Fall officially arrived last week, and so marks the beginning of many people’s favorite season. Fall is the best time for aerating and seeding cool season grass lawns and planting new trees and shrubs. It is also the time when many of us think about fall decorating, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Although each has a different meaning, the one common item is pumpkins.
“Pumpkin” originated from the Greek word “pepon” which is “large melon.” Pumpkins are native to Central and North America and are members of the Cucurbita family. The Cucurbita family includes watermelons, squash, and cucumbers as well. Because pumpkins mature from the flower of the plant, they are a fruit. Pumpkins are 90 percent water and can be found on each continent except Antarctica. Varieties range from the miniature white “Baby Boo” (who could not resist that name) to the mammoth “Atlantic Giant.”
If you have an interest in growing pumpkins, you must decide if you want miniatures or mammoths; carving pumpkins or pie making pumpkins. There are also processing varieties grown commercially for canned pumpkin and not well suited for the home garden. Some important facts about growing pumpkins:
They are best grown from seed and average between 100-110 days to harvest depending on variety.
They need rich, well-drained soil and are heavy feeders. Soil pH of 6.0 – 6.5 is best with phosphorus and potassium levels at “moderate.” Yes, just as I have written before, take a soil test first.
Plant three to four seeds one inch deep in a hill. The hill should be four to six inches high and 12 to 15 inches wide. Three to four days after seed germination, remove the weaker plants and leave the single strongest plant.
They are vine-grown and need space: 25 square feet for the miniatures and up to 150 square feet for the mammoths.
Do not plant where other cucurbits (see above) were grown for the previous two seasons.
Think of growing pumpkins as a project that can be done with your kids or grandkids. Spend time with the little gardeners selecting the seed, planting the seeds, watching the pumpkins grow, and harvesting. My father-in-law grew a couple of pumpkins for me and my wife two years ago. We were both excited on picking day, and we have not been little for a long time.
Whether it’s for carving, eating, or decorating, pumpkins definitely make most people smile. One farmer I know says, “Have you ever seen kids get excited over a truck load of cabbage?”