Thought to have originated in the Americas, the pumpkin is deeply entwined in American culture as both a food item and a sign of fall and harvest-season. A member of the Cucurbit family and technically a squash, you’ll hear people use the term “pumpkin” when referring to the orange, round variety of fruit used for making spooky jack-o-lanterns. Yes, you read that right! Pumpkins are a fruit, although they’re more frequently used in cooking as a vegetable and are thus often classified as one. The varieties of pumpkins available are seemingly endless with variations in size, color, taste, and purpose, so be sure to read up on your options before selecting which types to plant in your garden!
As its name would indicate, this variety of pumpkin can grow to exceptionally large sizes, often reaching at least 100 lbs and sometimes getting up to 200 lbs! These pumpkins are yellowish-orange in color and develop large, green leaves which help them produce their outstanding fruit. For maximum size, only permit one to two fruits to grow per plant as this will allow the plant to direct its resources and give the pumpkins more space to expand. These pumpkins are great for pies, freezing, and canning, and at 100 lbs or more, you’ll have more than enough of this fall beauty for sharing!
Seed Depth: 1/2–1″
Space Between Plants: 2–3 seeds every 18″, thin to 1 seedling every 3′ once plants begin to develop.
Space Between Rows: 4–6′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–95°F
Days for Germination: 7–10
Sow Indoors: 3–4 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: After any danger of frost has passed. Pumpkin seeds require relatively warm soil to germinate.
Vegetative: Can be cloned by burying part of the parent vine in soil. Water and fertilize the child vine and, after 7–10 days, cut away from the parent plant.
Grows best in warm weather when daytime temperatures are in the 70–80°F range. Pumpkin plants will not survive frosts, although the mature fruit will be fine if you wait to harvest until after the first light frost. Plants need a long growing season, so start indoors if your climate has less than 120 days of frost free weather.
Natural: Full sun but will tolerate partial shade in extreme heat.
Artificial: Fluorescent or HID lamps will help your seedlings get started.
Soil: Will grow in most soil types but prefers rich, loamy soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.6 will keep pumpkins healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Starts will do well in larger containers with a soilless potting mix of perlite, vermiculite, and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Pumpkins can thrive in hydroponic systems that can provide high amounts of water, like deep water culture or Dutch bucket systems. Use a sturdy growing media like clay pellets.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Increase watering as flowers and fruits start to grow. Drip systems are best to avoid wetting leaves.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. In the absence of a soil test, apply a fertilizer with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Unless your soil is particularly heavy in phosphorus, adding this element to your soil right before vines begin to bloom will help your plants thrive. Be aware of fertilizers that are nitrogen heavy, particularly after the pumpkins have begun to show, as they will cause the leaves to grow, sapping nutrients from the pumpkin itself.
Foliar: Foliar sprays can do wonders for pumpkins! Try a multi-mineral, seaweed, or fish emulsion spray. Again, be wary of using too much fish emulsion once the plants leaves have started to mature as it has a very high nitrogen content.
Pruning: To encourage growth in your pumpkin plants, trim off buds to limit the number of fruits that will grow. Leaving less buds will allow the plant to send more energy to the ones that remain.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Cucurbit family is recommended to reduce the risk of disease and pest issues.
Companions: Grows well with corn, squash, and various melons. Avoid growing with potatoes.
Harvest: Should be harvested before a hard frost when pumpkins have turned a deep orange color. Use shears or a knife to cut the vine at least an inch up, as pumpkins without stems will not keep for very long. Be aware of prickly stems and vines when harvesting as they can cause rashes.
Storage: Will keep best in a cool, dark, dry place. Give pumpkins plenty of space to allow for air flow, and place them on a board or piece of cardboard to help prevent rotting. You can usually keep well-cured pumpkins for up to 3 months. Once dried and roasted, seeds can be stored in an airtight container for several months.
Fun Fact: While not extremely common, there are Big Max Pumpkins on record that surpassed 300 lbs in weight. That’s a lot of pumpkin pies!
Preserve: Although pumpkins can be stored whole, they also can be frozen as a puree, pickled, or canned. As they are a low-acid vegetable, be sure to follow all canning and pickling recipes very carefully. Don’t toss the seeds either once you’ve scraped out your pumpkin! Highly nutritional, seeds can be roasted and kept in an air tight container as a healthy (and addicting) snack.
Prepare: Like other squash varieties, pumpkins are delicious roasted. To roast, cut off the top of the pumpkin and remove seeds and stringy pieces of flesh. As Big Max pumpkins are quite large, you will need to cut your pumpkin into smaller pieces using a sharp knife or hand saw. Take care when cutting as the skins are very thick and can be difficult to get through! Place pieces face down in a baking dish with 1/4″ of water in the bottom and roast at 350°F for 45–50 minutes, noting that larger pieces will need to be roasted longer. To puree your pumpkin, either steam or roast the flesh, wait for it to cool, and throw into a food processor.
Nutritional: Extremely high in vitamin(s) A, C, tryptophan, and fiber, pumpkins are as tasty as they are healthy! Their seeds also contain healthy fatty acids as well as phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc.
Medicinal: Pumpkin has been cultivated for a variety of medicinal uses. Seeds contain chemicals that have been shown to be anti-parasitic, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Leaves and rind have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The high amounts of beta-carotene found in the orange flesh makes the pumpkin a powerful antioxidant which may offer protection against developing some types of cancer, asthma, heart disease, and slow the effects of aging.
Try this hearty and heart warming Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry as either a side or main course at your next dinner! We suggest doubling the batch and freezing some for a later date.