Master Gardeners | May 03, 2017
What do Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Cinderella, Jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie have in common? Why pumpkins of course. Pumpkins originated in Central America and have been grown there for thousands of years. In early times, they were baked or stuffed. Medicinally they were used to treat snake bite, freckles and tape worms.
The Jack-o-lantern , symbol of Hallowe’en, was popularized by Irish immigrants who told a tale of a stingy man, Jack, barred from heaven and hell, condemned to carry a turnip lantern and hot coal and walk the earth until Judgement day. Since pumpkins were so readily available to Americans, they substituted a hollowed pumpkin for the turnip and so the tale became folklore.
Pumpkins need space in the garden, and a fairly long growing season- from 90 to 130 days. Seeds can be directly sown in the garden when the soil is warm, or seeded indoors two-three weeks earlier and carefully transplanted so the roots aren’t disturbed. As pumpkin plants are very sensitive to cold wait until the soil temperature is 70 degrees. Pumpkins are heavy feeders. Garden soil should be enriched with compost and a slow release fertilizer. Hill up the soil into a mound and plant four or five seeds, and thin to two plants after two weeks. Rows should be about eight feet apart. Miniature and bush type pumpkins need less space. During the growing and fruiting stage, water is very important- at least an inch a week. If you want large pumpkins fertilize again at fruiting time . Bees are necessary for pollination so never use insecticides. Cultivate carefully around the plants as pumpkin roots are near the surface. Cucumber beetles and squash bugs sometimes attack seedlings. Hand picking can control the pests.A floating row cover can prevent damage but it must be removed for pollination. Powdery mildew on the upper surface of the leaves can be unsightly but rarely kills plants.
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are completely orange and the vines turn yellow. Cut the stem cleanly leaving about four inches attached. Store in a cool place until Hallowe’en or Thanksgiving.
Seed catalogues offer a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes- everything from huge Atlantic Giant, to little Baby Boo. There are ones shaped like Cinderella’s coach, white ones (Lumina) , sugar pumpkins for pies and warty ones with bumps all over. The flesh of pumpkins is high in Vitamins A and C an potassium. The seeds are great roasted.