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Grow your own pumpkins

Grow your own pumpkins
The best way to enjoy pumpkin pie or roasted pumpkin seeds is with your own, home-grown and chemical-free pumpkins. Pumpkins grow quickly, and they are a rewarding addition to any garden. Very few insects or animals attack pumpkins, so it doesn't take much effort to keep them healthy. Pumpkins can produce several fruit per plant, just like gourds, cucumber, and winter squashes. Pumpkins prefer warm temperatures above 70 degrees during the day and no lower than 60 degrees at night. The fruit generally appear within 90 to 120 days.

Pumpkins can be categorized by how they grow. There are vining pumpkins, semi-bush pumpkins, bush pumpkins, and miniature pumpkins. Some pumpkins grow to truly ginormous sizes, but you need a lot of garden space for a 1,500 pound pumpkin. For ordinary gardens, the best route to a 100 pound (or larger) pumpkin is to plant Big Max, Big Moon PVP, Prizewinner, Atlantic Giant, Gold Rush PVP, Jumpiní Jack or Mammoth Gold pumpkin seeds. Other pumpkin varieties are best suited for carving, cooking, or decoration. There are even mini-pumpkins that take up less space in the garden and in the pantry.

Pumpkins grow in several unique colors. In addition to orange pumpkins, there are red pumpkins, white pumpkins, striped pumpkins, and even blue pumpkins! For more information, ask local gardening clubs about Heirloom pumpkins and local pumpkin varieties.

Pumpkin flowers are unusual - they come in male and female varieties and give off very little scent. Male flowers usually bloom first, and can be identified by the lack of a bulge at their base. Each vine will have several male and female flowers, and these flowers usually last for 2-4 days. Cross-pollination is possible between pumpkin varieties, and can even occur with related plants such as squash.

To get the best results with your pumpkins, start by choosing the right area to plant. Pumpkins require full sun, as well as soil with excellent drainage and a pH value of around 6.0. Sandy loam with plenty of organic material is the ideal type of soil. Pumpkins also respond well to soil that has been treated with compost. A common method for growing pumpkins is to plant the seeds in small mounds of compost enriched soil. The pumpkins vines will slowly spill over the mounds as they grow. Space your mounds around 4 to 5 feet apart. You can also plant your pumpkins in rows about 4 to 6 feet apart. Cover the soil with black plastic or weed guard to warm it up early in the season and prevent competition from sprouting.

Pumpkins prefer soil that isnít too wet, so you should water them infrequently. However, make sure to give the ground a good, deep soaking when you water. A soaker hose or drip irrigation are ideal because these methods don't waste water. Between 1 and 2 inches of water a week are recommended. As the pumpkin starts to develop, reduce watering to prevent rot.

Windbreaks are another useful tool when growing pumpkins. Young, tender plants are vulnerable to gusts of wind and break easily. Windbreaks are simple to setup with burlap, plastic sheets, snow fencing, or erosion control cloth fixed to wooden stakes. Fabric row covers and hotcaps are a slightly more expensive windbreak option, but they can be worth it if you plant pumpkins while there's still risk of snow or sleet.

For big pumpkins, there is an increased risk that they will crack the stem where they sit on it. To minimize this risk, carefully move the vine away from the pumpkin but be careful not to tear the stem. When handling pumpkin vines, make sure to wear some heavy duty gloves (the stems have sharp hairs that bite just like thorns).

Pumpkins do well in early spring and fall sunlight, but don't do as well in the hot summer sun. As the sunlight intensifies, you may want to shade your pumpkin patch with mosquito netting or burlap screens. For a better aesthetic effect, try building a lath structure. You can also wait until the pumpkins are established, and then add companions plants that block out strong sunlight. Pumpkin and squash were part of the Wampanoag Indian's "three sisters". These crops also included bean poles and corn; the protective hairs of the pumpkins keep deer and rabbits away, while beans naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, and corn blocks out intense summer sunlight. Sunflowers also work well as a shade plant.

Pumpkins can be stored for several weeks, or cut into strips and dried for use over several months. The optimal storage conditions vary based on the type of pumpkin that you grow. In general, the best results come from storing pumpkins in a cool place (but not a freezer!) with the humidity around 60%. Curing a pumpkin in the field will generally increase it's lifespan. Simply leave the pumpkin on the ground for 4-8 days after harvesting it, and cover it with mulch or dried leaves to protect from sun damage. The best conditions for curing are a constant temperature of 80 degrees at 80% humidity. To prevent mold, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service recommends that you wash your pumpkins briefly in a water/chlorine bleach solution diluted to 10% before storing in a cool, dry spot.

There are a few insects and diseases that attack pumpkins. Insects such as the cucumber beetle, squash bug, squash vine borer, pickleworm, and the seed corn maggot like the way they taste, but are easily controlled with organic methods. Companion plants such as mint, catnip, and marigolds repel some of these pests, while trap plants around the perimeter of your garden will kill other bugs. Organic pest killers are effective and biodegradable, and they can be used along with organic fungicide to prevent diseases such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, and gummy stem blight. Another way to prevent these diseases is to rotate crops regularly, and avoid growing pumpkins (or squash) in the same soil without 2 years of other crops in-between.

Pumpkins are a rewarding vegetable to grow at home. Whether you carve the pumpkins into Jack O' Lanterns or roast the seeds for a Thanksgiving Day treat, you'll be able to show off your green thumb and enjoy the natural fruits of your garden!