Nothing says “Winter” to me more than a delicious pot of spiced pumpkin soup simmering on the stove! If you want to be stirring a pot of soup this winter or enjoying some roasted pumpkin on a Sunday, now is a great time to get those seeds in the ground!
Choose a Variety
Pumpkins come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours. Two of the most popular varieties are butternut which has deep orange flesh and a small to medium peanut type shape and Queensland Blue, with its greyish coloured skin. There are plenty of options and often it comes down to what you want to make in the kitchen as to what will be best to grow.
Where to Plant
Allow lots of room as pumpkins are a trailing plant that love to take over. Find a sunny position and allow space for the vine to spread! Trellising is also a good idea if you have limited space. Keep in mind that the pumpkins may need support when they are hanging off the ground – if you have several growing at the same time the fence or trellis needs to be strong enough to support their weight!
Pumpkin seeds will not germinate when the soil is cold, so they need to be planted when any chance of frost has past (soil temperature between 20 and 32 degrees Celsius). Late Spring, Early Summer is good timing for an Autumn harvest.
TIP: Dig in some composted poultry manure into the soil when planting as Pumpkins love soils with plenty of compost. Super Booster Pellets are ideal.
When preparing an area to plant, keep in mind that the vine will spread out from one spot. Prepare and make small mounds at 2m intervals rather than digging up and preparing the whole garden bed.
After you have made some mounds, sow the seed directly into the soil at the rate of a 4-6 seeds per mound. Seedlings will take around a week to emerge.
Once you have planted your seeds, keep them damp or moist, but not too wet. Once the seedlings have emerged and throughout the growing season, regular watering is ideal. Early morning watering is the best time as this allows the plants to dry out during the day, making them less susceptible to disease. It is best not to wet the leaves as this encourages powdery mildew.
TIP: Pumpkins need water to grow their big, tasty fruit, but infrequent deep watering is the most beneficial, keeping away from the leaves.
Mulch will help the plants retain moisture in the heat of summer and protect the vine and pumpkins from soil borne disease and fungal problems.
Pumpkins benefit from a composted manure based fertiliser incorporated into the soil before planting. If planted in soil that is poor, a top up fertilise with more Super Growth or Super Booster at the 8 week mark will be of benefit.
Regular application of a seaweed concentrate every 10-14 days is also recommended for overall plant health and to help protect against pest and disease pressure. Neptune Liquid Seaweed can be applied to the soil and foliage.
Super Growth Liquid which contains fish emulsion and a range of micronutrients applied every couple weeks will also help the pumpkins grow large and tasty.
TIP: Composted poultry manure is full of live beneficial microbes and rich in plant available, slow release nutrients.
Pumpkins are pollinated by bees, which usually occurs naturally and easily. If you are not getting fruit, you may need to pollinate by hand. This involves taking the male flower (pollen covered stamens in the centre) and wiping on the inside of the female flower (slight swelling at the base).
Generally, pumpkins are ready for harvesting within 15-20 weeks of planting. When the plant starts to die back and the stalks are dry, you can cut off the pumpkin leaving a small section of stalk attached. Let the skin harden in the sun and then store in a cool spot. Some varieties can store for months.
Minimising Pests & Disease
Seaweed contains natural growth stimulants, which make the plant stronger and less prone to disease. A liquid seaweed like Katek Neptune is used to help defend plants from diseases like powdery mildew and help increase yield at the same time.
Andrew with some prize winning giant pumpkins grown using Katek Fertilizers.
Some of the large varieties of pumpkins can be great fun to grow, especially if you want to enter them in your local show! Some varieties, like ‘Atlantic Giant’ can weigh over 600kgs!
Many giant pumpkin growers say the secret is good composted manure in the soil to begin with and then fish and seaweed fertilisers in liquid form applied foliar and to the roots.
Giant pumpkins take about 5 months to grow, with the fruit taking around 60 days to reach maturity.
TIP: Good composted manure in the soil and a regular foliar fertiliser will get those pumpkins growing bigger by the minute!