No one vegetable or fruit symbolizes any particular season more than the pumpkin. For many kids it symbolizes dressing up like their favorite superhero or cartoon character and for the adults it represents a bunch of screaming kids jacked up on sugary candy. But seriously, the pumpkin represents the changing of leaves, carving of jack-o-lanterns and that Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie.
With the right know how, you and the kids can grow your own pumpkin for Halloween. There is however other uses for pumpkins, other than just carving. Did you know that pumpkins are loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber and potassium and make delicious pies and soups?
Soil and Preparation
Soil preparation is best done the fall before you plant in spring. Pumpkins prefer a soil pH between 6 and 6.8. The planting of a fall cover crop like annual ryegrass is especially handy for several reasons. Annual ryegrass prevents any weeds from growing, due to its aggressive pursuit for nutrients. This eliminates the competition for weeds. Pumpkins prefer a nutrient rich, well-drained soil.
Usually a cover crop is tilled in before a spring planting
of a garden to load the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients to shoot up
crops like corn. Pumpkins do not need
the excess nitrogen; therefore we do not till it in. Excess nitrogen will
produce too many leaves and not enough flowers which produce pumpkins. Instead
we plant the pumpkins in the grass, after the last frost date, as the grass is
starting to die and returns the nutrients to the ground for the plants. This in
the meantime, has eliminated the weed competition for your crops and at the
same time gave your pumpkins a great footing to grow on rather than sitting in
the mud rotting.
Spacing and Watering
The vines of larger cultivars of pumpkins can grow quite wide, therefore
need to be planted 5 feet apart. Smaller varieties vines can be spaced 3 feet apart.
Pumpkin vines can become susceptible to disease like powdery mildew, therefore
soaker hoses are a great option to keep the foliage dry whenever possible.
Watering in the early morning around 6am is recommended to help reduce risk of
disease as well. Although plants need a lot of water, the summer sun can make a
plant wilt in the middle of the day. It is when the plant is wilting in the
morning, that it needs more water. Put your soaker hose on a timer and eliminate the worry.
Tricks of the Trade
Many homeowners just want to plant a few pumpkins and not jump through the hoops of planting cover crops. The other solution is putting a piece of weed block on the ground where you want to plant your plant, 2 weeks ahead of time. This will kill the weeds naturally and warm the soil temperature which the pumpkins require. Once you do this then just cut an X in the fabric and plant your plant or seed. As the plant starts to grow and pumpkins form, put the pumpkin on a thick pile of wheat straw or cardboard to give it that proper footing and keep it out of the mud.
To produce more pumpkins, growers pinch off the ends of the vines once they get 2 feet long to split the vines. If it is larger pumpkins you seek then once your plant gets 3 or 4 pumpkins on the vine, continue to pinch off any flowers as they form.
Because pumpkins have male and female flowers, they are very dependent on bees to pollinate them. If you have to spray an insecticide, spray neem oil but spray it in the evening, once the bees have left.
A couple weeks before your planned harvest, remove any leaves that are shading the plant so it can get its color. Your pumpkin is ripe when the outside has the proper color and the skin is hard. When the pumpkin is ripe, the stem will turn dry and start to shrivel up. Cut the stem 1 to 4 inches long, as cutting it too short will make it not store as long. Pumpkin vines are furry or prickly, therefore wear gloves when harvesting.
Before storing your pumpkin, you will need to put it in the sun for 10 to 14 days to harden it. Protect it from the moisture and freezing weather. If you have to bring it inside then a cool dry place is recommended.
Other Related Articles: