Hurray for Halloween – It’s Pumpkin time Comments Off

Pumpkins are one of our most colourful autumnal fruits and at this time of year the supermarkets are full of them. For some growers in certain parts of the country this year has been poor for pumpkins with cold weather and cold winds in the summer resulting in slow growth and small fruit. Fortunately, for most growers (especially squash growers) it’s been a good year.

Part of the cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers and squashes, pumpkins are really easy to grow yourself.

For best results sow from seed indoors in mid-late April. Sow the seeds on their side 1-2cm deep in small pots into moist compost and then when they have started to grow and put on roots plant them outside into their final position once the daytime temperatures warm up in June. Alternatively, you can also sow the seed direct outdoors in late May – early June. If you don’t fancy growing from seed you can just buy ready–grown seedlings from garden centres in the spring. Pumpkins need a sunny position, away from cold winds and a moisture retentive soil and once planted you mustn’t let them dry out. Space the plants about 1-2metres apart, depending on the variety, to allow enough room for them to grow. You can also grow them in a grow bags, one plant per grow bag. As they are pollinated by insects, pumpkins can suffer in a cool summer when insect activity is reduced but they usually bounce back when it warms up again.

When the fruit starts to swell it’s a good idea to feed with tomato feed every 2 weeks to give them a boost. You’ll find that most pumpkins and squashes develop powdery mildew towards the end of the summer and early autumn but generally it isn’t worth controlling as it doesn’t affect the fruit. Remove any leaves that are overshadowing the fruit so that it gets as much light as possible.

Harvest from September to October and store somewhere cool and dry. In a warm, wet autumn, it’s sometimes a good idea to wipe them with a mild disinfectant  or steriliser (such as Milton fluid) to stop them from rotting too quickly once picked.

Great varieties to try:
‘Atlantic Giant’ – A very large ‘American-style’ pumpkin with pale orange flesh, a great choice for allotments and for showing.
‘Jack of all Trades’– a reliable choice which produces classic, medium-sized, bright orange pumpkins ideal for carving and great for soups.
‘Munchkin’ – a small ornamental bright orange pumpkin. Climbs well if supported.

Favourite squash varieties:
‘Crown Prince’ – a steely blue fruit (see photo above) with a bright orange flesh. Good for soup
‘Kabocha’ – a medium size green pumpkin (see photo above) which has the best chestnut taste. Great for roasting and making soups.

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