Growing your own pumpkins is fun and easy -- if you have enough space in your garden -- and the uses are endless: the roasted seeds are a delicacy, the flavorful meat is good baked by itself or in soups and pies, and it's even possible to make melon-flavored wine from pumpkin (roast chunks of pumpkin first to caramelize the sugars, then start fermentation). Pumpkins can be used to feed some livestock too. And of course, they are a must for jack-o-lanterns. Pumpkin seeds can be passed down for generations. That's a good thing, since seeds for many popular pumpkin varieties tend to sell out quickly.
Keep in mind that there's a tremendous range of pumpkin varieties -- big, small, orange, white, round, flat. This year was my first try at growing pumpkins, and they turned out beautifully; a farmer friend gave me seeds for a "sweetmeat" heirloom variety that resembles the tawny Wildwood pumpkin available from Sow True Seed.
Here are some tips for success with pumpkins:
- Pumpkins are basically squash and can cross-pollinate way too easily. So plant pumpkins in their own corner of the garden, well away from other squashes.
- Pumpkins need warm soil, so plant seeds directly in the ground at the start of summer, say in June. Or start seeds indoors to transplant in early summer. They germinate fast.
- Pumpkins need a lot of space for the long stems to roam, so plan accordingly. The soil should be rich in nutrients and well worked for drainage; some gardeners plant pumpkins in hills. Pumpkins like a lot of water as they mature.
- To save seeds for another season, choose the biggest and best specimens and use those seeds. Rinse the seeds free from "glop," air-dry them completely, and store in a cool, dry place in an envelope.
- For best storage, harvest from the vine in the fall, leaving a few inches of stem. Wipe them free of dirt, and store in very dry and cool conditions. Don't leave them out in a damp garden too long, or they may rot. Properly stored, a ripe pumpkin has a shelf life of nearly a year!
Pound for pound, pumpkins are among the best bargains for thrifty gardeners.
Sow True Seed blogger Nan Chase is the author of Eat Your Yard! and co-author of Drink the Harvest.