How to Pumpkins

If you want to grow Pumpkins in your vegetable garden for those halloween lanterns (which personally I think is a bit of a waster) or, to add another delicious vegetable to the roasting platter or soup tureen, don't be deterred by rumours of rambling uncontrollable vines that will take over your garden! There is a large variety of Pumpkins, either commercially available types or heirloom varieties that are quite amazing in appearance, that can be readily grown at home. If you have the space, then go for a rambling variety - we'll talk about control a bit later, or, if you have restricted space, a bush or dwarf variety, these also usually have small fruit, well suited to small servings (such as two to three people)



Pumpkins, or Squash as they are known in some areas, are another of the Cucurbit family of vegetables. As such, they are treated as warm season crops that will not tolerate cold conditions. They can be grown from seed and transplanted out into the vegetable garden once the soil warms in cooler areas, and/or sown direct in the soil, later in Spring.


All cucurbits like rich, friable soil full of well rotted compost and manure. If your vegetable bed is prepared well and a few weeks ahead of the planting time, they will need little to no feeding once they start growing. Pumpkins can be companion planted well with Corn crops and will use the finishing Corn stalks as support. I companion plant mine, simply for the benefit of efficient use of space and allow the vines to lay on the mulch. Pumpkins, like other cucurbits are prone to mildew attack, so it is important to only ever water them at soil level and ensure they are not too closely planted to enable reasonable air flow.


If planting seed in punnets and raising indoors, sow no more than 3 seeds per punnet, about 2cm below the seed raising mix surface by gently pressing them into pre moistened mix and covering them over. Give them a gentle water and cover. If possible, place the punnets (in cool areas/weather) on a heated seed tray, or at a minimum, warm sunny window ledge and do not water again until the seedlings emerge. (unless the mix is really drying out) Once established and the first true leaves have appeared (assuming the outside conditions are suitable) the seedlings can be planted out into the vegetable bed. The following applies for both transplanted seedlings and direct sown seeds.


When working outside, Pumpkins are best grown by sowing/planting in small mounds. Allow about a meter between each if you have the room. I always plant 2-3 seeds per mound outside, to allow for losses. If I don't lose any, well, more pumpkins for me.. If transplanting, take care with the roots, trying to minimise damage when separating as much as possible. As a matter of course, I always treat every seedling I plant with a seaweed solution mix as this stimulates root growth and minimised transplant shock. If planting out seedlings, and in a companion bed with Corn, I plant in between the corn rows, not in mounds. 


Growing Conditions


Position: Full Sun to partial shade, protected from strong winds


Plant:  Can be grown in pots, planted out as seedlings or sown direct in spring when the soil temperature has warmed


Frost Tolerant: No Heat tolerant:  Yes - but protect from extreme summer heat to prevent sunburn of the leaves. Good sunlight is needed to harden the fruit skins, which in turn extends the keeping time in storage


Feeding: Well composted soil, with well rotted manure should suffice. Additional feeding is not normally needed.


Planting group: Pumpkins are Cucurbits and are grouped with Cucumbers, Sqash, Zucchini and melons.


Pests: Main pests are birds/slugs/snails as seedlings and snails and slugs on the fruit as they mature. Mature plants don't seem to suffer insect attack, but do suffer considerably from Mildew attack. If you experience higher humidity levels, good plant spacing is essential to ensure air flow and help minimise a number of potential mould problems. Only water at soil level.


Harvesting: The key here is to resist picking! The stems will dry out and toughen, turning light brown. Generally they should not be picked until the plants have withered and died back. During this time, make sure the fruit is not left to sit on bare soil as the underside will inevitably suffer from slug and insect attack and possibly rot. Cut off the dead vines leaving a short section of stalk. If possible, spread the picked pumpkins out on hot, dry surface, such as a garage or carport roof in the full sun for a week or two to allow the skins to toughen





Controlling the vines


The main deterrent to growing Pumpkins, seems to be the fear that the plant/s will take over the garden. If left to their own devices, this can be true, but there is a simple solution.


As the plant develops, the first course of action, is to lift the runners and point them in the direction you do want them to grow.

The plant will flower and assuming you have enough insect activity for pollination, will set fruit. Once you have enough fruit set and developing, pinch out the growing tip of that particular vine runner. The plant will stop growing out, and put it's energy into the developing pumpkin/s.


If you're really going to struggle for room, choose a dwarf or bush variety.