Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are all part of a family of plants known as Cucurbitaceae. These warmth-loving plants often grow to huge lengths, with vines growing 20 feet or more throughout the season. While pumpkins are often seen as a 'fall' vegetable, it can take from 90-120 days until the plants produced their final crops, so planting often takes place in the late spring and early summer throughout New England. To produce good pumpkins the plants also require well drained and fertile soil, so in addition to making sure you have enough space, pumpkin growers need to be sure to start with soil enriched with compost and other nutrients.
Once an appropriate space is found, pumpkins can be planted from seeds as soon as the weather is consistently over 70 degrees and the threat of frost has passed. If possible, pumpkins are generally planted from seeds because they often do not transplant very well if started indoors. Planting the seeds in mounds or hills is not required as many people believe, but allowing adequate space between plants is important. After planting the pumpkins will sprout in 7-10 days and begin their journey.
The vines and leaves will continue to grow until each plant is ready to produce flowers, and the vines help to support the growing plant, so they should not be cut. Individual plants will create both male and female flowers, but only the female flowers will ultimately produce pumpkins once they are fertilized. Bees are essential in the pumpkins' fertilization process, and once the female flowers are fertilized your pumpkins will begin to grow.
Pumpkins will continue to develop until the vines whither and die back, or until the first frost. At that time, pumpkins that are ripe can be removed from the vines and can often be stored from weeks to months for use throughout the winter. Although pumpkin pie is the foremost pumpkin dish many people think of at Thanksgiving, pumpkins can also be used in stews, soups, and other desserts as well.
Gardeners who are interested in growing their own pumpkins for food should do some research into varieties of pumpkins and the needs of the plants before starting. There are many varieties of pumpkins to choose from, depending if you are planning to use them for jack o'lanterns, cooking, decorating, or even for growing to championship size. Reading about the different characteristics of each variety will help you choose what to plant. Also, there are several pests and diseases that can impact pumpkin plants, and understanding what challenges to look for can keep your pumpkins healthy and productive in your yard.
We often forget that the pumpkin pie we serve at Thanksgiving actually had its start many months before as a seed was placed in the ground in a pumpkin field. It takes dedication and persistence, but you can plan ahead and grow your very own pumpkins for next year's holiday feast!
To learn more about growing pumpkins visit the Old Farmers Almanac's How to Plant Pumpkins page for tips on backyard pumpkin growing or visit any organic seed company for more information. We hope you try to grown your own pumpkins for pie next year!