Pumpkins, the source of many a young girl’s daydreams. Turns into a carriage, takes you to the ball, something about glass slippers and a happy ending! As a young girl, and even as a not so young girl, I was never one for the whole Cinderella thing, but I too had dreams of pumpkins! Well, more specifically, my Mum’s pumpkin soup! The secret ingredient to this oft imitated, never duplicated soup, was home grown pumpkinney goodness (or ginger, I can’t quite remember). So now you too can grow your own giant orange balls of tastiness!

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: All Year Round!
Temperate Areas: After last frost in winter
Cool to Cold Areas: After last frost in winter

Position, Position, Position!

The biggest thing to remember about pumpkins is that they LOVE space, and I reckon that each vine needs about 1m². So, here’s a hot tip: find a sunny spot out of the way a bit (like the forgotten side of the house or shed), pile up some compost, whack in two vines and walk away. Pumpkins like their privacy, and can suffer a bit if they are trod on, cut or damaged.

Talking Dirty

Growing pumpkins is so easy, even my evil stepsisters can manage it (that’s a joke by the way!). Pumpkins love compost, I mean they really love compost. That’s why you’ll often find a pumpkin vine growing out of old compost piles. So, the more compost the better! Pumpkins vines will root where they come into contact with the ground, and this should be encouraged as it produces more pumpkins and stronger plants.

Feed Me!

If you have planted your pumpkins in a nice, rich, compost filled Yummy Yard, there is absolutely no need to feed!

What about the Water?

The other thing that pumpkins love, in addition to compost and space, is a moist, well-drained soil. Soil with a high compost content will retain moisture, as will a nice mulch layer. Now, before you go nuts on the end of the hose, use your moisture sensor! What do you mean you don’t have one? Your pointer finger is the greatest moisture sensor in the world… and most of us have two of those. Stick your chosen finger in the soil, and remove. Is it damp, and is there dirt stuck to your finger? If yes, it doesn’t need a drink. If no, read on! Water in the morning, to avoid water on the foliage as the temperature cools down, and never, ever, ever water pumpkin with greywater!

Are We There Yet?

Pumpkins, depending on the variety, take between 70 – 120 days to mature, which is a bloody, long time, but totally worth the wait! You can tell when a pumpkin is ripe when you give it a knock on the side, and it sounds hollow. The skin should feel hard and the tendril closest to the fruit should be dead. When removing the pumpkin from the vine, be sure to keep about 5cm of stalk on top.

If you don’t plan on chowing down or carving up your pumpkin straight away, I recommend “curing” it by sitting it in the sun for a while (about a week), and then storing it in a cool, dark (but not damp) place. Well-cured pumpkins can last for up to ten months.

Pests and the Rest

A common problem with pumpkins isn’t so much a pest issue, but a pollination problem. For years I grew pumpkins with magic vines, but no real fruit. The problem was that small fruits would form, go yellow, and fall off. I overcame this with hand-pollination! The trick is to pick the boy flowers (the ones without the tell-tale bump at the base), take the petals off, and lightly rub the pollen on the sticky bits of the female flowers.

As for real pests – well, there’s not much, but keep an eye on fuzzy mildews (like Powdery Mildew or Downy Mildew). Have a read of those two factsheets should these little fungal nasties appear!

Hot Tip

Don’t grow pumpkins in the same patch as tomatoes or potatoes, ‘cos they just don’t get along! Also, crop rotation is a big deal, so wait two years after planting other members of the pumpkin family (including cucumbers, melons, squashes and zucchinis) before you whack in your pumpkins. This just helps cut down the risk of disease and bad stuff happening to your pumpkin patch.

Eat me!

Pumpkin Curry

This is the ultimate in kinship. This sauce and pumpkin go together so well that you’ll pass this recipe on through the generations.

Preheat oven and bake the pumpkin while the sauce cooks. Wash and cook some jasmine rice too. Cut up and stir fry a few greens to complement it if you so desire.

Pumpkin Curry Sauce

1 onion
1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 clove garlic
2 cm knob ginger
½ butternut pumpkin or about 500g other pumpkin
1 can coconut cream or milk
1 tsp garam masala
2 chopped chilies
juice of half lemon or lime
1 star anise
1 tsp brown or palm sugar
1 tsp soy or fish sauce

Preheat oven to 200°C
Prepare rice and place it on to cook. (The absorption method is best)
Peel pumpkin. Cut into small chunks. Place pumpkin on greased baking trays and bake until tender. (Will take approximately as long as the rice and the sauce or 25-30 minutes).
Finely dice onion and chilies.
Crush garlic and grate ginger.
Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion until soft.
Add garlic, ginger, chilies and garam masala. Stir for 1 minute until fragrant.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Turn heat to low and simmer gently until rice is cooked and pumpkin tender. However, the sauce will thicken quite a lot, so keep an eye on it.
When sauce is the thickness you desire, or the rest of the meal is ready, turn the sauce off. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
In this time, you could stirfry some greens. A green salad with Asian inspired dressing also goes well with this dish.
Remove star anise from sauce. Taste sauce and season if necessary.
Place pumpkin on top of rice and ladle the curry sauce on top. Serve by itself or alongside your greens.