Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata)
Pumpkins aren't only for Halloween carving, they are a very tasty and useful vegetable. They can be stored for months for use over the winter and are delicious when roasted or made into a hearty, warming pumpkin soup or, of course, pumpkin pie.
How to grow pumpkins
Pumpkins need a sheltered position in full sun and a fertile soil that holds plenty of moisture.
They are large, spreading plants, so need plenty of room, spacing them up to 1.2m (4ft) apart. Some more compact varieties are available.
For best results, they can be grown in planting pockets. Roughly 2 to 3 weeks before sowing seed or planting out, dig a hole 30cm (12in) square and deep and fill with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil. Leave a low mound at the top and sprinkle a general feed over the soil.
The following varieties will produce good sized fruit: Atlantic Giant, Hundred Weight, Mammoth.
For the best results, sow the seeds indoors from mid- to late April 13mm (1/2in) deep individually in 7.5-9cm (3-31/2in) pots of seed sowing compost. Place the pots in a propagator or other warm place at 18-21C (65-70F). Harden off the young plants for 7-10 days before planting outside in late May/early June after the fear of frosts has passed.
Outside, sow 2 or 3 seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep in the planting pocket in late May or early June and cover with a cloche or jam jar. Thin the young seedlings to leave just the strongest one.
How to care for pumpkins
As the young plants are susceptible to frost and cold weather, cover them with fleece or a cloche if the weather turns cold.
Keep the soil constantly moist by watering the soil around the plants - not over them - whenever needed. Once the first fruit starts to swell, feed every 10-14 days with a high potash liquid feed.
Pinch out the tips of the main shoots of trailing varieties when they are 60cm (2ft) long or once 3 fruit have set.
The fruit should be supported off the soil on a piece of wood or a tile to keep them clean, prevent them rotting and help them ripen properly.
Allow the pumpkins to mature on the plant until autumn, but remove them before the first frost strikes.
Pumpkins may be susceptible to the following problems.
- Lack of fruit set
- Young fruit rotting
Up to 45cm (18in)
Up to 3m (10ft)
Time to ultimate height
Moist but well-drained