Knowing How To Grow Pumpkins In The UK Is Easy If You Remember They Need A Warm, Sunny Spot In Fertile Moisture Retentive Soil.
When considering pumpkins my first thought is space, it’s the most important part of knowing How To Grow Pumpkins In The UK. Because pumpkins take up a load of space and can become quite rampant. Even the small bush varieties need at least 3ft by 3ft (a metre by a metre) in which to grow. And the big trailing pumpkins can seem to grow forever, reaching 15-20 ft on occasion.
But provided you give them warmth, shelter from the cold winds is essential, and a moisture retentive, but not waterlogged soil they require little growing effort from their gardener. The need for constant water to survive introduces a word we don’t use often in gardening. That word is mesophyte. Pumpkins are mesophytic. They don’t like to dry out or be too wet. I prefer to call them Goldilocks plants … not too much and not too little.
Of course to reach the size they do, with such heavy fruit, they need plenty of feed as well. In the garden I tend to plant them on top of a compost heap and let them run as they will. Once they have finished the compost is still good to use in the garden!
What Is A Pumpkin?
In a sense that question is easy. A pumpkin is a cucurbit. That means it is the same family as cucumbers, marrows and melons, squashes and gourds. Sometimes they are called winter squashes, but don’t let that name fool you, they do not like the cold. The winter part of that name just means they store well, into the winter.
Some pumpkin varieties are annual and some short lived perennial. But those we grow here are invariably the annual varieties and die as soon as the weather gets cold.
I said it was easy to answer what a pumpkin is .. “in a sense”. The reason I said that was because botanically the word pumpkin has no meaning.
Are Pumpkins Fruit?
Yes. But a special sort of fruit that is botanically known as a pepo. In fact one species of pumpkin is called Cucurbita pepo. But there are several types of pumpkin.
What Do Pumpkin Fruit Normally Look Like?
All the pumpkin varieties I know start as green fruit but when the ripen they change to deep yellow to orange. But there are other varieties that produce white and green fruit.
Some have smooth skin, some are slightly ribbed and some deeply ribbed and common quite weird shapes, bot just the standard pumpkin shape we are used to.
What Do Pumpkin Weigh?
According to the Guinness book of Records, Travis Gienger grew the heaviest recorded pumpkin. It weighed in at 2,560 pounds (1,161.2 kilograms).
But don’t worry, not all pumpkins get that big. most only weigh a few kilos!
Update ... Just when you think they can get no bigger … along comes a bigger one.
Pumpkin weighing 2,749 pounds wins California contest, sets world record for biggest gourd
What Are Pumpkins Grown For?
Eating and lanterns!
Pumpkin pie is an American tradition? And it’s catching on in the UK. But here, many pumpkin are grown for carving into lanterns for Halloween. The lanterns, aka Jack-O-Lanterns, are carved into faces and often have. light put inside. traditionally this was a candle, though in recent years I’ve seen a few LEDs and a battery!even cycle through various colours and I’ve even seen a musical version that pulses with the music.
Where Do Pumpkins Come From?
The home of these magnificent tours is the Andes and MesoAmerica. But they spread across the Americas many millennia ago and they have been grown for at least 7-8000 years as a food source.
How To Grow Pumpkins In The UK
I used to grow a thousand or so plants most years when I had a market garden in the 70-80s. This is how I grow them.
Pumpkin Seed Germination
Sow the seed in March, April or May depending on your location and last frost date. The plants will not tolerate frost or even the cold so don’t be hasty.
Most people sow one or two seeds to a pot and remove the weakest plant when they start to grow.
I did it slightly differently. I put all my seed in a plastic bag, moistened the seed and left it in a shady but warm spot in a green house. 12 hours later I checked to see how many had started to germinate and used this that had. Then I checked every 5-6 hours and used those that germinated. Usually all would germinate in a day or two, but I had graded them by speed of growth, and hence growth stage, by this simple method. It also meant I could remove any that didn’t germinate .. though that was rare.
If doing this regard the seed as germinated once you see the seed radicle emerging. Getting it when it is just a millimetre long is ideal and you’ll not then damage it when handling it.
Potting Up Pumpkin
Once germinated I then potted the seed up. Most people would do this into pots. I did it slightly differently. We used soil blocks. They are just gently compressed soil and compost mix that forms a 7cm cube. In the centre a hole was formed in to which the germinated seed was placed. I then covered the seed with a sprinkle of compost to stop in drying out.
Planting Out Pumpkin
The key is getting the spacing right for the variety being grown. Check the seed producers advice here and use your common sense as well!
I planted mine on the square … ie in straight rows across the field with plants spaced evenly in the rows.
My usual number of plants was between 500-1000 plants. This might seem a lot, but I was a small time pumpkin grower. I only grew what I could sell and most of my crop was taken to a USAF airbase in East Anglia.
Feeding And Watering Pumpkins
Before preparing the soil I always added a lot of organic material. Tons and tons of it.
I also added a bit of organic fertiliser. My choice, as with most crops, was Vitax Q4. The rate being a good handful per square yard, (there’s a time to weigh things to at the nearest gram and a time to be pragmatic).
I irrigated as needed. As explained pumpkins are mesophytes and don’t want too much or too little water. The amount to give them comes with experience. My soil was a Greensand so it was hard to overwater, but the organic material, pig manure, was very necessary to stop them drying out.
Are Pumpkins Still Grown Commercially?
And the scale puts my puny efforts in to perspective.
Oakley Farms from Outwell near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, grow 5 million pumpkin a year!
They grow white, red, Crown Prince, Superfreak, miniature and medium sized pumpkins for supermarkets and other markets.They start harvesting in September and store the fruit in greenhouses and stores until they are required by the retailers. some of the fruit are sold for ciliary purposes but many are used for Halloween lamps and masks.
Very early recipes in the UK just relied on the seeds being taken from the pumpkin which was then stuffed with honey, spices and sometimes other ingredients before being cooked in an oven. This was the original pumpkin pie as we know it.
Today the internet is awash with recipes for pies and soups with a huge mix of additional ingredients. Here’s one to try. It’s a very easy recipe but quite sweet due to the addition of sweetened condensed milk! Reduce the amount of condensed milk if you wish.
1 Ib pumpkin puree
1 large can of sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie case (I prefer unsweetened pastry for this as the filling is sweet).
Blind bake the pastry case.
Whisk all the ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.
Pour into the pie crust and bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and cook until the pie mix sets.
Allow to cool and eat before anyone else finds this scrumptious dessert.
The pie will keep for a few days in the fridge once cooled.
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