Pumpkin is one of the favorite fall flavors for many people. It’s a must-have on the menu during the autumn and winter months, whether transformed into a sweet pumpkin bread or pie or simply baked in the oven. There are many ways in which it can be prepared, including various juices and jams.
Pumpkin was once an integral part of the Native American diet. In the past, they grew wild in Guatemala and Mexico. Most varieties originated in the Americas, from where they later spread to Europe. It was often grown as an intercrop of corn, and some species are used in the diet of horses, cattle, and pigs.
An annual plant, the pumpkin is actually a fruit because its seeds are inside the globes. It is a creeping plant and the majority of it lays on the surface of the earth. The fruits are round or oval and come in shades of orange, green, or white. In addition to the fruit, the seeds are also edible and contain numerous vitamins and minerals. The leaves are large, heart-shaped, or kidney-shaped. The flowers are yellow-orange and bell-shaped. The stem is covered with hairs, as are the leaves.
We regularly plant pumpkin on our homestead because it’s very healthy and quite tasty. The only flaw is that the plants take up a lot of space, and sometimes they even spread so much that they even cover other plants. However, we don’t give up on planting it because of its wonderful flavor. This plant is not too demanding to grow, and if you haven’t had it in your garden before, here are some basic tips on growing pumpkins on the homestead.
How to Grow Pumpkins
Pumpkin is not demanding or complicated to grow. Cultivation begins with autumn plowing of the soil. It is mostly grown in lowlands because it produces only unripe fruits at altitudes over 1,600 feet. This plant requires full illumination of the soil, so when planting, make sure you don’t plant it in the shade. Also, it’s sensitive to frost and low temperatures. The optimal temperature for sprouting is about 71°F (22°C) and you’ll see sprouts in 3 to 4 days, whereas its growth stops at a temperature of 53°F (12°C).
Fertile, loose, humus soil which has a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is the best for growing pumpkin, and it doesn’t like soil that is too wet. Before planting, you must know that the pumpkin requires a lot of space because the stems (or vines) grow up to 30 feet. Since it requires a lot of space, be careful that it does not suffocate other plants.
Pumpkins can be planted from seeds sown outdoors or from seedlings started indoors. It’s sown in the spring when the danger of winter frosts passes and the soil gets to a temperature of 53 degrees and higher, which is necessary for germination and sprouting. To create seedlings, sow the seeds indoors a month earlier. When the plant sprouts, water it regularly, and when the first leaves develop and the danger of frost passes, plant them outdoors and water immediately.
For outdoor sowing, first, choose the variety that suits your climate and conditions. Plant them at a depth of 1-2 inches, 3-4 seeds each. Plant them at a distance of 2 to 3 feet depending on the lushness of the species. Vegetation lasts from 130 to 150 days.
Pumpkin is quite resistant to diseases and pests. Protect the young plant from weeds by hoeing or you can fight against weeds by planting the pumpkin in a no-till garden. The fruit ripens in autumn when it’s the tastiest and the concentration of nutrients is the highest.
The fruits are harvested when they are fully ripe and when the stem is then somewhat dry and withered. After harvesting, you can leave them to dry in the sun for a few days. Store them in a closed room, preferably in wooden crates. Do not keep them on concrete in colder temps as they can freeze. If they have damage, use them immediately because such pumpkins will start to rot very quickly. Well stored in a dry place, they can last up to six months.
If you want to save seeds for planting pumpkin next season, choose a large and healthy fruit with tasty flesh. When I save the seeds, I first clean them well, then leave them on paper to dry for a few days. Then I put them in paper bags, which I store in a dry and dark place until the next sowing.
If the seeds are not dried well, they can become moldy. Always choose larger and fuller seeds to ensure that the fruit is of good quality.
In particularly large varieties, the fruit can reach a really impressive weight, up to 110 pounds. To get such a pumpkin, it’s necessary to remove the female flowers from the vines and maintain the soil moisture, in addition to choosing the quality seeds.
Pumpkin is Good for Your Health
Adding pumpkin to your diet can benefit your health. Whether you use it fresh, baked, or boiled, its healing properties do not diminish. Pumpkin contains vitamins A and B, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and iron. In addition to the fruit, the seeds are also healthy. One handful of seeds meets half of the daily requirement for amino acids. The seeds can be further processed into oil, and the processing of seeds into oil provides a chance for additional homestead income. Also, the production of final pumpkin products, such as juices and jams, offers the opportunity to appear in the health food market where the demand for such products is increasing.
There are more than 800 types of pumpkin and most of them are edible. Here are some of the most popular ones you can grow.
Figleaf gourd, Asian pumpkin (Cucurbita ficifolia bouche): This pumpkin has green-white skin and looks like a watermelon. Its leaves are similar to figs. The flesh is white. This type is most often used for making jams and compotes.
Field pumpkin, yellow squash (Cucurbita pepo L.): This species is mainly grown as feed for domestic animals. Make sure to water it regularly, because it doesn’t tolerate drought.
Winter squash (Cucurbita mixta Pangalo): Plant it outdoors, but only after the frosts have passed. The fruit is initially greenish-white in color, and as the peel ripens it turns orange, as does the flesh. This pumpkin likes sunny places. It’s best to harvest this type of pumpkin before the first frosts.
Oil pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo): It’s an industrial plant and is cultivated for the production of pumpkin oil. The seeds are rich in oil, which is obtained by pressing. Oil pumpkin doesn’t tolerate low temperatures and is sown only after the winter frosts pass.
Japanese-Hokkaido pumpkin: It originates from Japan. You will not go wrong if you choose this type, because it has a sweet chestnut flavor. You can make purees, soups, cakes, and pies from it. The Japanese pumpkin has a characteristic appearance with a pointy top. This is an ideal food for the winter because it becomes more nutritious with longer storage. It is rich in vitamin B.
Crown Prince Pumpkin: This pumpkin has a thin gray skin and juicy sweet orange flesh. It’s a favorite of many because of its sweet chestnut flavor. It’s rich in pectin and has a beneficial effect on kidney function.
Turban Pumpkin: If you like pumpkins with an unusual shape, you can plant a turban pumpkin. It has colorful skin and orange flesh. This pumpkin is very aromatic. You can eat it roasted or make a thick cream soup out of it.
Ibiza Pumpkin: This species originates from Spain and over time has spread throughout the world. It has a round shape and a slightly ribbed crust. It’s most often used baked and its most nutritious part is the seeds.
Kabocha pumpkin: It comes from Asia (Cambodia). It has thin green skin and tasty flesh. It contains large amounts of pectin.
Pumpkin can be a great plant to grow on your homestead. You can grow it for your own health and culinary reasons, or use it to make various value-added products, such as jams and juices, breads and pies, which you can offer at farmers’ and health food markets.