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Expert Tips for Growing Organic Pumpkins


Preparing your Garden:
Growing organic pumpkins is not hard if you know a few tricks of the trade. First, you’ll need to select a sunny spot to plant your pumpkins. Before you plant, you’ll also want to test your soil pH and temperature. A soil pH of around 6.0 is recommended. Soil temperatures should be about 60 degrees. The best way to test your soil conditions is with an electronic soil tester. This handy electronic soil tester can analyze both soil pH and temperature.

It’s important to grow pumpkins in well-draining soil with plenty of organic material mixed in. A good sandy loam is appropriate for pumpkin growing. Adding organic compost to your soil will also guarantee healthy, well-draining soil. If you don’t already have a compost pile, you should start one as soon as possible. If you don’t know how, please see Compost Guide. Giving your pumpkins an occasional dose of organic fertilizer can also be useful. See this site for a listing of organic fertilizers and pesticides.

A common method for growing pumpkins is to form small mounds of soil. The pumpkins vines will slowly spill over the mounds as they grow. Space your mounds around 4 to 5 feet apart. You can also plant your pumpkins in rows about 4 to 6 feet apart.

Check out this site from Colorado State University for some excellent pumpkin planting tips.

Planting Your Pumpkins:

Pumpkins can be planted directly into your garden by seed or with transplants. If you’re growing your pumpkins in mounds, plant the seeds about 1 or 2 inches deep, in groups of 5. Plant pumpkins in rows with 2 seeds per hole and about 2 to 3 feet between each hole. If you want your pumpkins to mature by Halloween, it’s a good idea to plant them by May or June, but make sure to keep tabs on the soil temperature. Wait to plant your seeds until the risk of frost has past.

Whether you choose rows or mounds, make sure you give your pumpkins plenty of space. It’s preferable that they are surrounded by bare ground without other crops growing. After you’ve planted your pumpkins, frequent weeding is important to keep your pumpkins healthy as they develop.

Also note that you should avoid planting pumpkins where you’ve recently had other vine crops such melons. It’s a good idea to wait at least two years before planting pumpkins in these areas.

Growing pumpkin starter plants in your own greenhouse can be tricky. This site on plug and transplant production can help.

How Much to Water Pumpkins:

Pumpkins prefer soil that isn’t too wet, so you should water them infrequently. However, make sure that each watering is a good, deep soaking. A soaker hose or drip irrigation are ideal ways to water your pumpkins. These methods are also helpful to avoid certain common diseases such as powdery mildew. Most pumpkins begin to bloom around late July, so pay close attention to your watering habits during this time. 1 to 2 inches of water a week in recommended, depending on where you live. As the pumpkin fruit starts to develop, reduce watering.
Mulches, Windbreaks, and Row Covers:

Plastic and organic mulches can be very useful when growing pumpkins to reduce weeds and to make full use of your waterings. Place black plastic mulch over the soil and cut out hole where you want to plant the seeds or transplants. Use extra soil to weigh down the plastic at the edges. Plastic mulches are especially useful for when you want to plant you pumpkins earlier in the season as they help warm the soil. Organic mulches such as bark or straw work great but must be used when the soil is warm enough, around 75 degrees.

Windbreaks are another useful tool when growing pumpkins, especially young, tender plants. When vines are long and before fruit sets, strong winds can lift up and damage the vines. You can set up a small plastic windbreak between two wooden stakes, or use burlap. Snow fence and erosion control cloth can work as well. As vines get longer, you can also fasten the vines with a thin layer of soil spaced out along the runners.

Some gardeners find row covers and plastic tunnels handy when growing pumpkins. Plastic tunnels can help protect your pumpkins from cooler weather. This is especially useful if you want to start your crops early for an earlier harvest. Fabric row covers and hotcaps are also options for protecting your plants. Once temperatures stabilize and/or when blooms appear, you can remove your row covers.

Other Organic Pumpkin Growing Tips:

 

Some larger varieties of pumpkins may need to have their vines trained to keep the stems from cracking. Ohio State University Extension recommends that you move the vines about 80 to 90 degrees away from the pumpkins and they get larger. You can train the vine back to the direction it was growing about 3 feet in from the pumpkin. Be extra careful when moving your pumpkins so that you don’t bend and crack the stem.

As your pumpkins develop, the foliage will naturally protect them from the sun. However, an extra layer of shading maybe useful to help the pumpkin achieve its maximum size. Try using a shade structure made of burlap to shade your pumpkins.
If you have a specific question about your pumpkins, you should contact your local extension agent. This site, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) can help.

Many local Universities also have websites devoted to horticulture tips.

Utah State University also has a great PDF file with tips on how to grow pumpkins.


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