Tuesday, 28 October 2014



I first grew pumpkins about thirty years ago on my allotment in Darlington. I thought it a good idea to encourage my young daughters in the ways of outdoor gardening by giving them the task of growing a huge pumpkin. This of course would be destined for a lantern at Halloween. I would never have dreamed that any part of it could be consumed.
At the end of October one massive pumpkin got harvested to the delight of a young lady who set about the task of creating the ugliest scary lantern she could carve for Halloween.
As parents we do our best and hope that our efforts in the garden, getting the kids to help with the strawberry picking, pea pod harvesting and cutting some nice flowers for mother will pay rewards in creating the next generation of garden lovers. No chance.
Pumpkin growing continues to be an annual event, but for entirely different reasons. You can forget the lantern. They are a health food product, and growing them is still a whole load of fun. The challenge is always to grow them as big as possible, and try to get at least two from each plant.
The more pumpkins you grow the more delicious soup, risottos and pumpkin pie you will enjoy.
Now that will give you far much more pleasure, than one useless but scary lantern.

However there is bound to be a few kids out there who might disagree with that thought.
Let’s start at the beginning.
If you want the biggest pumpkins you need the right varieties so choose Hundredweight or another type known to grow massive. Sow the seeds individually in small pots in mid April on a warm windowsill or greenhouse if it has some heat. Germination only takes a couple of weeks then the seedling wants to grow quite quickly. It will need potting up after a few weeks, then hardening off in May. However watch out for spring gales which can shred the soft large leaves. Strong young plants can be planted out in late May to early June.
Back on the allotment the ground allocated for pumpkins and courgettes will be left fallow for a few months in spring. Do not waste this opportunity. Sow an early green manure crop of clover as there is plenty time for it to mature and get dug in before you need the land for planting the pumpkins.
Pumpkins need rich soil that can hold moisture, so give a heavy dressing of manure or compost before the green manure is sown. Encourage the green manure to rot down after digging by giving a nitrogen fertiliser. This is also necessary to encourage ample growth once the pumpkins are planted.
While they are growing, keep them well watered during the summer and give regular feeding to encourage strong growth. As the pumpkins form place some straw underneath the fruit to keep them clean and off the soil. They should be coloured bright orange in October when they can be harvested. Store them in a cool frost free place and they should keep till next March.
When preparing the pumpkins for cooking you can save some seed for the following year’s crop, but it may not come true to type especially if you have courgettes or other squashes growing close by. Bees will cross pollinate them. I discovered this when I saved seed from a massive pumpkin.
The following year I grew loads of plants and passed them around allotment site friends who produced courgette shaped pumpkins of a range of colours. One plot holder thought this a bit of fun so saved the seed yet again and produced pure white oval pumpkins.
Pumpkins can be used for pies, risotto, soup and many other dishes. The flesh can be pureed and stored in the freezer for future use. My favourite has always been the soup, though the risotto comes close.
All parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the flowers, leaves and seeds. They are a very healthy food to eat as they are rich in vitamins A, B, C, E and K and contain the minerals iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
With this amount of goodness, by all means have your lantern, but use that flesh as a very healthy food product.


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