Pumpkin: planting, caring for and harvesting

Hokkaido, butternut and co – pumpkins are currently very popular in beds and kitchens. With these tips, planting pumpkins will work by itself.

The cultivation of pumpkin (Cucurbita) is becoming increasingly popular in Germany. The exotic vegetables in all shapes and colors can be bought especially in autumn. The pumpkin originally comes from America and is one of the most diverse vegetables there is. In addition to their large fruits, the spreading pumpkin plants are also valued for their striking yellow flowers and pumpkin seeds. Even in our latitudes, planting pumpkins is child’s play with the right measures.

Planting pumpkin

Despite its exotic origin, the pumpkin cultivation is usually good here and high yields can be expected. To ensure that everything runs optimally, a few tips should be observed:

The ideal location

The pumpkin is a plant that requires a lot of space. Depending on the type and variety, the pumpkin plant spreads 1.5 to 2 square meters over the bed. Many varieties also tend to grow, such as the popular Hokkaido pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima). A climbing aid can be helpful for smaller pumpkin varieties. When planting, for example, a place near the garden fence is suitable, where the pumpkin plant can climb up. Larger pumpkins should stay on the ground because of their weight.

Pumpkins are extremely heat-loving plants. The location for the plant should therefore be sunny and sheltered from the wind. It is also important that the soil warms up early. Light to medium-heavy soils such as sandy loam with good water retention capacity and a high proportion of humus are therefore suitable. Acid soils do not offer good conditions for growth; the pH should be at least 6. When choosing the location, it is particularly important to observe the crop rotation: Pumpkin should never be planted in the same place directly after other cucurbitaceae. In addition to the pumpkin, the cucurbits also include zucchini, cucumber and even the melon. Potatoes, legumes (pulses) and cabbage, on the other hand, are good previous crops.

These tips should be kept in mind when choosing a location:

  • Lots of space (1.5-2 m2), ideally a place for tendrils
  • Sunny and sheltered location
  • Light to medium heavy soils (e.g. sandy loam / loamy sand)
  • High humus content and water retention capacity
  • No acidic soil (pH value> 6)
  • No cucurbits (Cucurbitaceae) as previous crops, instead potatoes, legumes or cabbage

If these tips are observed, the pumpkin cultivation is quite easy and the large-leaved plant can then be watched as it grows.

Pumpkin varieties – a huge variety

The variations in pumpkins are remarkable – there are now over 800 types of pumpkin known in the most varied of shapes, colors and flavors. However, the species cultivated in Europe are largely limited to three types: The giant pumpkins (Curcurbita maxima), which also includes the popular Hokkaido pumpkin, musk pumpkins (Curcurbita moschata), which also include the varieties Butternut and Muscat de Provence, and the garden pumpkins ( Cucurbita pepo). You can find a huge selection of pumpkins in our variety overview.

The following overview gives a small overview of the most popular varieties:

  • Uchiki Kuri: variety of the Hokkaido type with small onion-shaped fruits; smooth, bright orange skin; the orange-red pulp tastes deliciously like chestnuts.
  • Tiana: variety of butternut squash with a pear shape and a light yellow color; firm and tasty pulp; resistant to powdery mildew; definitely worth growing!
  • Muscat de Provence: particularly aromatic pumpkin; has round, deeply ribbed fruits with light orange / brownish skin; the firm flesh is bright orange in color and very tasty; The variety is also characterized by a long shelf life.
  • Vegetable Spaghetti: elongated oval fruits with a pale orange color and light flesh; Italian variety.
  • Atlantic Giant: giant squash; can achieve record weights (the breeder Dill won several records with this variety, e.g. European record 2009 with approx. 650 kilos); the yellow pulp of the light orange fruits is very tasty; good for canning.

Planting pumpkin

Pumpkin plants are relatively uncomplicated companions – at low temperatures they are still sensitive due to their warm origin. When growing pumpkins, there are two methods of planting:

  • Direct sowing: In direct sowing, the pumpkin seeds or seeds are only sown from mid-May after the last frosts of the ice saints have passed. Otherwise it becomes dangerous for the small plants below 5 ° C. Temperatures of 14 ° C and above are necessary for germination. The sowing depth is 2-4 cm. It is sown at a distance of 0.5-1.5 m and a row spacing of 1.5 m.
  • Preculture: A sensible alternative is the preculture in the pot. You can sow there as early as April so that the young plants can then also be planted in the bed from mid-May. When growing in a pot, one seed per pot should be set 2-4 cm deep. The ideal germination temperature is 20-24 ° C. As soon as the first one or two leaves (not the cotyledons) have formed and the ice saints are over, the plants are planted in the bed with the same spacing as with no-till.

Whether you prefer direct sowing or a preculture should depend on the location. Growing indoors is definitely worth it in cooler areas! In addition, an earlier harvest can be expected with this method. It is also worth covering the young pumpkin plants with fleece at the beginning to protect them from late frosts. This protection should only be covered in good time before the flowers develop so that pollination can occur.

Caring for the pumpkin plants

Overall, the care of the pumpkin is not very laborious. Nevertheless, some notes should be observed:

Water the pumpkin properly

It is important that the pumpkin plants are watered regularly. This is particularly important when it comes to fruit formation, otherwise the harvest will be less. When watering, the following applies: Always water directly on the ground and not over the leaves – otherwise there is a risk of rot. This can also occur with the fruits that lie directly on the ground. It is advisable to use a base such as to slide a board under it.

Fertilize the pumpkin properly

Since the pumpkin is heavy-consuming, regular fertilization makes sense. Before sowing or planting the young plants, the soil should be prepared with a primarily organic organic fertilizer such as our tomato fertilizer. The fertilizer is then applied one more time during the growing season.

The pumpkin plant grows quickly and its leaves are very large, so it is not easy for weeds. Before the sprawling plants almost completely cover the ground, the young plants still have to compete with weeds. Therefore, weeds should be removed regularly, especially at the beginning, so that the plant has enough light, nutrients and water to grow.

Cut and fade the pumpkin

A popular method in the care of pumpkin plants is pruning, i.e. removing new shoots. When growing pumpkins, the following applies: the more fruits grow, the smaller they become. It can therefore be worthwhile not to let all the fruits grow so that the rest get enough energy and nutrients. It is advisable to dry out the first time in June. To do this, shoots with more than 3 to 5 leaves above the second leaf are cut. In July, the cutting can be repeated again, but then above the fifth leaf. After all female flowers have been pollinated (these can be recognized by the fruit set), the male flowers should be removed. This also gives the plant more energy to produce fruit.

The following tips should be observed when caring for:

  • Water regularly
  • Do not wet the plant when watering to avoid rot
  • Work compost into the soil before planting out
  • Fertilization in the growth phase once a week with nitrogen-rich complete fertilizer (directly into the irrigation water)
  • Remove weeds regularly (especially with young plants)
  • Pruning shoots for larger fruits

Diseases and pests in the pumpkin

The weather usually has the greatest influence on the pumpkin yield. Severe damage is caused by hail, for example. Nevertheless, diseases and pests can make growing pumpkins in your own garden difficult. A particularly unpopular guest in the bed is the nudibranch, which, along with other vegetables, also likes to feast on pumpkin plants. They can be a problem, especially in wet springs. Collecting the small animals helps, but unfortunately the pests mostly come out at night to eat. However, you can protect yourself by sprinkling coffee grounds between the plants, as the snails avoid the powder.

Another danger to pumpkin plants comes from fungal infections. One problem can be powdery mildew, which can be recognized by a mealy-white coating on the leaf surface. Infection with the hose fungus Didymella bryoniae can also occur at very hot temperatures. The fungus causes the so-called stem burn, which is noticeable through brown leaf spots, necrosis and rubbery stems. These tips should be followed to prevent infection from the two types of fungus in the first place:

  • Avoid injuring the plant at all costs
  • Do not wet the leaves when watering
  • Do not overdose nitrogen fertilizers
  • Don’t keep the stock too dense

There is no one hundred percent protection for the pests and diseases mentioned. In the event of a fungal attack, the affected plants can be sprayed with a mixture of baking soda, vegetable oil and curd soap. At an advanced stage, especially with stem burn, the plant should be completely removed from the bed so that it does not spread further. If these tips are observed, the risk can be reduced and you can look forward to a decent pumpkin harvest.

Harvest and store the pumpkin

When summer draws to a close, pumpkin cultivation means harvest time. This means that the healthy vegetables can be used in time for Halloween and the cold season.

Harvest the pumpkin properly

Depending on the variety, the pumpkins begin to ripen in mid-August at the earliest. Most varieties are harvested between September and October. We recommend harvesting before the first night frosts. You can tell whether the pumpkin is ready for harvest by these characteristics:

  • Intense fruit coloring (easy to recognize, especially in orange-red varieties such as Hokkaido)
  • Woody and dry handle
  • The leaves die off
  • It is not possible to scratch the shell with a fingernail
  • Hollow sound when knocking the fruit (does not apply to all types!)

It is best to harvest in dry weather. In this case, the pumpkins can dry outside for 2 to 3 days. To harvest the pumpkin, the fruit is cut off on the stem with a sharp knife. But be careful: the stem must stay on the pumpkin! Pathogens have a harder time penetrating the fruit and the pumpkin can be kept longer. In general, it is important to proceed very carefully when harvesting the pumpkin, as damage to the fruit can lead to rot.

Store pumpkin

In general, the self-grown pumpkins can be kept for a relatively long time if stored correctly. First of all, pumpkins should ripen after harvest for around 3 weeks at 20 ° C in a light and dry place. It is important that the pumpkin lies on a dry surface such as wood or cardboard and is turned over regularly. Post-ripening improves the taste of the pumpkin and increases the germinability of the pumpkin seeds, which can be reused in the next year.

Then pumpkins can be stored for up to 6 months, depending on the type and storage. A dry and dark place is ideal for this. The temperature should ideally be between 12 and 15 ° C. Temperatures below these values ​​can lead to rot during storage, temperatures above can negatively affect the taste. If these tips are followed, the pumpkin can be enjoyed through the cold winter months.

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