How to Grow Pumpkins

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Pumpkins are one of the most farmed and harvested plants in the southern region of the US, as well as the oldest domestic plant (they were used 7000 or 5000 years B.C), however, the principal reason to farm pumpkins, is for the different events, special days or recreational activities that take place in the US like the pumpkin pie cooked in the Thanksgiving day or selling it for eating contest. The year in which the largest pumpkin production has been achieved in the 21st century was in 2017 with a great amount of 27 tonnes, the country with the highest harvested ratio was China with a 29% of that number, in second place was the US with 24%. Although a large number of pumpkins have been produced, it doesn’t mean that the growth process is easy, you’re going to need some help to cultivate pumpkins, so let’s get started with how to grow pumpkins and what kind of materials and space you’ll need.

Requirements and specific materials necessary for the process:

Pumpkins requires a lot of space to avoid any problems with the vines that will come out in the future (They’re going to be 8 feet large or even more so keep that in mind), also, a lot of pumpkin seeds will be necessary for the cultivation process (for regular pumpkin is recommended to use 4 or 5 seeds and for miniature pumpkins you’ll only need 2 or 3) and last but not least, you’ll need planification and dedication. If you don’t have any idea of what day you have to add water or take care of the plants, then the process will end in a big failure, but fear not, you only have to keep up your motivation and dedication to see excellent results.

These are the only things that you are going to use or need, all of them are cheap and easy to get, but the “hard” thing is the manual process that is required with this type of crop. Before planting the seeds on the ground, you have to know when and how to do it and what’s the most reliable soil to cultivate the pumpkins in.

How to know if your soil has all the necessary nutrients:

Pumpkins need a great amount of nutrients for their growing process (like some other types of squash) If you want to know the exact nutrients and pH that your soil has then is recommended to buy a soil nutrient test in the stores, however, the cheapest ones are not very acurated and only test a few nutrients, to have the perfect information about your soil then buy the soil test that are made in the laboratories (to order one you have to consult with a Master Gardener Helpline and they will find one for you) The perfect date to perform this test in fall season.

To get the sample of your soil you’ll get some instructions that are described in the soil test, follow the steps one by one and once you’re finished, send the sample back to the laboratory where they can obtain the results, when they have the exact answer, they’ll communicate with you what kind of missing nutrients your soil needs.

The most recommended characteristics of the soil for pumpkin plantation are having a pH of 5.6 or 6.8 with a fertile and well drained space. If your soil doesn’t have the necessary pH then the soil test will tell you what you’re going to add for making the perfect plantation zone for spring (if you’re doing all of this in fall).

This is easily the most important part of all the process, if you start cultivating without knowing the nutrients of your soil the pumpkins are not going to end well because they’re not going to be able to consume the necessary pH, also make sure that the spot where you’ll be putting your pumpkins has access to the sunlight at least for 10 or 12 hours of the day.

When is recommended to start cultivating the seeds:

Pumpkins are going to need some heat to germinate and grow up, as well as an extensive growing season (around 70 and 100 days). If by any chance you’re living in the north region of the US (where the growing season is much shorter) then it’s recommended to plant the pumpkin seeds indoors, preferably in a pot that has the possibility of planting it later on your garden when the soil is totally warmed up (the peat pots are the most used for this) The next step is vital in the process, you have to plant your seed 2 or 4 weeks before the last frost day, then plant them deep in the pot that you selected and wait for the germination (It should be done in less than a week but it can take a little longer).

However, if you want to plant the pumpkin seeds directly in your garden then you have to wait 2 weeks before your last frost day, then wait for the selected soil to have a temperature of 65F or 70F to put the seeds on the ground, you have to know that the germination process can’t be done in cold soil. If your follow the instructions then the germination will occur also in less than a week.

The soil is prepared and the seeds are already germinated so finally it’s time to learn how to plant the seeds on the ground to have a perfect distribution for the water and the sunlight.

How to plant the seeds with a perfect distribution:

The seeds have to be planted in the mounds of your garden to avoid any drainage problem (this is very important because pumpkins shouldn’t have water in the bottom) so, basically the mounds will be acting like a bed, also, you have to keep in mind that the selected soil will get warm faster than the surrounding one allowing the water to drain faster so the roots will never be waterlogged.

Once you’re finished with the mounds, then it’s time to plant the seeds, you have to put them 1 inch deep on the ground, if you want the pumpkins with a regular size then you have to use 5 seeds and spacing the mounds in 5 feet apart to avoid any contact problem, on the other hand, for the miniature size ones you’ll only use 2 seeds and leave a distance of 2 feet away from the mounds.

Let the time act on it’s own, and when the seeds have developed the first set of leaves, use a scissor to thin the 3 best plants and cut the stems that are near the soil to avoid future problems with the roots of the plants that you are keeping. For everyone that you love, don’t pull the stems with your empty hands, because, you will cause irreparable damage to the plant and it will be a mess.

This is how your do it if your planted the seeds directly on the ground, however, for the ones who used the peat pots to germinate the seeds, you have to sow 3 or 4 of them using scissors (the seeds will not be taken out of the peat pot), then when the 2 best plants manage to develop the first set of leaves, thin them with the same scissor and the remaining plants can be transplanted with no extra problems in your garden after two weeks of your last frost date.

And that’s all the process of cultivation, but, you’ll need some tips to take care of your pumpkins while they’re growing up to achieve an unbeatable harvest season.

Taking care of the pumpkin transplants:

The spring season is going to be a real challenge for those who doesn’t know about the problems that they’re going to affront, but fear not, if you follow the recommendations of the experts then you’ll have no problem.

The first problem is the cool weather that takes places in spring, because, it can make serious damage to the pumpkins and affect the growing process, so, protecting the young plants is something necessary, you can do this using a floating row cover (if you’re skilled enough, then you can make one with homemade materials) to avoid the cool weather to touch the plants, also, this cover will prevent the attack of different insects who want to access to your pumpkins. You have to keep the seedlings covered for 6 weeks or until the plants start to develop flowers.

Once the flowers develop to appear, you’ll have to make some measures with the plant to help the bees with the pollination.

How to help with the pollination process:

Pumpkins like other plants have male and female flowers, but these flowers depend on the pollen that the bees produces. When the vines of the plantation start to develop flowers, you have to remove the row covers so that the bees can access to the flowers without any problem to start the pollination on them.

The male flowers are the first ones who are going to appear on the vines, with this, the bees are going to get attracted to your garden and start producing pollen everyday for your pumpkins. Then, in the next 2 weeks the female flowers are going to appear (the difference between the male/female flowers is that the female has one tiny pumpkin at the base of the flower) The bees shows even more interest when the female flower are developed and they will start a process where the pollen that are produced in the male get trespassed to the female and with that, the flowers will continue to grow up.

Certainly, the bees are strictly necessary for pumpkin growth, however, there are some insects that are not necessary, because they will kill your plant, so to avoid that, it is recommended to follow some instructions to make your plantation 100% secure for any outsider insect that want to mess with it.

The prevention of insects that want to damage your plantation:

Cucumber beetles or squash bugs are known for causing a lot of problems with almost every squash type, you can protect your plantation with the floating row cover in springs season, but, once the spring is over, you have to use insecticides after the covers are removed. The only time when you have to treat the vines is in the afternoon or in the evening when the flowers are closed, this is for the simple motive that the insecticides can’t see which insects are good for the growing process (like the bees) or the ones that produces serious damage to the plant (Cucumber beetles and bugs). If you don’t follow this instruction then you’re going to end killing the bees and mess up the plant, on the other hand, if you make sure to apply the insecticide when it’s the correct time, then in the next day the bees can continue with the pollination because the effect of the chemic have disappeared.

How to fight with the weeds that attack the pumpkin:

Pumpkins need all the nutrients that the soil has to offer, but, the weeds are a serious problem because they compete with the vines to see who manages to get all the nutrients and water. So, you have to weed carefully the pumpkin, if you mess with the roots of the plant then it will be fatal for the final product.

How much water pumpkins needs:

The minimal amount of water that pumpkins need is 1 inch for week, but it’s recommended to apply a little more to get the soil well warmed up. Never apply the water from above of the vines, because this will end in powdery mildew infectation on all the leaves and it will end up killing all of them (this is fungus that is very annoying to deal with it, so it’s better to prevent it) it’s better and more safe apply the water in the base of each vine.

That’s it, the only remaining thing is to learn how to harvest and store the pumpkins.

To do that, it’s necessary to put a board under the pumpkin until it’s completely ripped from the wet soil that can damage the final product, you will now that they’re completely ripped when they have an orange color. Then, press your finger to see if the skin is hard enough. To harvest it, you have to make a cut in the stem to separate it from the vine, after that, the pumpkins need to be left in a place where the sunlight reach them (for about 1 week) and then, you can store them in basement or room that maintains a temperature of 55F.

So that is, I hope that you can start cultivating your pumpkins in the next growing season, if you follow all the steps that were explained in this article then you will not have any problem, good luck!

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