recipes.
If you have space in your garden, they are a relatively easy crop to grow, allowing you to enjoy the fruit of your labor during the fall and winter months. Here's the long and short of it.
Where, When, and How to Sow
Plant them in a site that receives full sun (6 to 8 hours per day) and give them plenty of room to grow. These are large sprawling vines that can easily take over a large area very quickly.
The ideal time for planting is when soil temperatures are within the range of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In my 6 to 7 zone garden, pumpkins can be planted as late as mid-July for a fall harvest. I actually prefer this time frame, since we see fewer pumpkin pests in the fall.
Sow the seed directly in the garden bed, adequately spacing the plants to give them a lot of room. Alternatively, start seeds indoors and set out transplants. Transplants are ideal in cases where you need to get a jump start on the growing season, such as a cooler climate with a shorter growing season.
Because pumpkins get to be such big plants, they need to be fed well. I use fish emulsion fertilizer but a generous amount of compost or well-cured manure will do the trick.
As the pumpkins themselves begin to grow, create a cushion between them and the ground using straw or hay. This will prevent the pumpkins from rotting as they mature.
What About Pests?
Throughout the season, monitor your plants, keeping an eye out for squash bugs and squash vine borers. A few radish seeds planted along with the pumpkin seeds will reportedly help with this pest, even though it has never worked for me. But it's worth a shot! In my garden, I have had better luck by picking the bugs off by hand. You can also try wrapping the main stems of the plant with knee high panty hose to help prevent squash vine borer.
If you find that the bugs have gotten to your plants before the pumpkins are completely ripe, you can still limp along to the fall harvest finish line. Allow the pumpkins to stay on the vine as long as possible, then remove, leaving a sizable stem. Leave them in the garden for a few days to cure and they should continue to ripen on their own.
How and When to Harvest
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the stem has started to dry and the skin of the pumpkin begins to harden. Remove from the vine leaving about an inch of stem. Do not however, use the stem as a handle. If the stem breaks, the pumpkin won’t cure or store well.
Weather permitting, your pumpkins can be cured in a dry sunny garden bed for about a week, then store inside in a cool dark place at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do you enjoy growing pumpkins? What are your favorite varieties and recipes?
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