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Yankee Halloween Presents:
Growing A Home Pumpkin Patch For Halloween
Hey, it's never too early to start planning and preparing for Halloween fun...!
Are you planning to grow a few pumpkins in your pumpkin patch this year... or next...? If you are, now is the time to begin planning for those giant pumpkins like Big Max and jack-o-lanterns you will carve in the fall. Fresh baked pumpkin pie and a home grown spooky jack-o-lantern that you carved, will be a big Halloween treat.
Pumpkin is a warm season vegetable that can be grown throughout much of the United States. Besides being used as jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, pumpkins are used to make pumpkin pies, bread, butter, custard, cookies and pumpkin soup.
Pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant your pumpkin patch until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed.
Some giant pumpkins take 140 days to mature. Others take 80 to 100 days. Remember Halloween is the last week of October, so -- if the pumpkin you want to grow takes 110 days to mature, count back 110 days and plant around July 1st (allowing 10 to 15 days leeway).
Growing normal size pumpkins or Big Max ones, is mainly a matter of starting with the right seed, lots of space, food and water. Visit Yankee Gardener's pumpkin patch for a full selection of Chas. C. Hart seeds, and jack-o-lantern sizes from Baby Boo to Big Max for all you pumpkin carving picasso's out there. For your added convenience, we have a nice "pumpkin patch seed collection", consisting of excellent carving and eating varieties, ready for you at our Graveside Store.
Choose a sunny spot for your pumpkin patch. For really huge Big Max pumpkins, the vines need plenty of space -- at least 15 to 20 feet between plants.
Next, mix into the soil, well-rotted manure or compost. If you can, cover the pumpkin patch with three inches of it, plus a sprinkling of fertilizer or an organic mix of blood meal and bone meal.
If you don't have that much manure or compost, put what you have into three foot circles for each plant. Dig in or till this organic mixture into the soil. It's not as important how deep you till as how wide.
Decks, patios -- even urban rooftops can be ideal for container gardening. Use not only Terra Cotta pots, but whiskey barrels, ceramic, and wooden containers lined with plastic inserts. Be sure to allow for proper drainage, use a good soiless mixture, and water and fertilize regularly.
Pumpkin seeds need warm soil (75 to 85 degrees F.) to germinate. Seeds can be directly seeded in the pumpkin patch garden soil.
Cover three to four seeds, pointed ends down, with an inch of fine garden soil. Tamp gently and water. Check the soil daily, and water when it is dry. Do not allow the seed area to dry out.
When the seeds sprout -- usually in four to five days -- make sure the seedlings don't dry out. When the first true leaves appear, thin to one plant per hill by cutting off the weaker seedlings with scissors. DO NOT pull them out.
When the first baby pumpkins appear, select two (2) on separate runners, about 6 to 10 feet from the plant center. Cut off additional pumpkins and any additional ones that may set later.
This forces the vine's energy into growing a few large pumpkins, rather than a lot of smaller ones. From mid-August to October, the pumpkins will grow at an amazing rate in your pumpkin patch. Take some pictures.
All pumpkins must be pollinated by bees. Male and female flowers grow on the same plant. The female will have a tiny pumpkin at its base. Don't be alarmed if you see 10 to 12 male flowers before a female flower appears. Take care if you use insecticides around your pumpkins. Bees can be killed by some types of insecticides.
Plastic mulches are very effective for controlling weeds in your pumpkin patch. Plastic mulches also warm the soil, and can maintain good soil moisture levels. If you do not use plastic, pumpkins will benefit from organic mulches applied in the summer after the soil has warmed up.
As your pumpkins grow, keep the pumpkin patch soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Pumpkin vines develop an extensive root system. Irrigate the entire area of your pumpkin patch to water all of the pumpkin roots evenly.
Trickle or drip irrigation is best, but soaker hoses also work well. Overhead sprinklers are effective; however, wet foliage increases the chance of disease, especially mildew.
Feed each vine weekly with a liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion. Use half the recommended rate if you feed weekly. If cats are around, fish emulsion may attract them and damage your vines.
Insects and diseases can be a problem when growing pumpkins, so check with your local county extension service or garden center for specific pest control recommendations.
Pumpkins can get sunburn, too, including huge Big Max pumpkins, so try to keep a good leaf cover over them.
To protect the pumpkin from direct sunlight, construct a shade out of burlap or other lightweight material. This will prevent premature hardening of the outer skin and will allow the pumpkin to reach its full physical size - BIG...!
When the pumpkin is mature, the vine will start dying, and the stem will become woody. The fruit will take on a golden color (some varieties may be cream or even whitish) and a dull sheen.
Leave as much stem on the fruit, about 3 to 4 inches if you can. Cut (never pull) the stem from the vine. Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing "handles." Handle the pumpkin from the bottom, not by the stem. It is heavy and may pull out of the stem. Store it in a well-ventilated place out of the sun, and keep it dry.
Additional information on growing pumpkins, including huge Big Max pumpkins, is available at your local library, or county extension office. Call them today.
Have fun learning and good luck with your pumpkin patch...! It will be a fascinating gardening experience...!
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