Newest Review: ... be creative and plant them so that they all trail away from the centre of a circle. Pumpkins like water so make sure they are regularly w... more
Pumpkins are for life, not just for Halloween
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Fairly easy to grow
Disadvantages: Need quite a bit of watering, can grow enormous
Right, it's the end of the football season now so in my calendar that means it's time for frost sensitive plants to go outside - either as the small seedlings that have been taking up space on my kitchen window sill (much to the annoyance of Mrs 'dablue) or as seeds directly into the soil. One of the things I always grow are pumpkins - mainly for their vigour of growth and the fact that they produce huge long vines that make my back yard look like it's been fed on waste from Chernobyl.
Not only are they satisfying to watch grow, they produce some pretty useful fruits that make lovely soups and / or a lantern for the kids at Halloween.
As I alluded to above, pumpkins won't survive if they're exposed to frost so it's important to wait until at least the middle of May to make sure it'll be warm enough for them outside - either as a seed or as a seedling. When planting a pumpkin seed, it's a good idea to plant them on their edge so that water won't sit on the big flat teardrop shaped part of the seed, increasing the chances of it rotting before its had time to sprout.
The plant will pay you back in spades if you let it grow in rich soil / compost with plenty to drink - they are very thirsty plants and need regular feeding to sustain the massive growth. A soil containing some well rotted manure and a regular top up with blood and bone fertiliser does the job for me. Also, when planting out pumpkins, consider the space they'll need - they grow like stink and can take over if you don't plant them away from other plants which could easily be crowded out.
Pumpkins can either be left to trail along the floor or can be trained to climb up sturdy poles. If you go the climbing option, then it's best to use some very heavy duty support - pumpkins can grow to be very heavy (some varieties like Atlantic Giant require have to be grown on a wooden pallet and are only able to be moved by a forklift truck!). Whichever way you grow them, once the plant has three good pumpkins on it, pick off any remaining fruits which appear afterwards. This will ensure that all the plant's energy goes into just those three fruits which you've left on. Also, if you have any large leaves which are covering a fruit, remove these as the pumpkins themselves need exposure to good strong sunlight in order to ripen.
When you're left with three good fruits on the vine, stand these on some straw or a piece of wood to keep them off the floor where they could be susceptible to rotting. When it gets to September time, the plant itself will start to look tired - leaves will turn yellow and fall off and the vine will start to look dried out and hairy, but hopefully the pumpkins themselves will be fat, vibrantly coloured healthy looking fruits that are (hopefully) making the most of a still sunny and warm-ish month. I never leave the fruits on past October, as I can't guarantee frost free nights. When harvesting the pumpkins, leave on a "handle" of a few inches of the "mother" vine either side of the stem, it'll make handling them much easier.
Only store them if they are dry, hopefully they should a few months if kept indoors in a warm room.
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO PUMPKINS
Aphids can cause mosaic virus to enter your plant. Mosaic virus causes spotting on the leaves, stunted growth and misshaped fruits. Prevention is better than cure, so try and prevent aphids from nibbling on your plants in the first place. There's two main ways of treating aphids - if you have a green conscience you can try attracting hoverflies and ladybirds to your garden by planting marigolds and building a "ladybird hotel". Or, if you don't mind making polar bears cry, you can inflict insect death at the end of a spray bottle, labelled with a skull and crossbones. I'm a fan of the first method, but I'll be honest and say that it's not as effective as using chemicals, but at least I know that the homemade pumpkin soup I give to my children hasn't got any chemicals in it which might help them grow a sixth finger.
Pumpkin soup is an easy way of using the huge amount of pumpkin fruit you should hopefully have in September time and is one of those dishes that announces the arrival of autumn - if eating seasonally floats your boat. With a little help from Monty Don's recipe, here's how I do it:
Peel your pumpkin, scoop out all the seeds (you can either bin them, dry them and replant next year or toast them and eat as dried seeds). Roughly chop about 750 grammes worth of pumpkin and sweat in a pan for about ten minutes with some olive oil, butter and two peeled chopped spuds. Add roughly half a litre of vegetable stock to this, two chopped tomatoes and some bay or sage leaves. Let this simmer for about ten minutes, the remove from the heat and once cooled enough, blast it in a blender to remove any lumps. Done. I also add a bit of cream for richness, but it's entirely up to you.
As mentioned above, you can air dry the seeds and have them as a healthy snack - I'll write more about why they're healthy below. Also, probably the most iconic use of pumpkins that springs to most peoples' minds is as a lantern for Halloween. A good pumpkin to use for this is "Jack of all trades" as its got that classic round shape but has a slightly flattened bottom which helps it to sit still when placed down - you wouldn't want a lighted candle rolling all over the place!
The pumpkin flesh itself is very low in calories, but high in vitamins A, C and E. The seeds are a good source of fibre, protein and zinc - a good mineral for us fellas in building up the strength of our "swimmers" (I'll say no more, let's keep it clean!).
Seed companies like Haddons, Thompson and Morgan, Marshalls etc all offer different pumpkin variety seeds in the UK. Commonly grown types include "New England Pie" (as the name suggests - it's a good one making pumpkin pies with), "Atlantic Giant" (you need LOTS of space for this one) and "Invincible" which has a blue/grey skin and looks fantastic. You shouldn't have to pay more than £2 for a pack of seeds, and most packs contain between 5 and 20 seeds - you don't need hundreds unless you're a commercial farmer (then you wouldn't buy them in this manner anyway!).
Try growing a pumpkin, it amazes me how fast they grow and they're one of the more satisfying crops to grow when the oh-so fussy parsnips and basil of mine fail repeatedly, I can always count on having a few good pumpkin plants to make up for it.
Summary: Try growing one, they're very satisfying