In Praise of Pumpkins!

by Beverly Henke – Garden Shop Manager

What does the word pumpkin bring to your mind? I think of holidays, and pie, and of my own somewhat pitiful, but very sincere and prolific pumpkin patch. I think of all the pumpkins I’ve carved, both as a child, and with my own children and the memories that were created from those fun pumpkin moments. I saw a PBS special once on people who can best be described as obsessed with growing the biggest pumpkin in the history of the world. They cover their monstrous pumpkins with blankets and sleep with them at night, to make sure nothing bad happens, and I can’t leave out; “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!”

I discovered years ago, much to my delight, that cucurbits, (pumpkins, other squash and melons) actually love our alkaline soil here in Fort Collins. I don’t believe everything I read or am told, I have to test things out for myself. So naturally I had to plant some New England pie pumpkins, to see if it was true. It is! My first attempt yielded more than two dozen from a total of two plantings with 2 vines in each planting. I ended up with more than sixteen quarts of delicious pumpkin puree. That created a problem with how to use it. I had basically only thought of pumpkin as something to make pies or pumpkin bread from. I now know you can make; scones, pancakes, granola, cookies, and even curry with it. Oh, and my dog LOVES it! He had a near death experience and spoonfuls of pumpkin were how I got him to take his pills.

To grow pumpkins you need to have some compost amended soil, pumpkins don’t like cool ground, so I start them indoors in big peat pots. I also put a big square of black landscape fabric down where they will be planted for a couple weeks before I plant them. This helps warm up the soil. I don’t bother planting them in hills; that is only necessary where there is a lot of rain. They need regular watering and I step up the watering when the squash start to form. You can make “compost tea” by soaking a shovelful of compost in a 5 gallon bucket for a week. Use it to water and feed your pumpkins every now and then. In late summer you will get powdery mildew on the leaves of the vines (it makes them look silvery white), don’t worry about it. This is just a sign that summer is near an end. Start removing any new pumpkins that are trying to form, this will send the plants energy into making the ones that are already growing, bigger. When it starts to cool off water less and let the vines die. Do not remove the pumpkins until the vines are looking pretty bad and the shell is too hard to dent with a fingernail. Cut them off the vine with pruners, leave the stem on to prevent rotting. Take them in the house and let them “ripen” for a couple weeks.

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