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Pumpkin

Pumpkin is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout much of the United States. Besides being used as jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween, pumpkins are used to make pumpkin butter, pies, custard, bread, cookies and soup.

Recommended Varieties

Standard Orange (Small)
All 2 to 5 pounds, 100 to 110 days to harvest

Baby Bear (small, flattened shape; fine stem)

Baby Pam; Oz (hybrid, semi-bush; very smooth skin, heavy stem, immature yellow color)

Small Sugar or New England Pie (the standard pie type)

Spooktacular (hybrid; bright orange; ribbed; strong stem)

Sugar Treat (hybrid; semi- bush; bright color)

Winter Luxury (old variety, good for cooking; unique netted skin)

Standard Orange (Intermediate)
All 8 to 15 pounds, 100 to 110 days to harvest

Autumn Gold (hybrid, yellow when immature)

Bushkin (hybrid, bush type)

Frosty (hybrid; smooth-textured skin)
Funny Face (hybrid)

Harvest Moon (hybrid)

Jack-o-Lantern

Spirit (hybrid, semi-bush)

Young's Beauty

Standard Orange (Large)
All 15 to 25 pounds, 100 to 110 days to harvest

Aspen (hybrid, deep orange, uniformly large)

Big Autumn (hybrid, yellow when mature)

Big Tom (selection of Connecticut Field)

Connecticut Field (the old standard, continually reselected)

Ghost Rider (dark orange; very dark green handle)

Happy Jack (uniform, dark orange; good handle)

Howden Field (the industry standard for the last 20 years)

Jackpot (hybrid; round; compact vine habit)

Jumpin' Jack (large, dark orange, heavy, tall fruit)

Pankow's Field (large, variable pumpkins with exceptionally large, long handles).

Rouge Vif d'Estampes is a C. maxima type that is deep red-orange, flattened, heavily sutured. It was the prototype for Cinderella's carriage pumpkin and is sometimes sold as "Cinderella" pumpkin.

Processing
All C. moschata, tan skin color, widely used for commercially canned pumpkin

Buckskin (hybrid)

Chelsey (hybrid)

Dickinson Field

Kentucky Field

Jumbo
All C. maxima, 50 to 100 pounds, or much more; 120 days to harvest

Atlantic Giant (most true giants come from selections of this variety)

Big Max

Big Moon

Mammoth Gold

Prizewinner (hybrid; most uniform size, shape, orange color; not the largest, but the most dependable)

White Painting

Casper, Lumina and Snowball (all C. maxima)

Little Boo (C. Pepo)

Cushaw group

Green-Striped Cushaw, Sweet Potato, Tennessee, and White

Cushaw (all C. mixta)

Golden Cushaw (C. moschata)

Naked-Seeded
All C. pepo

Trick or Treat (hybrid, semi-bush, 10 to 12 pounds, good for carving)

Tricky Jack (hybrid; small; bush type)

Triple Treat (thick flesh; 6 to 8 pounds; cooks, carves well)

Miniature
All C. pepo

Baby Boo (white)

Jack-Be-Little (standard orange miniature)

Jack-Be-Quick (taller, darker orange)

Munchkin (uniform, attractive orange fruit)

Sweetie Pie (small, scalloped, medium orange fruit)

When to Plant

Pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween from late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern sites. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween.

Spacing & Depth

Vining pumpkins require a minimum of 50 to 100 square feet per hill. Plant seeds one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill). Allow 5 to 6 feet between hills, spaced in rows 10 to 15 feet apart. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants.

Plant semi-bush varieties one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill) and thin to the best two plants per hill. Allow 4 feet between hills and 8 feet between rows.

Plant miniature varieties one inch deep, with two or three seeds every 2 feet in the row. Rows should be 6 to 8 feet apart, with seedlings thinned to the best plant every 2 feet when they have their first true leaves.

Plant bush varieties one inch deep (1 or 2 seeds per foot of row) and thin to a single plant every 3 feet. Allow 4 to 6 feet between rows.

Care

Pumpkin plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Pumpkins tolerate short periods of hot, dry weather pretty well.

Bees, that are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins, may be killed by insecticides. When insecticides are used, they should be applied only in late afternoon or early evening when the blossoms have closed for the day and bees are no longer visiting the blossoms. As new blossoms open each day and bees land only inside the open blossoms, these pollinating insects should be safe from contact with any potentially deadly sprays.

Harvesting

Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard. If vines remain healthy, harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts. If vines die prematurely from disease or other causes, harvest the mature fruit and store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween. Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing "handles." Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have sharp prickles on their stems.

Avoid cutting and bruising the pumpkins when handling them. Fruits that are not fully mature or that have been injured or subjected to heavy frost do not keep. Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F.

Common Problems

Powdery mildew causes a white, powdery mold growth on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The growth can kill the leaves prematurely and interfere with proper ripening.

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs attack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles and squash bugs, as populations build in late summer, because these insects can damage the mature fruits, marring their appearance and making them less likely to keep properly.

For more information on cucumber beetles
and squash bugs, see the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. The first flowers that appeared on my pumpkin plants did not form fruits. Why not?

A. This condition is natural for cucurbits (such as cucumber, gourd, muskmelon, pumpkin, squash and watermelon). The first flowers are almost always male. The pollen on these first male flowers attracts bees and alerts them to the location of the blooming vines. By the time the first female blossoms open, the bees' route is well established and the male flowers' pollen is transferred to the female flowers by the bees. Male flowers bloom for one day, then drop off the plants. The male flowers may predominate under certain conditions, especially early in the season, or under certain kinds of stress. The small fruits, visible at the bases of the female flowers, identify them. There is no swelling on the bases of the male flower stems.

Q. How can I grow pumpkins that weigh more than 100 pounds?

A. Use one of the jumbo varieties. Plant in early June and allow 150 square feet per hill. Thin to the best one or two plants. High fertility, proper insect control and shallow cultivation are essential. Remove the first two or three female flowers after the plants start to bloom so that the plants grow larger with more leaf surface before setting fruit. Allow a single fruit to develop and pick off all female flowers that develop after this fruit has set on the plant. Do not allow the vine to root down at the joints near this developing fruit because these varieties develop so quickly and so large that they may actually break from the vine as they expand on a vine anchored to the ground.

Q. My grandmother made pies with a green-striped, long-necked pumpkin. Is this variety still available?

A. Yes. The variety is Green-Striped Cushaw. Because it has a unique texture, some cooks prefer it for custards and pies.

Q. Will pumpkins, squash and gourds cross-pollinate and produce freak fruit if I interplant several kinds in my garden?

A. Pumpkins, squash and gourds are members of the vine crops called "cucurbits." The name is derived from their botanical genus classification of Cucurbita (often abbreviated C.). There are four main species of Cucurbita usually included in the pumpkin, squash and gourd grouping. The varieties within a botanical species (which may be referred to as pumpkins, squash or gourd) can cross-pollinate. Varieties from different species do not. For example, zucchini crosses with Howden's Field pumpkin, acorn or spaghetti squash, small decorative gourds, or Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins because they are all members of the same botanical species (C. Pepo).

However, cross-pollination does not affect the taste, shape or color of the current season's fruit. Crosses show up only if seeds from these fruits are saved and grown the following year. Butternut squash, Small Sugar pumpkin, White Cushaw pumpkin, and Big Max pumpkin could all be grown in the same area without crossing because each variety comes from a different species. Because bees carry pollen for distances of a mile or more, in suburban areas where many gardens are in close proximity, fruits must be bagged and pollinated by hand if pure seed of non-hybrid varieties is desired.

Q. What is the difference between a pumpkin and a squash?

A. It is all in what you call it. Varieties of each of the four species, discussed in this section are popularly called "pumpkins," and varieties of each are called "squash," more by tradition than by system. In fact, orange color sometimes helps determine what is a pumpkin. Two varieties of the same species, C. maxima, hold the records for the world's largest squash and pumpkin. The variety called squash is gray to green and larger one called a pumpkin is pinkish to orange. Shape may vary slightly, but these two freely inter-pollinate and are botanically pretty much identical. Unless you are dealing with specific rules or regulations at a show, you can pretty much interchange the words squash and pumpkin, though you can expect a fight with purists, no matter what you do.

Selection & Storage

Pumpkins are the most popular members of the squash family. Often used as an ornament, the large Jack-O-Lantern variety has become the national symbol for Halloween although it is very edible. The smaller sweet pumpkin or pie pumpkin is best for cooking. The flavor and texture are much more suitable for baking and it is served up annually in pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

Select heavy unblemished pumpkin that is free of cracks and soft spots and has a deep orange color. Harvest with at least an inch of stem remaining or it will decay quickly. Pumpkins should not be stored in the refrigerator or in a damp place. Moisture causes rapid deterioration. Whole unblemished pumpkin can be stored for 3 to 6 months at 45 to 50 degree temperatures.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

The orange-flesh is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is a source of beta carotene which is a powerful antioxidant. Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin, vision, bone development and many other functions. Pumpkin is also a tasty source of carbohydrates and potassium.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup cooked mashed pumpkin)

Calories 24
Protein 1 gram
Carbohydrates 5.98 grams
Dietary Fiber 1 gram
Potassium 280.6 mg
Phosphorus 36.6 mg
Vitamin A 1320 IU
Vitamin C 5.73 mg

Preparation & Serving

Peeling pumpkin can be a challenge to the novice. To open, place the pumpkin on newspaper and insert the tip of a chef knife or break it open by cracking on a hard surface. Scoop out the strings and seeds and discard, unless you plan to roast the seeds. Wash each section and use a sharp paring knife or vegetable to peel the large pieces. The pieces can be baked unpeeled as well.

The pieces can be cooked until soft in a small amount of boiling water, in steam, or in a pressure cooker. The oven method is very easy. To bake, place cut side down on a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or longer. Test for doneness by piercing with a fork. When tender, remove from the oven, allow to cool before handling. If unpeeled, spoon out the soft flesh and proceed with any recipe calling for cooked mashed pumpkin or substitute in recipes calling for canned pumpkin.

For microwaving, place cut side down and microwave on high for 15 minutes or until fork tender. At this point the pumpkin can be seasoned with cinnamon and brown sugar and served as a side dish with meals.

Home Preservation

Pumpkin can be preserved by freezing or canning. To freeze, cook as directed above (Preparing and Serving Pumpkin). To cool, place pan containing pumpkin in cold water and stir occasionally. Package in zip closure freezer bags or ridged containers leaving 1/2 inch head space. Seal and freeze.

To Can Pumpkin

Pumpkin must be processed in a pressure canner. Wash pumpkin remove seeds, cut into large pieces and peel. Cut into 1-inch cubes. Add to a saucepan of boiling water, boil 2 minutes. Caution: Do not mash or puree for canning. Pack hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1-inch head space. Fill jars to 1-inch from the top with boiling hot cooking liquid. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process.

Process in a Dial Gauge Pressure Canner at 11 pounds pressure or in a Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner at 10 pounds pressure. Pints -- 55 minutes and quarts 90 minutes.

Recipes

The mild flavor of pumpkin lends itself well to a variety of interesting dishes. Beyond pumpkin pie, use in soup, pureed as a side dish, in pumpkin bread, custards, muffins and cookies. For additional recipes on pumpkin, visit our website "Pumpkins and More."

Pumpkin Broccoli Chowder

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 ripe tomato, diced
1 large potato, diced
4 cups chicken stock, canned or fresh
1 bunch broccoli, tops cut into small florets, stems julienne into strips
3 cups fresh pumpkin puree (frozen or canned)
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1/4 to 1/2 cup canned evaporated skim milk

  1. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute slowly for 6 to 7 minutes. Add soy sauce and diced tomatoes and cook stirring often until tomato's juice has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

  2. Transfer saute to a soup pot. Deglaze the skillet with a little stock, add to pot, and add remaining stock and pumpkin puree. Heat stirring often.

  3. In a separate pot cook diced potato in 1/2 cup boiling water until tender. When done, using a slotted spoon, transfer to soup pot.

  4. Add the broccoli to potato cooking liquid and blanch for 4 minutes, covered. Add broccoli and cooking liquid to soup pot.

  5. Then stir in enough milk to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let soup cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot and the flavors have blended, 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let soup boil. Serve hot. As an entree, serves four.