Pumpkins are part of the cucurbit, along with zucchini, gourd, squash and cucumber, and have been cultivated for more 5000 years. Join in, urges Linda.
At first glance you might think a pumpkin takes up too much room to earn a space in the domestic vegetable patch. But they are happy to grow over a trellis or fence, leaving the ground free for other crops.
Add to this useful attribute the fact that they can be stored for months and are delicious roasted, souped or pureed and you can see why we are fans.
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Choose a spot with full sun and well-drained soil that has been improved with composted manures. Those with limited space will be pleased to hear that pumpkins grow well up and over a fence, trellis, hills hoist or arbour, provided the structure is sturdy enough to support the weight of the fruit.
Pumpkins are tender annuals that in temperate areas should be planted after the last frost. In frost-free subtropical zones pumpkins can grow year round, though high temperatures, over 30 degrees C can affect fruit formation. Planting by seed is the only option and germination takes place at 20 degrees C. You can sow directly into the plant’s final position or sow in pots inside to get an early start on the season. Press each large seed down about 2cm deep and plant four in a clump, later pulling out the two weakest seedlings. Allow 50cm between clumps. When pumpkins have six leaves pinch out the growing tip to encourage branching. Once the vine reaches 2-3m, pinch out the growing tips again to encourage fruiting. Regular watering is a must throughout the growing season; irregular water will cause the fruit to split.
Pumpkins produce short-lived male and female flowers that can close by mid-morning. Female flowers open above the swollen, distinctive embryo fruit and male flowers produce pollen. Native and honey bees are normally able to complete pollination, but sometimes ants harvest the pollen before this occurs. You can increase the harvest by hand-pollinating: pick male flowers, remove petals then dab pollen on the stigma of female flowers. Squeezing female flowers aids pollination in wet weather.
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Pumpkins take 70-120 days to mature. The vine dies down, the fruit stalks start to die off and become brittle, and the fruit will often fall off in your hand. Ripe fruits with unbroken skin store very well if kept in a cool, dry, well-ventilated space. They can be kept outside throughout winter, on the shed roof where they can sweeten with the cold weather. Some varieties will keep six months or longer. Good-looking specimens, such as charming little ‘Gold Nugget’, can be brought inside for table decorations. Seed can be saved from fruit one month after harvesting. Scoop seed from flesh, wash, dry and store in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight. To ensure seed-grown plants are true to type, save seed from one variety grown in isolation.
Pests and Diseases
Adults and the larvae of leaf-eating ladybirds, which are also known as 28-spotted ladybirds, eat pumpkin leaves, so hand-pick them regularly. Watering in the morning rather then the evening, and spraying fortnightly with a solution of one part cow’s milk to 10 parts water helps prevent mildew as does regular sprayings of EcoRose. Mildew-eating ladybirds, which are patterned with yellow and black bands, help to control mildew naturally.
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‘Queensland Blue’ is an Australian bred pumpkin that has become popular throughout the world. It is ribbed, with smooth blue-grey and deep orange flesh. It keeps very well, up to six months and is medium-sized, 3-4.5 kg.
'Waltham Butternut' is a bell-shaped fruit 20-25 cm long, weighing 1-1.5 kg, with a light tan, thin skin and dark orange, sweet flesh. Excellent quality and flavour, stores well.
‘Butternut’ is quick to grow, maturing in only 14 weeks and is loved for its sweet flesh of which is great with all kinds of strong and spicy flavours. A really reliable pumpkin for most zones.
‘Turks Turban’ is an unusual heirloom variety originally grown at Vaucluse House Kitchen Garden in the 1880s. Grown for its funny look than taste!
‘Jap’ better for warm tropical zones.
‘Tromboncino’ is an unusual trombone-shaped squash with a ‘wow’ factor when grown over an archway. This quirky pale green Italian heirloom is best given vertical trellising and plenty of room. When supported, the squash can reach metre but perfect picking size is 25cm long. The fruit is virtually seedless with an unusually firm texture.
‘Golden Nugget’ is a small fruiting pumpkin that could be grown in a large tub. Great roasted as whole individual serves.
‘Spaghetti Squash’ (Cucurbito pepo) is easy to grow. Fruits are yellow; 22cm long and weigh approx. 1.8 kg. Stores well. Pasta-like flesh looks like the real thing and is great topped with pesto or pasta sauce.
Tips and Tricks
Don't grow pumpkins in the same patch as tomatoes or potatoes.
Don’t grow pumpkins where you have grown other members of the family, such as cucumbers, melons, squashes and zucchinis. This just helps cut down the risk of disease and insects.
Pinch out the tips early and late to help with fruit production.