Pumpkin vines as peak performers
There’s an old saying, ‘‘To be a successful gardener, grow pumpkins’’. And you better believe it. In a warm, sunny spot you can expect them to take off like there’s no tomorrow. If space is lacking, you can grow pumpkins vertically. The vines send out a number of runners that cling to whatever’s in their way, so you can easily train them up fences or trellises. As the fruit becomes larger, create a sling out of bird netting or pantyhose to help support its weight. Choose a spot that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day and dig in heaps of compost. Traditionally, pumpkins are planted on mounds about 80 to 90cm in diameter, with moats dug around them. These moats catch water runoff and direct it to the roots. A flat area is just as good for growing pumpkins though. So too is a sloping bank, provided lots of moisture is supplied. If sowing on mounds, sow four or five seeds directly on top of the mound. Once seedlings have established, thin them out, leaving the two strongest plants. If you’re still experiencing a lot of inclement weather in your area, start your pumpkins indoors and transplant when the weather is consistently warm. If cold weather threatens, place a cloche over your seedlings to protect them. As the plants grow over the next few weeks, they need food – and plenty of it. A fish emulsion, (available from garden centres – or make your own by soaking fish remains in water) is ideal. A general fertiliser is also good. Feed once a month to provide fat, tasty fruit. After a while, the runners will start to race off with the main vine growing 10 to 15m long if you let it. There is also a secondary vine, which usually grows in the opposite direction. As they grow, shoots emerge from the main and secondary vines which can be selectively pruned so that more energy can go into producing fat fruit on the main and secondary vines – or at the very least, so you can control where your vine is heading. Some gardeners also like to remove a few fruit so the remaining fruit grows larger. Pumpkins are harvested when they have a deep, uniform colour and a hard rind. When you press the rind with your fingers, it should not dent. For most pumpkins this will be after the vines have shrivelled and died but before frost has set in. If storing pumpkins, leave about 5cm of stalk attached to the top. Let your pumpkins cure in the sun for a few days then store in a cool dry spot. If storing them in a garage or shed you may want to put them in a simple handmade chicken wire cage, otherwise they may become dinner for neighbourhood rodents.
Sun-drenched: Let your pumpkins cure in the sun for a few days then store in a cool dry spot.