With the advent of the warm weather, it’s time to start warm weather crops, like beans, corn, tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, peppers, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, squash and pumpkins.
With the exception of beans and corn, all the other warm weather crops listed above are in one of two plant families. Tomatoes, chillies, capsicums and peppers belong to the Solanaceae family, which also includes potatoes and tobacco. The rest of the list above, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, squash and pumpkins, belong to the family Cucurbitaceae.
Because they belong to the same family, a lot of what is said here about pumpkins, can also be applied to their relations, particularly the squash and zucchinis. There are, of course, many types of pumpkins: different shapes, sizes, skin and/or flesh colours, texture and taste.
Pumpkins with thick, hard flesh, like ‘Queensland Blue’ store longer than those with soft skins, like ‘Butternut’. The storage time depends on the pumpkin being without flaws or blemishes, the stem being intact and at least 10cm long, how mature the pumpkin was when harvested, how cool and airy the storage location is, and whether rats, mice or other vermin can gain access to the stored fruit. Ideally, the fruit should not be harvested for storage until the stem has completed dried and started to wither.
HOW TO GROW PUMPKINS
The simplest way to grow pumpkin is to let them grow in your compost heap. They will love the rich, nutritious environment. But, if you don’t have a compost heap, what can you do?
First, and probably most important, is to decide where you want to grow your pumpkin. We sowed a JAP pumpkin, late in the season, on
1 January 2020; it grew right up until the severe cold of August. It was fifteen metres from the planting location to the growing tip before we decided it had to stop and put its energy into fruit not leaves! That pale coloured leaf on the bottom left of the photo is near the base of the plant and is suffering with old age, not disease!
If you don’t have that kind of space, or don’t wish to give that much space to growing a single pumpkin vine, you can train them to grow on a trellis, fence, arch, shed or the chicken coop – even over up a tree. We have started them at the top of the retaining wall and let them grow down from there.
Start your pumpkin by sowing directly where you want it grow. Sow two seeds on a small mound made of compost – pumpkins are hungry plants and like a rich, moist soil.
If your preferred planting location is not yet ready, you can sow a single seed into a rich potting mix in two or three cardboard tubes (the inside of the toilet roll). Keep it well watered, soil in cardboard tends to dry out very quickly, especially in windy weather. Plant the seedling sooner rather than later, especially if roots are coming out of the bottom of the tube, which could happen in a few days! Open the folded bottom of the tube, tear away the damp cardboard and plant – trying not to disturb the roots too much. You could plant it still in the cardboard tube, if wish, just make sure you open the bottom to let those roots have easier access to the soil.
If possible, water the plant in the mornings; a wet plant overnight may be susceptible to fungal attack. Your plant may look droopy in the middle of the day but should recover once the sun goes off it in the evening. If not, give it a drink right at the base of the plant, not on the leaves, and water it again in the morning if the weather is forecast to be warm.
The first flowers to appear on your pumpkin vine will all be male (like this one, being visited by tiny insects collecting pollen); be patient, the female flowers will appear in due course. If there is an abundance of male flowers, you could eat them, just as you could eat the cooked leaves of the vine. How to tell the difference: the female flowers have a swollen base, where the pumpkin will develop if the flower is pollinated.
Harvest time varies with each pumpkin variety but don’t be in a hurry; you really won’t be harvesting most mature pumpkins until mid to late autumn.
FUN FINAL FACT
The name “Jap” pumpkin is not racist, it has nothing to do with Japan. It originates with the grower who is alleged to have called it, “Just Another Pumpkin”. It was, like many longer names still are, shortened to “Jap” for convenience.
Those in the know say that “Jap” is not the same variety as “Kent” but the two are used interchangeably here in Sydney.
DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a small amount and wait a day or two before eating more.