This article appeared in the July/August 2001 issue of Horticulture Update, edited by Dr. Douglas F. Welsh, and produced by Extension Horticulture, Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

Photos courtesy of the Pumpkin Circle web site: http://www.garden@pumpkincircle.com


Pumpkin Adventures
For Gardeners And Children Alike

By Cynthia W. Mueller, Master Gardener
Galveston County

For any gardener with a little space to spare, growing pumpkins can be an enjoyable project to try, especially for children. They enjoy growing pumpkins because the seeds are large and easy to handle, germinate quickly, and make large, noticeable plants with fruit suitable for holiday decorations. Many useful hints and pumpkin ideas may be found at the website <http://www.garden@pumpkincircle.com> an off-shoot of the award-winning childrens’ book and video of the same name. Teachers and parents may find sources for inexpensive seeds and project plans.

Pumpkins make good filler for empty areas of the garden after spring crops have been harvested. They may also be used to quickly provide a cover of thick green leaves over a fence or arbor, if the stems are tied in place and support is provided for the fruit. It is also a great temptation to place the hill in the middle of the compost pile, once it has reached capacity with winter leaves and spring grass clippings and the composting process has begun to slow down.

Ordinary pie pumpkins which are grown in the United States usually weigh between ten and twenty pounds and are orange in color. The most common of these is ‘Connecticut Field’. But pumpkins may be white, grey, tan, or yellow. The color of ‘Rouge d’ Etamps’, a flattened, ribbed antique French strain that was the model for illustrations of Cinderella’s carriage, is almost red.

Mini-pumpkins are not just very small varieties of ordinary pumpkins, but were bred from small-sized Asiatic forms. The earliest kinds were more like gourds, resembling pumpkins in shape, but they had no true “meat” and were dried with a thin, hard shell. Further breeding programs resulted in the creation of edible small types such as ‘Jack-be-Little’ and ‘Munchkin’ which are popular baked whole. Small ornamentals which combine well with Indian corn for fall decorations are the varieties ‘Baby Boo’, ‘Munchkin’, or ‘Lumina’. These will be able to mature in a much shorter time span; it is important to remember that, as fall days become cooler, vegetables will take longer to mature.

Dr. Frank Dainello, Extension Horticulturist, Texas A&M University, recommends ‘Small Sugar’, ‘Triple Treat’, and ‘Spookie’ in the Small (6-10 pound category), and ‘Jack O’Lantern’, ‘Autumn Gold’, and ‘Funny Face’ in the Medium (10-16 pound category). For the Large category (16-30 pounds), he lists ‘Howden’, ‘Happy Jack’, and ‘Ghost Rider’, and for the Mammoth (50-200 pounds and up), ‘Atlantic Giant’, ‘Big Max’, and ‘Big Mac’.

Growing the largest exhibition pumpkins calls for skill and determination. The largest winners in the weight competitions may be seen at the website <http://www.backyardgardener.com> Some of these have now topped 1,000 pounds, and are as heavy as 1,100-plus pounds. ‘Atlantic Giant’ is the variety of choice for weighty pumpkins, and careful growing is very important.

A hill will need at least 10 x 10 square feet of ground, in full sun. A soil pH range between 6 and 7 is best. Sow pumpkin seed one to two inches deep, and plant more than will be needed. The extras may be thinned down to two or three vigorous ones per hill when the plants begin to become established. When the weather is warm they will germinate in six to eight days. In the spring, pumpkins may be planted from one to four weeks after the last expected frost date. Smaller types destined to be fall decorations may be planted up to twelve or fourteen weeks before the last killing frost.

Pumpkins will be ripe when the skin is hard and the stem dried. Plenty of leaf cover will ensure that pumpkins do not get sunscald as they ripen. Many growers place a board or shingle under the growing fruit to discourage rotting and/or insects. Store cut pumpkins in a dry area out of the sun to continue curing.

Pumpkins will fall heir to all the diseases that affect squash plants. Keep careful watch for insects and disease problems, and treat them in a timely and appropriate manner. Remove and destroy leaves that become infected with mildew before trouble spreads throughout the hill.

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