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Grow Your Own Pumpkins
Member Name: wigglylittleworm
Advantages: easy to grow
Disadvantages: need to be fed regularly
Pumpkins have become an increasingly common sight in UK supermarkets over the past few years. They are in season in the autumn and the variety most commonly seen in the shops is the giant pumpkin which is great for carving for Halloween but is tasteless and has a tough and stringy flesh. I occasionally cook with pumpkin and you need a far smaller variety grown especially for culinary use. For the past couple of years I have grown my own pumpkins in the garden and have grown both the giant variety and small sugar culinary variety.
Pumpkins are pretty easy to grow; the best time to sow them in the UK is between April and June. The pumpkin seed is large and it is best to start them off indoors in a pot of compost. They start to grow incredibly quickly with shoots appearing within a week and growth visible on a daily basis.
Once the plants are well established, you need to plant them outdoors. I have grown them in both a pot and in the ground and have had the best results in soil, possibly because the root system can spread out further.
The pumpkin plant continues to grow extremely quickly and soon needs support to stop the weight of the stem making it droop down to the ground. I have used normal garden canes for this which has worked well. Again growth can still be seen on a daily basis as the plant grows very quickly.
The plant starts to produce lots of huge leaves and small white flowers. It is best to remove some of them in order to let the plant concentrate its resources on a few flowers. I have always left a few flowers on the plant for pollination and in case you lose them for any reason (my kitten knocked the lone baby pumpkin off one plant last year for example).
The plant produces a number of vines which like to wrap themselves around anything they can find for support. I have found training them round canes works well and they take a firm hold very quickly. It is these vines which support the fruits.
The pumpkins themselves produce a number of fruits on the vines and it is best to allow each plant to only grow one or two fruits. You will notice a small bump under the flower and this will eventually grow into a pumpkin over a number of weeks. It is best not to handle the pumpkins too much as they can easily break from the stem while still small, as they get larger the stem will grow thicker.
The pumpkins will touch the ground, it is possible to support them with straw to stop them becoming bruised. The size of your pumpkin will depend on both the variety and the growing conditions but with a culinary pumpkin it is best to eat them when they are still reasonably small as they taste better. Once they are harvested from September to November they keep for a good length of time in a cool, dry place.
I have grown pumpkins for two years now and have had a decent crop both times. The pumpkin is an extremely greedy plant in terms of both water and food -I have used a multipurpose fertiliser with no problems and feed every couple of days. The only problem I have had with the plants is that the leaves have turned yellow when they have not been fed enough and this was corrected when I gave them an intensive feed.
Pumpkins do take up a fair amount of room in the garden but it is worth it for a few bowls of delicious pumpkin soup and a nice big pumpkin to carve at Halloween too. Kids will love to grow them because of the rapid growth which they will be able to see on a daily basis and they are also suitable for a novice gardener due to the ease with which they are grown.
Summary: grow your own