How to grow pumpkins
Nothing says Autumn more than a bowl of hot pumpkin soup, and it never tastes better than when you have made the soup from pumpkins you have grown yourself. Pumpkins are members of the squash family (Butternut and Spaghetti being two of the more popular squashes) and are known under the collective name of Cucurbita.
SOWING YOUR SEEDS
Pumpkins are grown from seed and can be started in a propagator on a windowsill or a single plant pot in a greenhouse or sown straight out into the ground.
If sowing your seeds in a propagator or using a greenhouse then you can do so anytime between April and June. Plant the seed on it’s side and cover with approximately 20mm of good quality compost and water. Germination should take between a week and ten days depending on the variety, during which time keep the compost moist. Continuing growing under cover until all risk of frost has passed and then plant out in a sunny but sheltered spot, leaving approximately three feet between each plant.
If sowing your pumpkin seeds directly outside (in a sunny but sheltered spot) beware that frost will kill tender seedlings so it would be best to leave until late May, early June to do this. Place two seeds per station roughly 25mm deep. When germination has occurred thin out to leave the strongest seedlings.
HOW TO TAKE CARE
Pumpkins need plenty of sun and plenty of water; once flowers have appeared and fruits have started to develop, thin the vines so that the plants energy and nutritional needs are concentrated on fruit development rather than surplus ground cover. Feed every two weeks with a high potash liquid fertiliser as soon as the first fruits begin to develop. As the fruits get bigger place a tile, piece of wood or a brick underneath them to safeguard against rotting. When watering take care not to water the leaves as this will reduce the risk of your pumpkin vines succumbing to mildew.
Pumpkin fruit should be ready to harvest 18-20 weeks after sowing, so if sowing direct into the ground they will be ready to harvest any time from late September. But a good test is to see if the shell has hardened, simply press with your finger and if there is no indentation it is ready to harvest. Stop watering between 7 and days days before your harvest and the fruit will store for longer. Cut the fruit leaving a long stalk and it can be stored for up to 6 months. Ensure all fruits are harvested before frosts begin.
Amazonka - a compact, semi-bush variety which is perfect for those with limited outdoor space.
Atlantic Giant - this is the big one as it can grow fruits that are over 300kg!
F1 Becky - lovely bright orange, medium-sized fruits which are perfect for cooking and for hollowing out at Halloween.
Hundredweight - delicious, giant pumpkins whose leaves can be cooked like spinach.
PESTS / DISEASES
Pumpkins may be susceptible to the following pests and diseases:
MAKE YOUR OWN EASY PUMPKIN SOUP
Pumpkins are high in Vitamins B1 and E and are perfect for soups and pies. This soup is easy to make and doesn’t require many additional ingredients.
2 chopped Onions
1kg roughly chopped Pumpkin (seeds and skin removed)
700ml Vegetable or Chicken Stock
150ml Milk or Double Cream.
Melt the butter and soften the onions in a large pan.
Add the pumpkin and cook over a medium - low heat until it turns a golden orange and softens (approx 10 minutes), making sure it doesn’t burn.
Add the stock and bring to the boil before simmering for a further 10-15 minutes, the pumpkin should be very soft by this time.
Add the milk or cream before bringing back to the boil, season to taste and then puree using a hand blender.
Serve with crusty brown bread and some toasted pumpkin seeds scattered over the top.
The soup can be cooled and frozen for up to 2 months.