When I think of the holiday season from Halloween through Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I think of pumpkins. Pumpkin—whose scientific names are Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita mixta, and Cucurbita moschata—is a family of gourd-like squashes whose colors range from bright orange to tannish yellow. Like many other fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories but high in nutritious vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, iron, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, potassium, copper, and manganese. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of dietary fiber. All of these health benefits make pumpkin a favorite plant among many gardeners.
As a child, I always wanted to plant my own pumpkin patch reminiscent of the pumpkin patch in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. When my husband and I moved into our house, I finally had the opportunity to grow my own pumpkins. If you, too, are a fan of this bright colored fruit, then learn how to make a pumpkin patch in your garden with these simple tips and instructions. Planting your own pumpkin patch in the early summer will ensure that you have plenty of pumpkins for the holiday season.
Varieties of Pumpkin
Before learning how to make a pumpkin patch in your garden, you first need to learn about the many different types of pumpkin available. The term pumpkin refers to the fruit of hundreds of varieties of squash of the Curcurbita family. The most popular types of pumpkin among gardeners in the United States are the Cucurbita pepo and Cucurbita maxima. The Cucurbita pepo family includes most Jack-o’-lantern and other decorative pumpkins while the Cucurbita maxima family includes most varieties of giant pumpkins. Primarily grown commercially, the Cucurbita mixta and Cucurbita moschata varieties are the main types of pumpkins used in processed pumpkin products including canned pumpkin.
Cucurbita pepo: Autumn Gold, Baby Boo, Connecticut Field, Howden Field, Jack B. Little, Jack-o’-Lantern, Munchkin, New England Pie, Small Sugar, Sweetie Pie
Cucurbita maxima: Atlantic Giant, Big Max, Big Moon, Mammoth Gold, Prizewinner
Cucurbita mixta: Green-Striped Cushaw, Sweet Potato, Tennessee, White Cushaw
Cucurbita moschata: Dickinson Field, Green Cushaw, Kentucky Field, Long Island Cheese, Seminole, Neck
Growing a Pumpkin Patch
The first steps for growing a pumpkin patch in your garden are to select an area for your patch and to pick out a variety of pumpkin. Unless you want to devote a large space to growing pumpkins, you should stick to a variety that produces small to medium fruits. Autumn Gold, Connecticut Field, and Small Sugar pumpkins are popular smaller varieties that are good for both carving and eating. The space for your pumpkin patch should receive full sun for at least six hours a day because pumpkins need a lot of sunlight for maximum growth. The soil, which should retain moisture but not flood to promote growth but prevent rotting, must be rich in nutrients. Add compost or fertilizer if necessary when preparing the soil.
The next step for planting pumpkin seeds is to form mounds of dirt about three inches in height at one end of your designated pumpkin patch. Space the mounds no closer than a foot apart. Then plant three to six seeds in each mound. For most climates in the United States, pumpkin seeds should be planted at the end of May or beginning of June to ensure a healthy fall pumpkin patch. Always wait to plant after the soil has warmed up and never plant before the last frost date because pumpkin is intolerant to frost and freezing temperatures.
Once seedlings emerge, thin down to one to three of the strongest plants per mound. For a smaller patch, leave one seedling per mound. For a larger patch, leave three. As the seedlings grow into vines, it is important to guide the plants to grow in a certain direction. Unattended pumpkin vines can and will grow everywhere including across your lawn and through other plants in your garden. Make sure the soil around the roots of the pumpkin vines remains moist; eighty to ninety percent of a pumpkin is water so this plant needs to be watered regularly. Most varieties of pumpkin mature at around one hundred days after planting. Pumpkins can be cut from the vines with a pair of pruning shears once the fruits have attained their full color. Remove the old vines from the soil after all the pumpkins have been picked.
Pumpkins are a favorite crop among many gardeners in the United States and across the world. I personally think of the holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—when I think of pumpkins. Owning my own house with a yard allows me the opportunity to grow my own pumpkins for the holiday season. If you also want to grow your own pumpkins to make your own yummy homemade treats, learning how to make a pumpkin patch in your garden is easy with these tips and instructions.
How to grow pumpkins: http://www.gardenersnet.com/vegetable/pumpkin.htm
Pumpkin patches – Site Selection and Preparation: http://www.pumpkinnook.com/howto/prepbed.htm
University of Illinois Extension: Pumpkins and more: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins/
Pumpkins © 2011 Heather Johnson