Pumpkin Season is officially upon us, and you know what that means: Pumpkin Spice Lattes, pumpkin patches, pumpkin pie, carving pumpkins, canned pumpkin, pumpkin recipes, the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin specialty items, and more. If you are a gardener (or even if you’re not), pumpkin season also means harvesting your crops. If you have planted a crop of pumpkins in your garden, you are probably eager to get to harvest. Before you begin aimlessly harvesting, it is important to learn how and when to harvest pumpkins off of their vines so that you can get the biggest turn around for your efforts.
When to Plant Pumpkins
If you didn’t plant any pumpkin seeds this year, but want to have a pumpkin harvest for next season, note your growing season, based on your frost dates. Note that pumpkins do best when the seeds are planted directly in the ground. Because of this, you will want to wait until the plant soil is 70ºF or more before sowing seeds outdoors. Optimum soil temperature is 95ºF. Similar to the way pumpkins give us warmth and comfort, they like to be warm and are very sensitive to the cold.
When picking a planting site, make sure to choose a site with full sun (to light shade) and lots of space for sprawling vines. Think: 50 to 100 square feet per hill (pumpkin vines are long!). However, if you don’t have a ton of room or gardening space, never fear. You can plant pumpkins at the edge of the garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk. You could also grow pumpkins in big 5 to 10 gallon buckets, or, try miniature varieties.
How to Plant Pumpkins
Plant your seeds in rows the size of small pitcher mounds. This will help the soil warm more quickly and the seeds will germinate faster. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep into the hills (4 to 5 seeds per hill) and space them 4 to 8 feet apart. Plants should germinate in less than a week and begin to emerge in 5 to 10 days. Once the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones.
When growing your pumpkins, note they need lots of water with good drainage. Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so you may want to treat with manure or compost mixed with water to sustain good growth.
When to Harvest Pumpkins
You won’t want to harvest until your pumpkins are fully ripe, which means they have a full rind and a robust color throughout. To check ripeness, you can also tap on the rind: you will want to hear a hollow “thump” almost like a drum. It is important to harvest pumpkins when they are fully mature, as they will store better and last longer.
When you are ready to harvest your pumpkins, choose a dry day after the first hard frost. Cut the thick stem with strong garden shears or a sharp knife 3-4 inches from the top of the pumpkin. Carefully move the pumpkins, always carrying from the bottom (not the stem).
One of the best things about growing pumpkins is that you can store them for later use, and make delicious recipes throughout the next 3 months! Who wouldn’t want to extend pumpkin season? Cure the pumpkins for 10 days, and then store them in a dry and cool environment. Place them in a single layer where the rinds do not touch each other, as not to lead to decay.
There are so many pumpkin varieties, so you can mix and match to achieve your desired look, size, and taste of all your pumpkins! Here are a few variations we love:
Jack Be Little
These pumpkins cling to their vines during growth, and will fit in the palm of your hand at maturity. They come in white and orange and make excellent decorations.
Hands down the best variation for cooking pumpkin pie!
These are an heirloom variety that grow 15 to 25 pounds in size, with that classic pumpkin look.
Just like a moon, this variation has bright white smooth skin and tender flesh. It is a unique option for carving!
Great for pumpkin pie! These are your classic bright orange, large and round straight from a fairytale.
If you feel like you don’t have the capacity, or the time to grow pumpkins in your garden but still want to optimize the Fall and the Winter growing seasons, check out some of our other popular blogs:
There are so many gardening opportunities this season, there is really no right or wrong way to begin. Even if you don’t grow pumpkins on your own, we hope you enjoy pumpkin season and at least spend time in a pumpkin patch, drinking hot apple cider and laying in the leaves. The next time you stop at the store, maybe pick up the ingredients for a festive Cilantro Pesto with Pumpkin Gnocchi or Roasted Pumpkin and Lentil Soup with Dill or Parsley.