Discover how you can grow these delicious gourdes at home.
Summer is the season when spring-sown pumpkins will be growing rapidly. Though, there’s still time for cool and temperate climate gardeners to sow pumpkins in December (tropical and sub-tropical gardeners can grow pumpkins pretty much year-round). Pumpkins are the ultimate grow-now-savour-later veggie, as they can be successfully stored for many months and enjoyed throughout winter and into spring.
You’ll need a few spare square metres in a full sun position to grow pumpkins. Their long vines love to sprawl out for several metres in all directions. However, vines can be gently moved to grow a certain way and the stem tips pruned to help keep their size manageable. You can also train pumpkin vines up a very sturdy trellis or arch.
Pumpkin plants are monoecious, meaning each plant has both male and female flowers. Female flowers have a swollen base (which looks like a tiny pumpkin) and male flowers are on a long thin stalk. The male flowers will appear first, followed by female flowers, so don’t be too concerned if you only have male flowers to begin with. Honeybees are ideal for moving pollen from the male to the female flowers, however you can also assist the process with hand pollination. Using a small soft paintbrush, gently wipe around the centre (anthers) of male flowers and then onto the centre (stigma) of female flowers. Do this regularly between multiple male and female flowers over several weeks to maximise pollination. It’s best to hand pollinate in the early morning when the flowers are open and fresh.
To promote healthy vine growth and lots of flowers and pumpkins, feed the plants every one to two weeks with potassium rich Yates Thrive Flower & Fruit Soluble Fertiliser. Keep the soil consistently moist as inadequate watering can lead to a poor harvest. Mulching around the plants with sugar cane or lucerne straw will help conserve soil moisture.
It takes around 14 weeks for most seed-sown pumpkins to mature. Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the vine has started to brown off and the skin is tough. It’s important to cut (not pull) pumpkins from the vine, leaving a few centimetres of stem, otherwise it can predispose the fruit to rot. To help maximise the storage life, leave the pumpkins in an airy, sunny position for a week (the top of a garden shed is ideal) before storing in a cool, dark, and dry spot.
There are lots of different varieties and types of pumpkins that come in a fascinating range of colours, patterns, skin textures and shapes. Some of the most popular include:
Butternut (Cucurbita moschata) – produces compact fruit with smooth skin, richly coloured orange flesh, and a small seed cavity. Cucurbita moschata also includes ‘crookneck’ squash like tromboncino and Jap (also called Kent) pumpkins.
Queensland Blue (Cucurbita maxima) – blue-grey, deeply-ribbed skin and dry, sweet, rich-orange flesh.
Golden Nugget (Cucurbita maxima) – a compact ‘bush’ pumpkin with wonderfully flavoured fruit (arround 15cm in diametre) that are perfect for stuffing or baking whole. An ideal variety for smaller spaces.
Grey Crown (Cucurbita maxima) – a medium-sized pumpkin with smoother skin than Queensland Blue and sweetly flavoured flesh.
Jack-o’-Lantern (Cucurbita maxima) – used for both cooking and Halloween carving, this is a brightorange, medium-sized pumpkin.
Dill’s Atlantic Giant (Cucurbita maxima) – super-sized pumpkins that are popular for showing. World records for these pumpkins now exceed 1,000kg!