I’ve had several customers asking when to plant pumpkins for a Halloween harvest this week. You should do it right now. So here’s some information about pumpkins…
Pumpkins are members of the cucurbit family—which means they are related to squash, cucumbers, and melons. Pumpkins were a food crop cultivated by Native Americans long before the European settlers arrived. Pumpkin seeds, dated between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in Central America. The largest pumpkin ever grown (officially) weighed 2,702 pounds, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Grown in Italy, it measured 11 feet, 8 inches wide!
Why We Carve Pumpkins
The tradition of carving pumpkins started with Irish immigrants to America. In Europe, they traditionally carved turnips and rutabagas to hold candles to ward off evil spirits on All Hallow’s Eve. When they came to America, they found pumpkins much easier to carve.
How to Grow Your Own Pumpkins
To grow your own pumpkins, you need full sun and a lot of space. Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers and require bee pollination to set fruit.
If your pumpkins have been blooming and you see tiny little pumpkins turning yellow and dropping off, they did not get pollinated. You may need to step in and pollinate by hand—easy to do with a little watercolor paintbrush.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders and should be fed regularly (follow the label directions on your fertilizer). Keep them watered as they do not like to go bone-dry; however, try to keep water off the foliage and fruit as it can encourage fungal problems.
If you are growing a pumpkin for size, wait until a vine has produced two or three pumpkins, then pinch off any flowers that form so the plant will put energy into the remaining fruits.
You may want to set the fruits on plywood to keep them off the ground because of the chance of the bottom rotting. Be sure you plant a pumpkin variety that will get large—such as Big Max or Atlantic Giant. For small pumpkins like Sugar Pies and Jack-be-Little, start them about three months ahead—around mid-end July here.
To Ensure a Halloween Harvest
If you want to harvest your pumpkins around Halloween, you need to start your seeds a little over four months ahead—here, start seeds about now. If you plant them sooner, that’s okay, but your pumpkins will be ready sooner. Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the rind has hardened and resists your fingernail when you press.
Fun and Easy to Grow
Pumpkins are easy and fun to grow. I grew my first pumpkins when I was six years old. My Dad gave me a three-foot square patch in the garden and asked me what I wanted to grow. When I told him I wanted to grow pumpkins, he laughed.
Later that summer, I learned the reason for the laugh—every time he mowed the lawn, I had to go outside and hold up the vines trailing out into the yard. Still, I got enough pumpkins to set up a table in the front yard and sell them for 25 cents each.
So why not survey your yard to identify the best spot for your pumpkin-growing adventure? If you have children, get them involved in the fun! Children or not, pumpkins are a great addition to your fall harvest.