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The Joy of Growing Pumpkins

  • 4 min read

Have you ever considered growing pumpkins from seed? If you’ve got the space, I highly recommend the experience. It may change your outlook on gardening forever. At least, it did for me.

Pumpkin seed collection of 4 varieties of heirloom pumpkins to grow

One of my fondest childhood memories is watching our compost pile transform into a mound of pumpkin vines. One of the small ornamental pumpkins that had been thrown in the pile after harvest season sprouted, becoming a huge tangle of vines that frustrated my father and took over the garden. What he soon realized was that simple garden mishap had finally ignited the love of gardening he’d been trying to spark in me for years, so he left it alone for my sake. All of the long hot days spent spreading manure, weeding beans, picking itchy okra, and watering annoying tomato and pepper plants were suddenly worth it, because I could keep an eye on this monstrous vine that was bigger every day, with its perfect curling tendrils grabbing onto everything in its path. Once it began flowering and producing its own little pumpkins, I was in heaven.

Daddy let me have my pumpkins that year, but he never let me intentionally buy seeds for pumpkins. Now that I’m grown with my own small gardening space, I understand why he didn’t love that innocent pumpkin vine as much as I did, and I appreciate that he let the vine get as big and as wild as it did. We just didn’t have the room, and that small vine didn’t produce much in the way of food. It also took over our compost pile and a fair segment of our back garden, making it unusable for the whole year.

Planting Seeds for Pumpkins

My story illustrates just how easy it is to grow pumpkins – at least in rich, organic soil. That’s why they sprout in compost piles so often. You can start them indoors if your growing season is short, but they do best when they’re sown directly in the soil once the soil is warm. Make sure that you’ve spaced the hills far enough apart for your chosen variety to spread out and thrive. Once the pumpkin seeds have sprouted, thin them, leaving two or three strong seedlings to grow per hill. Keep the pumpkins well watered so that fruits can develop.

Growing & Harvesting Pumpkins

Giant pumpkin

If you’re growing pumpkins for size, you’ll have to be ruthless and remove all the blossoms but one – maybe two – per vine. This way, you’ll force the plant to concentrate its energy into that one pumpkin, making it a big one. To protect the fruit from rot and make harvest easier, you can put some canvas or cloth underneath the pumpkins while they’re still manageably sized.

Pumpkins are ready to harvest once their color is even and they’ve got a hard exterior. Pumpkins will be fine left in the garden even after their vines are killed by frost. That’s why You-Pick farms can get away with leaving the pumpkins in the field for families to harvest – the foliage has died back, so it’s safe to turn kids loose to find the perfect pumpkin for carving without worrying about what their little hands might find hiding underneath the leaves.

Pumpkin Pies & More

I’m still in love with pumpkins, and today I eat them so much more than I ever did as a child. As a veggie, its unique flavor is just barely sweet, which means it is easy to adapt to all sorts of recipes – soups, sauces, baking – and working equally well in spicy, salty or sweet recipes. As a child, pumpkin pies never used to impress me, probably because they usually were made from canned pumpkin pie mix and premade pie crust. Every Thanksgiving, I use a beloved family pumpkin pie recipe that I personally adapted over the years to suit my family’s taste and our personal eating preferences. It’s always lovingly made from scratch as an ode to one of my favorite vegetables.

We also love to roast pumpkin seeds. Some varieties have fairly woody seeds that take a little bit of practice to get just right. If you are looking for a perfect seed pumpkin, Lady Godiva pumpkins are named for their wonderful naked pumpkin seeds that are perfect for roasting into pepitas.

Choosing Pumpkin Seeds for Growing

pumpkin vines growing in a compost pile

If I ever have the space to grow pumpkins again, I’ll choose more practical varieties that I can use for both seeds and flesh. My favorite cooking pumpkin is probably the Blue Jarrahdale, which has a deliciously sweet flavor, perfect for baking, soups, and pies. I’m also partial to the contrast between the dark thick rind and its vibrant orange flesh, and I appreciate how long it lasts in storage – well after harvest season is over and the fall decorations are put away. Fairy Tale pumpkins are also incredibly delicious and long-lasting.

I adore the beauty and dramatic nature of pumpkin vines and the wide range of pumpkins they can produce. If I had a lot of room, I’d gladly grow monstrous Atlantic Giant pumpkins and even ordinary Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins from seed. I’d probably grow those “useless” baby ornamental pumpkins again, too, just for old times’ sake. I don’t think you can go wrong, no matter which pumpkin seeds you choose to grow.

Pumpkin pie and fresh pumpkins

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