A cousin of winter squash, pumpkin is one of the most interesting flavored fruits. Yes, pumpkin is actually a fruit although we often categorize it as a vegetable. With a mild sweetness and some bitterness, pumpkins are cooked and enjoyed at dinner feasts or as a side for many main dishes.
They are also used in desserts like pumpkin pie with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice complementing this orange fleshed ruit in other dishes. It is a staple part of a lot of the American festive meals. And of course, even other cultures use it as food in a lot of mouthwatering dishes.
Pumpkin is also highly nutritious and is loaded with vitamin A. It has high anti-oxidant content and many vitamins that help boost immunity. With many nutrients and low calories, this vegetable is always a good addition to your diet.
It’s actually a lot of fun to grow this delicious vegetable. It is also easy to take care of and the plant can grow in many different regions. With some simple growing strategies as well as understanding when to harvest pumpkin, producing your yield can be a breeze.
Pumpkin Plant Growth Stages & Requirements
The ideal time to plant pumpkin is in late May or early July. There are many types of pumpkins you can grow. They differ in size, texture, color and taste, so know which one you like before throwing seeds here and there. You can buy seeds from gardening stores or even online.
If you’re a newbie, it would be useful to know the pumpkin plant growth stages for better insight. Well, it starts with a pale, yellow seed. The seed is planted in a well-drained, warm, moist soil with a neutral pH. A full sun is preferable although pumpkins can thrive even with partial shade. They need some row to grow as their vines grow heavily.
Make sure that you pick a day after the last frost of spring to plant. This way, you can maximize the growth of your pumpkin during the warm summer months. And, maybe your pumpkin will reach maturity just around Halloween, perfect!
You might also want to plant your seeds in pumpkin hills – makeshift little hills slightly higher than the flat ground. These hills warm up faster and drains the water faster – just as pumpkin plants like it.
About a week after planting, a few leaves will appear. Then, after germination, two leaves will sprout through the soil. These pumpkin sprouts will then grow on to become pumpkin plants. Now the pumpkin plant will begin to grow and vines will emerge. Bright yellow flowers will also show up in the middle of the growing season.
As the growing progresses, you will notice infant pumpkins. In the last few weeks, the pumpkins will be at their final size and turn into the signature orange color.
Pumpkins need gentle soaking with water at least once a week. The leaves may look dry and wilted in the afternoon sun, but don’t let that tempt you to water the plant again. Just let it be. Overwatering is the primary cause of root rot. Just make sure that the soil is moist.
Mulching the area around the pumpkin will go a long way in keeping your plants hydrated. Plus, it helps fight off the weeds.
In general, there is no need to prune your pumpkin. The leaves absorb sunlight and produce more carbohydrates, which means more pumpkin goodness. However, if you are going for giant-sized pumpkins, you can limit the number of fruits per plant to just one or two.
Pumpkin Harvest Season
Pumpkins generally take 90 to 100 days to mature. Some varieties can take up to 120 days till you can harvest them. But how would you know when to harvest pumpkin?
Pumpkin harvest season usually lies in mid-fall. You would want to pick them before the first frost or when the cold hits hard. There are two signs to watch out for before you harvest. First, they should have reached their desired color. Second, the rind should be hard. You can check if it’s ready by trying to jab at the outer skin. If your nails are unable to puncture through, it means it is hard enough.
You can also check if the pumpkin is ripe, by thumping on it. If you hear a hollow sound when you do, you’re all set to harvest the pumpkin. Another cue to look for is that the vines will have shriveled up. And the plants’ leaves and stems should be brown and drying.
Use a sharp knife to remove the pumpkin from its’ vine but leave about 2 inches of stem on it. Protect your hands with gloves because pumpkin vines are often prickly. You should also handle it gently as any cut or bruises can cause your vegetable to decay.
Make sure to harvest your pumpkins before the heavy frost comes. The heavy frost will damage your fruit.
How many Pumpkins per Plant Can You Expect?
If you’re planning to grow pumpkins, then you must also be wondering how many pumpkins per plant you’ll likely get. The yield per plant you can expect actually depends on the variety as well as growing conditions,
With some miniature varieties like Baby Bear and Pie Pumpkins, you can expect about 10 to 12 pumpkins to yield from one plant. The medium sized common varieties like Jack O Lantern and Autumn Gold will grow around 3 to 6 pumpkins per plant. And with the larger varieties such as Aladdin Magic Lantern and Gold Rush, you should expect 1 or 2 pumpkins.
However, you can maximize your yield by making sure you provided the plant with ideal growing conditions and taking good care of it. One way to do so is ‘branching’. Basically, this helps the vines become stronger that in turn helps them support big pumpkins.
By removing smaller, weaker flowers in the early phases of growing (during first three weeks) then you can the healthier ones to remain and grow. This can improve the quality and yield of the pumpkins.
How to Store Pumpkins?
To understand how to store pumpkins the right way, you must know how to cure them. Curing actually helps reduce the water content in pumpkins, and toughens their skin. This helps them last longer in storage. Even the flavor intensifies through this process, and you can expect sweeter-tasting pumpkins. Curing is a step done with other kinds of vegetables like potatoes.
After washing, dry the pumpkin. You will start curing them when you place them somewhere warm (80 to 85 F) with relative humidity. Leave them there for at least 10 to 14 days. By then, they will be cured and ready to store.
It is ideal to store pumpkins in a cool, dry and dark place. It is best to avoid very hot and humid places. A temperature of about 50 F (10 C) with around 60% humidity works best. But temperatures below 45 F (7 C) will cause them to rot. Generally, pumpkins can be stored for 30 to 90 days. To increase storage longevity, you may wash the pumpkins with a solution of chlorine (8 ounces) and water (1 gallon).
When you store your pumpkins, make sure they are completely dry.
You don’t have to reserve pumpkins just for Halloween- they are one of the best fruits you can grow at home.
There is so much you can make with your home-grown pumpkins- pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie and even cookies, muffins, and cheesecakes. In fact you can cook pumpkin for both dinner and dessert. Think pumpkin breakfast sausages, roasted garlic pumpkin hummus, pumpkin curry and so much more. Your annual Thanksgiving meal simply won’t be complete without it.
This fall, grow your own pumpkins and enjoy their nutrition, versatility and taste. Just remember our tips for growing them as well as how and when to harvest pumpkins- you’re good to go!