In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
October, 2003
Regional Report

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Pumpkins go geometric.

Pumpkin Time

This year our jack-O'-lantern will be carved from a pumpkin purchased at a farm stand or grocery store. To be truthful I did not experience crop failure, I just didn't plant any. Which is a shame, because every fall we look forward to the harvest, to pumpkin carving and to baking the pumpkin cookies from my battered old copy of The Joy of Cooking.

Siting
Pumpkins are not hard to grow. They need full sun all day long, plus rich soil well amended with compost and aged manure. They need steady soil moisture, both for the vine and because a pumpkin is about 90 percent water. Finally, allow time for ripening and curing before carving or storing your crop.

Some, but not all, pumpkins demand incredible garden space. The bigger and healthier the vine, the better your pumpkins. If you plant a humongous-fruited variety, such as Atlantic Giant, then allow several hundred square feet per plant. For an average household type pie pumpkin or a jack-O'-lantern type, allow space as instructed on the seed packet. Direct the growing vine tips around the perimeter of your garden, or for small fruited varieties, send them up a trellis when space is tight. Or, select a bush variety for a small garden.

Planting
Plant pumpkins when the soil has truly warmed up, usually in June. Check the average days to harvest listed on the seed packet. Select a fast-maturing variety if you have a short growing season.

Harvest Time
Once the pumpkin colors nicely and the rind hardens, cut it (don't pull it) off the vine. Keep a 4-inch stem on the pumpkin, but don't carry it by the handle -- it is likely to break off, shortening the pumpkin's shelf life.

Frost will damage your pumpkin. If light frost is predicted before your pumpkin is ripe, protect it with a frost blanket from the garden center or with a plastic tarp or maybe an old bed blanket. If a heavy or killing frost threatens, pick the pumpkin and protect it, then set it out on sunny days to continue ripening. For longer keeping, store in a dry area that stays about 50 to 55 degrees.

I like to have at least two pumpkins. One to carve, and one to eat. Sugar pumpkins are sweeter and have thicker flesh inside, but the carving pumpkins are perfectly edible -- follow any pumpkin or winter squash recipe. Don't forget to toast and eat the seeds, too.


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