Extracurricular Crops: Planting Pumpkins, Gourds and Melons
Just this past weekend, we had some family friends out to our farm so that their girls, ages six and four, could pick pumpkins and gourds in preparation for the fall and Halloween season. What a time they had. Their enthusiasm resonated with everyone and even the adults were enjoying the hunt for perfect pumpkins.
The gourds were growing almost erratically in the garden right next to the pumpkins. Some of them were so peculiar and funny looking that the girls referred some as witch gourds (with warts), eggs gourds (round and white) and pumpkin gourds (orange base, green stem). Needless to say, the sheer fun we had with our friends outweighed the little time and effort it took to plant them.
Pumpkins need about three solid months of frost-free temperatures to mature. Down South they can be planted sometime in July and be ready in plenty of time for fall, whereas up north they may need to be planted a bit earlier to take advantage of every warm day the climate offers. The most important things you need to grow pumpkins are space, compost or manure, and warm soil - a 90-degree-plus soil temperature is optimal though high 70s/low 80s will suffice. Plant the seed into a pre-built “pumpkin hill,” which is comprised of the compost/manure and warm, dry dirt.
Since the soil is to be warm and well-drained, this means an abundance of sunlight will also be required. Plant the seeds about an inch deep, four or five per hill. They should germinate within a week if it’s warm enough. Pumpkins also need a lot of water. One inch per week is enough, so if you’re getting regular summer rains, there will be no need to make special watering trips. Also, to get the most out of your pumpkins, regularly “feed” them with compost or manure. Come late summer/early fall, we guarantee you’re going to create a whole lot of joy with the younger crowd pining for Halloween. Did we mention that when consumed, pumpkins are extremely nutritious?
Gourds are about as easy to grow as pumpkins. They too like rich, well-drained soil that’s been packed with compost and/or manure. Plant the seeds in groups of four or five about an inch deep. They’ll need ample sunlight and water. You’ll notice most folks plant pumpkins and gourds together because their needs are so similar. During the growing season, their seeds tend to cross-pollinate to create the funny looking gourds mentioned above along with your more traditional shaped ones.
This includes watermelons, honey melons and cantaloupe, all of which grow on par with pumpkins and gourds. This is another great plant to add to the garden to produce a delicious treat at harvest time. Like the above, be sure they receive plenty of sunlight and water in a warm, nutrient-rich and well-drained soil.
As it is getting on into fall, these are some alternate crops to consider planting next spring or summer, location depending. Again, they’re fun, decorative and delicious. And also require almost no maintenance after the seed is in the ground. Ever noticed how eating fruits and vegetables you grow taste so much better than what you can buy in the store?