Thursday, October 25, 2007

Growing Perfect Pumpkins

You can have a wonderful time learning how to grow, and care for, pumpkins. They are great fun, especially for kids. They just look neat, to begin with. They make great fall decorations, and treats, also! Growing big pumpkins is basically a matter of starting with the right seeds and providing lots of space, water, and food for the vines—the general principles behind growing any vegetable with success.
Start the Seeds
Pumpkins require a long growing season (115 days or more) and their seeds need warm soil (75–85 degrees Fahrenheit) to germinate, so it’s best to start their seeds indoors. Plant them about two or three weeks before your last expected frost. A pressed fiber or peat pot (preferably four inches in diameter) can be planted into the garden, pot and all, to avoid damage to the delicate roots. Fill the pots with a damp, sterile potting mix to within an inch of the rim, and gently firm it in. Place two seeds, pointed ends down, in each container and cover them with an inch of mix. Set the pots in a warm spot, such as on top of the refrigerator or near a stove. Check the pots daily and water when the mix is dry to the touch. (Hint: Soil Moist) As soon as the seeds sprout—usually in five days or so—place the pots on a bright windowsill, in a greenhouse, or under fluorescent light fixtures. When the first true leaves appear, thin to one plant per pot by cutting off the weaker seedling with scissors.
Prepare the Soil
While the seedlings are growing indoors, prepare the pumpkin patch. Start by choosing a sunny location, protected from strong winds. For really huge pumpkins, the vines need plenty of space; allow at least 20 feet between plants. Next, amend the soil with plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. If possible, cover the entire patch with a three-inch layer of well-rotted manure or compost, plus a sprinkling of fertilizer, such as an organic mix of blood meal, bone meal, and kelp. If you don’t have that much manure or compost on hand, concentrate what you do have into six-foot circles or hills for each plant. Till or dig the amendments into the soil.
Water. Water. Water Some More
80 to 90% of every pumpkin is water. Water is essential for nourishmening the entire plant. A major factor is the kind of soil in the patch. Sandy soil needs more water than soil with high deposits of clay. In either case, the rule of thumb is: turn off the water when puddles appear; and wait till the soil is dry on top before watering again. It is best to water the plant at the roots rather than sprinkling from above. Drip systems and soaker hoses are efficient, reasonably priced, and easy to install.
Pumpkin vines withstand pruning quite well. Properly done, it strengthens the plant and helps it thrive. The vines are prickly, so cover your hands, arms, and legs, when pruning. Pruning focuses the energy of the plant and yields larger but, of course, fewer pumpkins. Don't be worried, if you notice that some of the pumpkins suddenly turn yellow, and drop off the vine. This is perfectly natural. It can happen for several reasons. To encourage a round shape, make sure that the pumpkin is sitting perfectly flat on the ground. Be careful not to handle them too much, though.
Have a little fun, with your pumpkin patch! When all the fuzz is gone from the pumpkin, usually around 3-4 weeks old, you can let the kids have some fun. You can scar the pumpkin, as it grows. Your imagination is the limit. Any blunt tool will work. It will run, or ooze, for the first day. After that, the design will become more noticeable, and will grow with the pumpkin.
Somewhere between deep yellow and fiery red, depending on the variety, you can pick your pumpkins. You will notice that the vines, and leaves are starting to look tattered, and worn. When harvesting, leave a few inches of stem. This preserves the freshness. Let them sit in the sun for about ten days. After that, you can store them in the cellar, or any cool dry place. Some people may be able to keep them until spring.
Now, the Fun Part
You can make all sorts of cakes, breads, and pies with pumpkins. If you look through your grocery store, in the produce section, sometimes you will find some good recipes. Possibly the easiest of these is roasted pumpkin seeds.
Here's How:
1 1/2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons butter, melted
1 pinch salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Toss seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown; stir occasionally. Enjoy!
Please share your gardening suggestions, and pumpkin recipes here!

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