Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Growing pumpkins

Tina Forrester

Turn your garden into a pumpkin patch with these simple tricks and techniques

Plant care
The first blossoms are usually male flowers, which bloom for one day, then drop off the vines. The ovaries at the base of the female flowers are tiny green pumpkins. When they start to swell, fertilize the plant with 5-10-5. For fun, you can let each child personalize a softball-sized pumpkin by scratching his name or a jack-o'-lantern face about 1/8 inch (3 millimetres) deep with a nail or ballpoint pen. The skin will callous over and, as the pumpkin grows, the design will grow, too.

If pumpkins lay directly on the ground, they develop a flat, warty, unattractive side. To avoid this problem, place newspaper or cardboard under each fruit. Also, turn each fruit over once or twice during the growing season. Control cucumber beetles, squash bugs and vine borers by picking them off by hand (for vine borers you'll need to slit open wilted vines and pry them out) or by spraying the plants with insecticidal soap in late afternoon or early evening when the blossoms have closed.

When to harvest
In late summer or early fall, protect pumpkins from light frost by covering them at night with newspapers or a sheet. Harvest them before heavy frost in your area or when daytime temperatures dip below 15'C (60'F). Cut pumpkins from the vines using pruning shears or a sharp knife, leaving three to four inches (eight to 10 centimetres) of stem attached. Pumpkins stored in a cool (10'C/ 50'F), well-ventilated room keep two to three months if the fruits don't touch each other.

How to preserve your jack-o-lantern
After carving your pumpkin, wipe the inside with bleach to deter the growth of mould. After 30 minutes, rub the cut areas and the inside with a dry cloth, then coat with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil. To keep the jack-o'-lantern from drying out, cover it with a damp towel when it's not on display.

What to do with pumpkin seeds
Birds and squirrels love pumpkin seeds, that is, if you and the kids don't eat them first. Wash the seeds, and reserve two or three for this experiment: soak them overnight and cut them open so the kids can see the tiny plant embryo inside. For wildlife food, dry them in a single layer on paper towels for an hour or two. For a nutritious human snack, soak the seeds overnight in a solution of 3 tablespoons (45) salt to one litre (one quart) water. Drain seeds and pat dry with paper towels. Place a tablespoon (15 ml) oil and two cups (500 millilitres) seeds in a bowl; toss the seeds until they're coated. For added zest, sprinkle with onion, garlic or chili powder. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake in a 300F oven for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Let seeds cool. Shell and eat, or store in an airtight container.

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