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The Secrets to Growing Big Healthy Pumpkins
Growing your own pumpkins is really good fun. Watching the vines grow, the flowers bloom and the pumpkins form is really exciting. They require 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day, rich soil improved with compost and plenty of space or something to climb on. They are very easy to grow and can pop out of your compost, without any help from you. The variety, well who knows, it depends on what you bought at the supermarket and what seeds went into the compost pile. They have some quirky features and it can be very frustrating when the vine is very healthy and you only get male flowers. It can also be very devastating if you think you will find a pumpkin to find it has been dropped. Why do you ask yourself, what happened, what did I do wrong? My answer is – probably nothing. Pumpkins are notorious for not producing fruit.
Pumpkin belongs to the genus Cucurbita and family Cucurbitaceae which includes zucchini, watermelon, rock melon, squash, cucumber and gourd. The word pumpkin comes from the word “pepon” which is Greek for “big melon” It is classified as a vine and needs a lot of space to grow. Pumpkins are monoecious which means there are both male and female flowers on the same plant, so you only need one plant to produce fruit.
Prepare the ground
Pumpkins like a soil pH between 6 and 7.2. If your soil is on the acid side then I suggest you add some gardening lime and if it is on the high side – alkaline – then you can reduce it by applying sulfur. To prepare the soil for pumpkins, I suggest you incorporate lots of compost and cow or sheep manure. A good handful of blood and bones plus potassium will be beneficial. Pumpkins are an annual crop and need rich organic soil, so they can grow quickly and produce fruit before the cold of winter sets in. a good quality loam. This will lift the roots above the clay and poor drainage.
Site your pumpkin
Pumpkins need a lot of space and can crowd out other plants if left unchecked. Now if you have a small garden and you don’t want to be invaded by the trifid plants then I suggest growing them next to a fence or shed or put in some mesh and training the tendrils up that. The good point about the tides is that it gets the fruit on the ground away from pests like slugs and snails and diseases like mildew. If space is not a problem, then just let them wander. You will find you have a floating sea of large pumpkin leaves enveloping your garden. If they get into any trouble, just cut them back, it won’t hurt them!
Propagation of pumpkins
The best time to plant pumpkin seeds is in spring, when the soil and air temperatures are warming. If they are started in the vegetable patch, the soil temperature must be at least 20C for germination and the air temperature 22C. You can start them in pots in a warm house if you like, but the garden soil still needs more than 20C when you plant them outside. They do not like cold or frost.
When you plant the seed directly in the garden, make a mound about 1/2 meter wide and plant 3-4 seeds about 4-5cm deep. Depending on the heat of the soil, they should sprout in about 7-10 days. When the seedlings have between 4-6 leaves, pinch off the weakest plants, leaving the strongest ones. If you don’t pinch out the weak ones, the mountain will be crowded and none of the pumpkins will sprout. If you don’t want to neglect them, replant them elsewhere in the veggie patch.
Pumpkins are grown in summer, needing between 70-120 days before they are ready to harvest and this is usually in early to mid fall. Pumpkins do not like scorching temperatures and will close and stop growing. They have deep roots and wilt easily and therefore it is important to prepare the soil with plenty of compost and animal manure to help increase the water holding capacity of the soil. If the soil retains its water, then it is available to the plant to replace the moisture it is losing in its leaves. Pumpkins do not like to be stressed in water and do not like flood and starvation watering regimes. It can cause them to split. They like good watering even and the best time is in the morning. If you water at night and the leaves get wet, powdery mildew can set in. Pumpkins do not like wind and need to be protected from it. Heat and strong winds can cause woodiness that makes the pumpkin very unpleasant to eat. It is also thought that too much wind can cause scarring on the body.
The vine takes about 10 weeks before it begins to produce the first flowers and males. They are on long thin stems (called pedicels) and there are more of them than females. If you poke inside the male flower you will find a long thin structure called stamen that produces the pollen. Female flowers have a shorter pedicel and sit closer to the vine. If you poke inside the female flower you will see the stigma which is where the pollen is received. The ovary is at the base of the petals and is where the seeds develop.
Fermentation of the ovary
The flowers open only for 1 day; just before dawn, flower petals begin to unfold and open for a period of 4 hours. In the middle of the day they begin to close slowly and at dusk they close permanently. Pumpkins are pollinated by insects, especially native and honey bees, so it’s important to encourage them into your garden. It is common for the female flower ovary to swell and begin to look like a pumpkin is forming. But disaster, it turns brown and drops. This happens because it has not been fertilized due to lack of bees. There are several things you can do to encourage them:
- Do not use systemic sprays (poisons that are absorbed into the plant and can last for several weeks), because many of them kill the bees by feeding on the nectar of the flowers.
- French lavender plant Denatured lavenderit flowers almost all year round.
- Plant lots of Iceland poppies – honey bees adore them
- Give water to the bees, they will tell their friends and more bees will visit.
Now, if the weather has been either too hot or too cold and you notice there aren’t many bees buzzing around, you can try pollinating them yourself. There are 2 methods, but pollination using the male flower or using a toothbrush. To hand pollinate, pick male flowers, remove petals and tap the pollen onto the stigma of female flowers. I tried the tooth brush method once, where you gently brush the tooth on the stamen, then gently brush it on the stigma but it did not work. I suggest you try the first method.
To save the harvested pumpkin seeds, store it for a month, then the scope of the meat, wash it away and dry the seeds on paper towels. Then store them in a clean dry glass jar in a cool dry place away from sunlight. It is also a good idea to label the bottle with the variety of pumpkin and date. I guarantee if you don’t do this you will forget in a year time, what variety it is.
Pumpkins are notorious for cross pollinating each other so to ensure quality, save the seeds of a variety grown in isolation. You may need to hand pollinate it, to ensure that there is no pollen contamination.
Why is my pumpkin not producing fruit?
I mentioned earlier that pumkpins are notorious for not producing fruit and there are many reasons why.
- Pumpkins are weather and temperature sensitive. If it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy then you may not get fruit. I suggest you try fertilization but especially if the temperatures exceed 30C. Remember, if the weather is eliminated and the temperature drops a lot; Then many plants are closed, until the conditions become more suitable.
- It is thought that seeds that are less than 3 years old, produce more male flowers than female flowers.
- Lack of insects in your garden. Bees, ants and other insects are very important in the transfer process of pollen. If they are not present, the pollen will not be transferred to the female flower – so no pumpkin.
- Heavy rains can damage the pollen, which means that even if it is transferred by insects, it will not fertilize the flower and thus there will be no fruit.
- A trick to try to encourage more female flowers is to cut the apical (also called terminal) bud (top of growth) and encourage lateral (side) growth.
- Make sure that when you prepare the bed that you incorporate some potassium (encourages flowering) and you don’t put too much nitrogen for example. blood and bone, which causes excessive leaf growth.
Pests and Diseases
There are normal pests such as slugs and snails that attack the leaves. You can try to pick them by hand, especially after rain or use a snail trap in beer in a glass jar 1/2 sink in the ground. They crawl, they drink, they drown. There is also the dry finely crushed eggshell, which you put around each plant that they hate crawling on. There is a new skin product, which is a copper strip that you attach around the skin. There is also a spray to repel them but I have not tried it.
If you have problems with caterpillars, then I suggest you use an organic spray called Dipel which is the active ingredient. Bacillus thuringiensis. It will not harm you, your children, pets or other beneficial insects. Longlife pyrethrum is also good for sap sucking insects such as whiteflies and aphids, but also kills caterpillars.
About lady birds there is good and bad. The bad ones are known as 28 spots and they eat the leaves, so you need to look out for them and pick them off.
Pumpkin diseases are also more prone to powdery mildew and it can spread really quickly in hot humid conditions. To try and control this disease you can use cow’s milk, spray on the leaves every two weeks with a solution of 1 part of cow’s milk in 10 parts of water. Ladybirds are identified by the yellow and black bands and they eat the mold, so don’t kill them. I also recommend watering in the morning, no overhead watering but watering at ground level to prevent the spores from splashing onto the leaves.
Harvesting and storing
The best part of growing pumpkins is harvesting them. You watched them grow, feed them, no pests or diseases got them and then you think, I don’t know when to harvest them. Well it takes between 3-4 months, they should have a nice color, sound centered when you hit them and the skin should be hard and not show any indentation if you press your fingernails into them. It is really important that you cut them with at least 5-10cm of the stalk attached. This prevents mold from entering the pumpkin and helps prolong their storage life.
Choosing the right storage space is essential if you want to have pumpkins out of season. It needs to be well ventilated, no direct sunlight and cool. It also needs to be dry and not wet. The pumpkin also needs to be healthy, there is no break in the flesh and there should be no signs of mold. If there is, then eat it immediately, it will not store.
The final tip to help them grow healthy and strong is to feed them every fortnight with a potash drink and liquid manure. Can be cow, sheep manure or worm liquid.
For pumpkins to grow successfully, they need to have rich organic soil, in full sun, good weather and regular moisture. If you follow these simple guidelines and the weather is consistent neither too hot nor too cold, you will have beautiful healthy pumpkins that you will be able to store and eat and eat when it is not in season.
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