What Makes Pumpkins Unique?
Though it has a less robust outer layer than other squash varieties, pumpkins are still packed full of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, protein and fibre. Some of the main differences between pumpkins and other squashes include:
- Pumpkins look very different.
- Their stalks are hard and prickly stems.
- Their flesh is a deep orange, rather than the typical yellow-orange or yellow-green of the average squash.
- Pumpkin seeds are edible.
- They take longer to grow to their full potential.
Pumpkins Are Versatile Ingredients That Work Well in Numerous Dishes
Pumpkins are sweet and earthy in flavour and make great soups and stews. Roast pumpkin with garlic and rosemary is a favorite in our house, and mashed pumpkin topped with toasted pine nuts is another popular side dish. Substitute diced pumpkin for carrots in a cottage pie or casserole.
Pumpkins make tasty curry dishes, and they also work well in vegetarian lasagna or cannelloni. Leftover pumpkin can be added to a pancake mix or made into breakfast cakes similar to potato cakes. And let's not forget pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins.
Most squash varieties or sweet potatoes can be used in exactly the same way. The pumpkin is an amazingly versatile fruit. This guide will break down the process of growing them from seed so that, with a little imagination, you can bring fabulous pumpkin dishes to your table again and again and again.
How to Harvest Seeds From a Pumpkin
- Cut the pumpkin across the top of the fruit.
- Using a large spoon, scoop the seeds out.
- Wash the seeds throughly, getting rid of any flesh and stringy bits.
- Each seed must be intact, and any chipped or broken seeds must be discarded (see photo above). Observe the outer line running around the seed, this too must be intact.
- Dry the seeds throughly.
- Place them on a paper towel on a baking tray or flat surface and leave to dry for one to two days. This is essential.
- If not planting straight away, store in a cool dry place away from light.
How to Plant Your Pumpkin Seeds
- Pumpkins grow on vines, so you will need plenty of space to allow the vine to grow.
- These plants love the sun and need plenty of it to mature into a beautiful orange pumpkin. They also like a rich, sandy soil that drains well—slightly acid, more to neutral.
- Sow five seeds an inch deep and create a hill shape around them. Cover with compost or mulch to protect the seeds from drying out and from the ever-present space invaders: weeds.
- If you are planting seedlings, do the same thing, i.e. creating your hill shape and covering with compost.
- Keep your hills about six feet apart. If planting drills, keep them at least 10 feet apart.
When to Plant
- Pumpkins don't like cold soil. If temperatures are too cold to plant directly in the ground, plant in seed pots to start. Once the seedlings are strong (two to three weeks), plant them in the ground.
- The average pumpkin takes up to 120 days to reach full maturity, so planting mid-May will ensure your pumpkins are ready for Halloween. Planting too early could result in your pumpkins being overripe.
- I like to plant after a rainfall (the rain provides much nutrients for the soil) and around a full moon. Don't laugh, I have be doing this for years and it works! The local farmers do have a few ideas that are not in your typical gardening book and have gladly passed on their knowledge.
How to Care for Your Pumpkin Plant
- Water at night or early evening (pumpkins grow at night, although my night camera would not agree). Water the main root of the vine and not the leaves—this will prevent parasites.
- Once the seeds burst through the soil (two to three weeks), fertilize with a potassium-rich fertilizer or manure. (Local tip: I use chicken manure and the result is off the charts.)
- If you do find parasites (insects, beetles), wipe them off and spray the leaves with water and a little added vinegar. Do this after the sun goes down, as damp leaves will get sun burnt. Continue to do this if parasites persist.
- After about nine weeks, the flowers will appear. The female flowers have a small, swollen, almost tiny pumpkin-like growth at the centre of the bloom. Some farmers advise removing some of the flowers to improve quantity. I don't do this (unless I'm doing stuffed pumpkin flowers for dinner), and I average four to five pumpkins per vine.
- Remove secondary vines off the main vine only when they reach about 10 feet. This insures that the main vine is gettng the necessary concentrated nutrients.
- Allow your pumpkins to mature naturally on the vine. Once you have that lovely deep orange colour and a firm casing, you are ready to reap.
The Progression of My Own Pumpkin Seedlings
The seedlings above were only planted as seeds four weeks ago in a Styrofoam box. They are ready to go into the ground.
I will wait for a rainfall and a full moon, and then I'll plant them and maybe even have a little dance (joke). With the aid of chicken manure, I will have flowers in the oncoming weeks (I will follow with a flower update).
I have yet to be disappointed with the results, even if the locals have been playing with me for the last 12 years. Happy planting to all you eager planters out there!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Gabriel Wilson
Gabriel Wilson (author) from Madeira, Portugal on May 19, 2020:
That was a lovely generous thing to do. We give some produce to our neighbours, it is a small community and everyone helps. Some say you can grow in smaller spaces but I'm with you on that Peggy. Mine vines always grow very long and I get a lot of fruit, I put that largely down to space.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 18, 2020:
I do not have enough room to grow pumpkins as they do require a lot of space, but I appreciate the gardening tips. Years ago, when we had a half-acre lot in Wisconsin, I had a huge garden. It was fun growing a wide variety of items. We helped to feed many of our neighbors and others we knew who lived in town.
Gabriel Wilson (author) from Madeira, Portugal on May 18, 2020:
Sounds good Eric. It might well be the year of the pumpkin :)
Gabriel Wilson (author) from Madeira, Portugal on May 18, 2020:
Hi Liz. Growing your own is very rewarding. Pumpkins and other squash are just so versatile too. Go for it :)
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 17, 2020:
We are all in. About a month from now. And we will not forget the pie.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 17, 2020:
This is a very timely article, because of the growth timing and also because so many people are taking to gardening during lockdown. My daughter has left me with spring onions and leeks that she has grown from scratch. I'm wondering about branching out (if you'll excuse the pun).