It's that time of the year where they're everywhere you look. But what are they? And is there a difference between them?
Well the answer lays largely in the fact that they’re all from the cucurbita family – a family that includes nearly 1000 different species. So they’re all related!
The next question to ask is are they a fruit or a vegetable? Well from a botanical point of view they’re actually a fruit as they develop from that part of the plant that forms from a flower and also the part of a plant that contains seeds.
So there you go!
If you’ve been gazing at those massive pumpkins down at your local supermarket and wondered how they grow them then fear not as pumpkins are easy and fun to grow – just give them a sunny position, plenty of water and shelter from cold winds. One of the best sights of autumn is colourful pumpkins ripening in the sun. As well as making Halloween lanterns, the fruits can be used to make tasty soups and are delicious roasted.
But how are they grown?
Well the only thing you can do at the moment is get some seeds for next year and perhaps think about where you might grow them, and possibly start to think about preparing the space.
Pumpkins need a warm, sunny position, shelter from cold winds and moisture-retentive soil. Some are bigger than others and will need more growing space, with the smaller varieties needing less space and will grow well up a framework. So think about how much space you have and want to have taken up by your pumpkins and gourds.
Then get the seed catalogues out and choose what variety suits you best. Get your order in and then sit back and wait until the spring.
They’re actually best grown from seed indoors, but can also be sown later outdoors in a sheltered spot. We start ours off indoors by sowing the seeds in 3 inch pots from mid to late April. You need to sow the seeds on their side about ½ inch deep and then keep them at between 18-21˚C .
Seeds can also be sown directly outdoors where you want your plants to grow. Sow two or three seeds per planting hole, 1 inch deep, in late May or early June. Cover with cloches, jars or plastic sheeting and leave in place for two weeks, or as long as possible, after germination.
Then thin the seedlings, leaving only the strongest one to grown on.
If though you’ve started yours indoors then late May is the time to start hardening them off to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions. Do this by moving them into a coldframe for a week. If you don’t have a coldframe, move plants outdoors during the day, then bring them in at night for a week. The following week, leave them out in a sheltered spot all day and night. Plant them out in early June, when all risk of frost has passed.
However, before transplanting indoor-raised plants or sowing seeds outdoors, make sure you prepare the planting site by making a hole about a spade’s depth and width. Backfill with a mixture of garden compost or well-rotted manure and soil. Sprinkle a general purpose fertiliser over the soil at a rate of two handfuls per square metre/yard.
Give each planting or sowing sites plenty of space – 6 feet apart if you can.
If you haven’t got that much space then you can also plant them in grow bags or large containers (at least 18 inches wide), but remember that they’ll need regular and generous watering. Plant one or two per growing bag, or one per container.
Pumpkins need plenty of water. To make watering easier, sink a 6 inch pot alongside each plant. Water into this to ensure the water goes down to the roots and doesn’t sit around the neck of the plant, which can lead to rotting.
Feed every 10 – 14 days with a high potassium liquid fertiliser, such as tomato feed, once the first fruits start to swell and support developing fruits on a piece of tile or glass, to keep them off the damp soil. And if you’re growing a smaller variety up a frame then make sure you support and time them in as they grow.
We’ll talk about what we do in the spring and let you know how we get on. In the meantime though we’ll be looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labour this year and giving that catalogue a good thumb.