Pumpkins are great fun to grow especially for children who love to see them turned into lanterns for Halloween. The flesh also makes a delicious pumpkin pie or soup. To ensure you have some pumpkins ready for next Halloween you can start sowing seeds indoors from April to June or directly outdoors from late May to early June once the ground has warmed up and all risk of frost has passed.
Pumpkins like a fertile, well-drained soil and full sun, with direct sun for at least six hours per day and shelter from the wind. Before planting out be sure to have prepared the soil in advance by digging in plenty of compost or well-rotted manure.
HOW TO SOW PUMPKIN SEEDS
From April sow pumpkin seeds in 3 inch pots filled with compost. Plant the pumpkin seed on its side to a depth of 1 inch and then cover, placing the pots in a propagator or on a sunny windowsill at a temperature of about 68F until the seeds germinate, which will take about five to seven days.
Continue to grow the seedlings on indoors until they are big enough to be transplanted outside, this normally takes about four weeks. About a week to ten days before transplantation start to get the seedlings acclimatised to outdoor conditions by moving outside to a cold frame or alternatively place outdoors during the day, bringing back in at night for about five days and for the last five days leave out permanently in a sheltered spot.
A couple of weeks before planting out, dig some planting pockets at spacing’s of about 6ft but check your seed packet for exact distances as pumpkins vary greatly in size depending on your chosen variety, making the holes about a spades height, depth and width. These holes should then be filled with a mixture of either well-rotted manure or compost and soil, making a mound of about 6 inches high. In June place the pumpkin plants on top of their own mound and water well, watering around the pumpkins and not over them.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR GROWING PUMPKINS
Keep the soil moist and the pumpkin plants well watered during the growing season, pumpkins like plenty of water. Make sure you water around the pumpkins and not over them as the water needs to get right down into the roots.
Pumpkin plants grow very long stems and to stop them spreading too far and wide they can be trained into a circle around the plant itself and as soon as the first fruits begin to swell, using a high potash liquid feed, feed the pumpkin plants about every ten to fourteen days.
To encourage large fruits (if that is what you are after) only leave two or three fruits to develop, removing any other fruits before they have a chance to develop. This will put all the plants energy into only these two or three fruits, thereby bigger pumpkins.
As pumpkins are big, heavy and sit on the ground they can start to rot, particularly if the ground they are sitting on is wet. To avoid this, raise them off the ground and sit them on a piece of wood, tile or glass for example.
To make sure the fruits are getting plenty of light remove any leaves that may be shading them and if there is any risk of a frost before harvest time protect them with straw. Should the weather be too cold, you may need to harvest the pumpkins early and bring them into the warm so that they ripen in time for Halloween.
HOW TO HARVEST YOUR PUMPKINS
Allow the fruit to mature and ripen on the plant for as long as possible, you will know when the pumpkins are ready as the skin will be very tough and the stem will start to crack.
When harvesting the fruit leave a few inches of the stem attached to the pumpkin and harvest before the first frost. Pumpkins can be stored for about four to six months provided they are kept well ventilated and at about 50F.
Pumpkin seeds are nutritious and make a delicious snack so don’t throw them away, just scoop out, wash and then dry them.