Grow it yourself: pumpkin

Grow it yourself: Pumpkin

Versatile. If you could use only one word to describe the mighty pumpkin, versatile would surely be it: in colour, in taste, in use, in shape, in myth and in goodness. Pumpkins may well be the ultimate food and, the best thing is – it’s not a trick, it’s a treat!

By Marco Barneveld,

Grow it yourself: pumpkin

A pumpkin is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita and a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. The word pumpkin comes from the Greek pepõn meaning a large melon. The English called them pumpion or pompion, which later became pumpkin. The plant is a vine and it winds its way across surfaces in a similar way to other members of the cururbitaceae family like cucumbers, squashes and cantaloupe melons. For Native Americans the pumpkin was especially important. Not only did they eat this fruit, they also pounded strips of pumpkin flat, dried them, and wove them into mats for trading. They also used dried pumpkin as food.

Modern-day Americans have also embraced the sweet, multi-purpose fruit with all their hearts, and it has become a traditional Thanksgiving food. The early colonists used pumpkin not only as a side dish and dessert, but also in soups and fun-loving girls and boys even made beer from it.

Pumpkins are especially popular at Halloween when they are carved into lanterns. The practice was brought to the United States by Irish immigrants who originally carved turnips into lanterns.

Are pumpkins healthy? Yes they are!

Grow it yourself: pumpkin

Known primarily for its role as a Halloween decoration or a pie filling, pumpkins are also packed with nutrition and bring a wide range of health benefits. Pumpkins are a storehouse of vitamins, minerals and other healthy nutrients. Whether it is the pulp or the seeds, pumpkins are great for your health and can offer some incredible benefits.

The pumpkin is one of the lowest-calorie vegetables, providing just 26 calories per 4oz. It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but is a rich source of dietary fibre, anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins. Pumpkin is a storehouse of many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. With 0.3oz per four ounces, it will provide about two and a half times your daily recommended dose of Vitamin A, a powerful natural anti-oxidant that is required by body to maintain the integrity of skin and mucus membranes. It is also an essential vitamin for vision.

Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin A also help to protect our bodies against lung and oral cavity cancers. Pumpkin is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Pumpkin seeds are good source of dietary fibre and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are good for cardiac health.

Grow a giant pumpkin yourself

The fun thing about pumpkins is that they can reach gigantic sizes and that means they are a lot of fun to grow. To grow a real whopper, of course you will need to start with the right kind of pumpkin seed, one that has been selected to produce really big pumpkins, such as ‘Prizewinner Hybrid’. Using the right growing methods, it can produce pumpkins in the 150 kilo range.

In general, pumpkins need a lot of sun. Choose the sunniest spot that you have available; remember that pumpkins are sensitive and need shelter from wind and frost. Try to protect pumpkins from the worst of the elements by covering them during heavy rains, putting up some kind of barrier to protect the vines from strong winds, and using shade tents during summer’s hottest days.

How much water pumpkins need?

Pumpkins like and need a lot of water, but don't plant pumpkins in wet or dense soil. They need good, well-drained soil. You can dig the soil by hand. Prepare the ground in early spring, as soon as the ground is warm. Fertilise the patch with a good four inches of manure. Pumpkins will do best in soil that is near neutral or slightly acidic.

Grow it yourself: pumpkin

If you live in a part of the world where there is still danger of frost in late April or early May, start pumpkin seeds indoors about two weeks before planting. Sow one seed for every four-inch peat pot filled with growing mix. Keep the pots watered and never let them dry out. When the seedlings have developed their fourth or fifth set of leaves, set them outdoors. Protect pumpkin seedlings during the first few weeks with plastic-covered frames.

Fertilising pumpkins

Pumpkins have two types of flower – male and female, and they appear in early July. The male flowers show up first, followed by the females. Look out for the first female flowers and make sure that the vines are strong and well-established before allowing the female flowers to produce fruit. It could help to break off the first female flower on each vine and wait for the second or third to appear, when the vines are at least 118 inches long. A female flower is easy to recognise – she has a baby pumpkin at the base of each flower.

You will need a large vine to produce a large pumpkin, so in a sense you choose the vine before the pumpkin. When you find a vine that is strong enough and a female flower on the verge of opening, put a cheesecloth bag over it for the night to keep the insects out. The next morning, pick a fresh male bloom, trim off the corolla or outer petals, and rub the pollen-laden stamen in around the centre of the newly opened female bloom.

Growing pumpkins

This is just the beginning of a summer of hard but rewarding work. What you have started is actually a pumpkin-producing factory. Remember that there are 100 or more leaves on each vine and if you are trying to grow a 300-pound pumpkin, each leaf will be responsible for up to 4 lbs of weight in your pumpkin.

Grow it yourself: pumpkin

Giant pumpkins balloon out from the vine and if precautions are not taken, they will tear themselves off the all-important stem. Vines put out roots at every leaf, so tear out the roots of the vine near to the pumpkin. This will free the vine room to grow away from the pumpkin without being damaged as it swells in size. Gently train the vines away from the fruit to prevent it from crushing them, and give the vines a nudge in the right direction every day.

Pruning pumpkins

To grow a really big pumpkin, when two or three fruits on each plant have reached the size of softballs, remove all but the most promising fruit and start to prune the pumpkin vine. After the primary vine has reached 20 feet, pinch off the tips and the side shoots so the vines do not divert resources from the fruit. Break off all the other female flowers and a potential prize-winner will be in the making. All the plant’s energy must be channelled entirely into this fruit alone. It is important to remember that all the nutrients needed to increase the size of the fruit come from the vine, and the vine must in turn get enough support from the root system. To grow really big pumpkins, the most important thing to remember are seeds, soil, sunshine, and water.

By mid-August the plants are pulling in water and nutrients at a great rate. Night-time is when pumpkins do their growing; some will expand five inches in circumference every night.

Tip: Watering

Water in the evening, water a lot and water only the base of the plant so that the leaves stay dry. This reduces the risk of disease.

Recipe: Sweet and Sour Grilled Pumpkin

Recipe: Sweet and Sour Grilled Pumpkin


2 lbs pumpkin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic (thinly sliced)
pressed or minced salt
3 tablespoons wine vinegar (red or white)
3 tablespoons white sugar
chopped fresh mint or parsley

Cut the pumpkin in half and scrape out the seeds and membrane. Peel each half and cut into slices. In a bowl whisk together olive oil, one clove of minced garlic, and a generous pinch of salt. Add the pumpkin slices and toss well to coat. Grill the pumpkin slices at a medium heat for a few minutes on each side or until just tender.

In a small saucepan, mix vinegar, sugar, and any garlic oil left in the bowl. Heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens just slightly. Drizzle sweet and sour sauce over the pumpkin on the serving platter. Garnish with fresh chopped mint or parsley and thin slices of raw garlic if desired. Bon appétit, pumpkin!

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