Delicious in scones, soup and puddings, the sweet, creamy texture of pumpkin also makes it a favourite in vegetarian curries and other dishes. What’s more, pumpkin is so easy to grow it is a favourite in the children’s garden. Here’s how to get the most from your pumpkin patch!
Pumpkins are so easy to grow that they have been known to spring up out of the compost heap or self-seed in worm farms, and will grow just about anywhere there is space for them to spread out. They are also very good for you. Pumpkin is packed with alpha and beta-carotene, the latter of which generates vitamin A in the body. It is believed that pumpkins originated somewhere around Mexico, where related seeds have been found which date back to as early as 7000 B.C.
The most popular types of pumpkin are available as seeds or seedlings, but if you’re looking for something your neighbours don’t have, some of the more rare and interesting varieties can be grown from seed. Pumpkin can be planted in most parts of Australia during the summer. In the tropics, some varieties will be more suitable than others so check with your garden centre for varieties most suited to your area or wait until the end of summer before you plant.
For best fruiting, plant pumpkin in full sun or part shade. Because pumpkins spread over a far greater area than their root zone, there is no need to dig over an entire garden bed; simply cultivate a small pocket of soil for each plant, about 30cm wide x 30cm deep and plant into that according to the instructions on the seed packet or punnet. When handling seedlings, take care not to damage the delicate roots. For best results, sprinkle Searles Penetraide over the soil after planting to ensure deep water penetration and water well. Finally, apply a thick layer of newspaper and mulch.
Pumpkin companion planting
Pumpkin makes an excellent ‘living mulch’ when planted around sweet corn.
If you have limited space, pumpkin vines can be pruned to a more compact size. If this is done before flowering, it will cause the plant to grow more densely, producing a greater number of stems in a smaller space without significantly reducing the yield. Left unpruned, a single plant can easily occupy a ground space of 3mx3m. They are great for planting around taller plants because they smother weeds by preventing sunlight from reaching the soil.
Pumpkin ongoing care
Pumpkin vines grow rapidly and require ample water to reach their full potential, so keep them well mulched and water them as required during dry weather. Continue to lay mulch under the vine as it grows. This will inhibit fungal diseases by preventing the stems and developing fruit coming in direct contact with the soil.
Pumpkins are pollinated by bees, so it is very important not to use insecticides around them. The fruit usually sets easily but if they don’t, it’s easy to pollinate by hand. Pumpkins are monoecious, having both male and female flowers. The male flower can be identified by its powdery, pollen-cover stamens in the centre. Gently remove this flower and lightly wipe the inside of the female flower (identified by a slight swelling at the base) with it. Once there are eight to ten pollinated flowers on the stems, trim the trailing end of the vine back to promote better development of the fruit. Reduce watering as the fruit begins to ripen.
Pests and diseases
Excessive humidity can cause outbreaks of fungal diseases like rust and powdery mildew on pumpkins. This can be curtailed by growing vines in full sun and watering only in the mornings. A fortnightly application of SeaMax Seaweed can also improve the plant’s resistance to such ailments. Existing cases of fungal disease can be controlled with Searles Wettable Sulphur or Searles Mancozeb Plus.
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the vine has withered and the stalks have turned brown and dry. Always take at least 4cm of the stem away with the fruit when picking. This remaining stem will preserve the fruit for longer by preventing air and moisture from reaching the flesh. Pumpkins can store for many months in a cool, airy position.
After handling raw pumpkin in the kitchen, you may notice a dry, papery film on your fingers that takes more than 24 hours to disappear. This is not harmful and is purely an indication that the pumpkin is very fresh.Recipe: Roasted Pumpkin Soup How to Grow Sweet Corn