Growing My Food

How to Start Growing Your Own Food Cheaply and Easily

How to Grow Pumpkins

Everybody loves seeing a nice selection of pumpkins outside the hosues in October. We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en in our house, but we love to see all the different shapes and sizes and carvings at that time of year. Pumpkins are so versatile and are not just available in the large, orange Hallowe’en types. There are all kinds of shapes and sizes, and they vary quite a bit in colour too. You can bake them into cakes, roast them on their own, turn them into soup, use as a replacement for passata (with beetroot), make pumpkin pies, and every other imaginable type of cooking.

This year’s pumpkin sowing was a little bit TOO successful. That is, every seed I sowed germinated perfectly. You see, with many types of seeds, you have to sow 2-3 together as they don’t always germinate. And usually what happens is out of the two you sow, there will be a strong one and a weak one, so you discard the weaker and let the stronger grow on. Well, this entirely did NOT happen this year, as my 17 remaining seeds from my ‘Dad’s Perfect Pumpkin’ home-saved seeds all germinated perfectly, so in effect I grew twice as many as I needed. I kept 9 and gave the rest to my next-door neighbour, who has recently taken on an allotment on the same site as ours.

What are the Best Pumpkin Varieties

This depends on what you need. You don’t typically get that many seeds in a packet, so you want to make sure you buy high quality seeds and the right size, shape, and growing duration (time to maturity) for your needs. Pumpkins pretty much all need plenty of warmth and moisture, so bear that in mind when deciding. They don’t need it to be boiling hot, but if it’s going to be below 14C during the day for long periods of time, then you might as well not bother. They take a fair while to grow and they take up quite a bit of space, you’re looking at about 4+ months growing time and at least 9′ square for a smallish variety. Every pumpkin has different characteristics, so you need to choose the right type. Here is a list of my favourite varieties with a brief desciption of what they’re good/useful for in terms of cooking etc. (list contains affiliate links):

  • Baby Boo – very cute mini white variety, you can roast them whole or just look at them sitting there all cute
  • Olga hulless oilseed pumpkin (originally found my ones on eBay) this is grown for the seeds, which don’t have the hard hull on the outside, just a thin papery film. You then roast/dry fry and eat them. I am trying these for the first time this year because I love eating the seeds but hulling them is a massive pain in the a$$
  • Turks Turban – a very unusual looking pumpkin. No idea what it tastes like but you can stand it up in your Hallowe’en display like a freakishly large toadstool
  • Sicilian Serpent – for novelty’s sake, a snake-like gourd
  • Crown Prince – I love these, they are so nice when mixed in with other more standard pumpkins, because their dusky blue hue stands out really nicely against the typical orange. They taste great too!
  • Butternut Squash – the tastiest of all? Probably the best for making pumpkin pie, in my opinion. A good rival to any kabocha-derived variety in flavour anyway.

Best Spacing and Soil Type for Pumpkins

Pumpkins are easy, but take up a crazy amount of space. You sow 1-2 seeds per pot in the late spring, keep them warm and moist, and voila they germinate after about 2 weeks. Plant them in good soil after the last frost , which is mid to late May in most of the UK. They need a lot of fertility. They are often reputed not to like clay, but they grew well on my clay soil last year, and that’s all I have at the moment, but I have never had a problem with it. I think as long as it doesn’t get waterlogged, and you have a good level of fertility in the soil, they should grow well. I guess you would not want soil that drains really quickly, because pumpkins thrive on moisture. The middle part of my allotment as has been looked after well, and improved over the years, so the soil is looser there but still retains a high moisture content due to all the clay.

One great way to ensure they thrive is to dig a big hole where you want the pumpkin plant to be and chuck a load of veg scraps, compost, manure, etc. inside. Then make a mound and plant the pumpkin plant right on top. I sometimes make a “moat” around the mound to catch extra water, or to water directly into when we have one of our regular excessive dry spells here in East Anglia. They will soon spread over the mound, but it just gives them that warmth and fertility boost right into the roots, as well as if you do the moat, you can water directly where the plant needs it.

Space pumpkins very generously apart. Depending on the variety, this could be about 4′ apart. You can grow things like butterhead lettuce, rocket, or radish in between, as these small crops will be ready in 4-6 weeks, whereas the pumpkins will take 3-4 months. Intercropping with quick-growing salads etc. is a great way to get a lot of produce out of the same land and it keeps the weeds at bay too. These small, fast-growing crops will not take too much fertility out of the soil, and they’ll be gone before the pumpkins have spread and taken over.

Growing Pumpkins on a Compost Heap

Yes, this is not only possible, but often quite successful. Similar to my mound technique I use in the allotment, if you have a compost heap that’s not just new veg scraps, pumpkins will grow really well on top. A friend of mine put a large quantity of grass clippings on top of her oldest compost pile, and planted one of my spare Olga oilseed pumpkin plants right in there. Within days, it had already started spreading like mad. The extra warmth and moisture that are typically found in the compost heap will feed the pumpkin and help it grow really well. Do give this a try and let me know how you get on. My compost heaps aren’t big enough to grow pumpkins on at the moment, so I’d love to hear form anyone else who’s doing this.

Over to you – let me know if you like growing pumpkins and which are your favourite varieties!

Maeve

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