Pumpkins and Squash
Pumpkins and squash are my edible plant for autumn because they look great, taste good and are fun to grow! In this piece I’ll cover how to grow them and which varieties to try. I’ll also give you tips on harvesting and storing them. No other vegetable shouts autumn so loud!
Pumpkin, Squash or Gourd?
All these wonderful veg are related and they are in the same family as cucumbers, marrows and courgettes.
Pumpkins grow largest but don’t store as well as the more varied squash. Gourds are generally grown in Britain for indoor winter decorations.
Well what would Halloween be without pumpkins?
These are centre stage for candle-lit door step decoration especially when the centre is carved out.
They tend to grow much larger than squash and gourds but increasingly there are appearing mini pumpkins to grow.
Pumpkins are generally a super rich and warm looking orange colour when ripe.
Not noted for long term storage; pumpkins are best used as decorations or eaten before winter.
Pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup are the most popular ways to eat this vegetable.
If you’re making soup with the hollowed out centre of a pumpkin try cutting off just the top retaining this bit as a lid. Separate the seeds and then cook the pulp to your favourite recipe but pour it back into the pumpkin shell, cover with the lid and bring to the table to wow your friends!
The seeds can be gently roasted and kept dried to add to recipes later. They can also be eaten raw but in moderation.
They have many health benefits and can be added to salads, breakfast cereals or just eaten as a snack.
Squash can be roughly divided into two types. The division is between summer and winter squash.
There is an infinite variety of shape and colour of squash and they are often grown for just their decorative properties.
However, it is winter squash that provides an easily stored and nutritious vegetable.
If you grow summer squash do cook and use them as soon as they are ready.
Unlike the other two, gourds are not generally grown in Britain to eat.
In Africa, India and other hot countries they are grown to eat and then to use the dried skin as a storage container.
Once fully mature, harvested and ripened fully gourds will keep for many years as attractive indoor decorations.
I prefer to sow my seeds individually in 9 cm pots.
Sow just a couple of weeks before you normally get the last frost in your part of the world. In the south of England that is generally mid May.
Germination is rapid and takes about a week in warm conditions.
You can propagate them on a bright windowsill or in a conservatory.
If you have a greenhouse, cold frame or a polytunnel that’s a great place to start them off.
I find the seed company Kings Seeds has a very good choice of varieties and they are very reasonably priced too!
It’s better to plant out in warm conditions and when the soil has warmed up. You could cover the soil with a sheet of clear polythene for a few weeks before planting and this will help to warm the soil.
Avoid planting during windy conditions or provide shelter from wind until your plants get going.
Plant in a sunny spot where plenty of organic matter has been incorporated into the soil. These plants are hungry feeders and like moisture too.
If you have a compost bin full then planting on top of this is a great place to grow pumpkins and squash.
Squash in particular benefit from being grown on a support structure. This is decorative and saves space in the vegetable plot.
I grow mine on a wigwam made of hazel poles cut out of the hedgerow.
A support structure will keep the fruits away from mud splashes and allow plenty of air circulation through the stems and leaves.
Ripening and Harvesting
It’s important to let your pumpkin and squash fruits fully ripen before harvesting. This can be encouraged by putting a bed of straw or something similar under each fruit whilst still attached to the plant. Removing a few leaves to let the sun shine directly on the fruit may also help.
Harvest when the fruits have finished growing and the skin has good colour.
Cut the trailing stem to which the fruit is attached so that there is a stub of a couple of inches of that trailing stem attached to your fruit. Including the stem of the fruit his should make a ‘T’ shape.
You can put your pumpkins and squash on a shelf raised off the ground in the sun and where air flows freely.
When autumn frosts begin the fruits that you want to store for winter should be moved into a frost free and airy shed.
Kept cool and dry they should store well into the New Year.
Pests and Diseases
Slugs and snails need to be controlled at the germination stage and shortly after planting out.
Powdery mildew can attack plants and coat the old leaves in white mycelium. This can reduce plant vigour and if severe it may pay to spray with a fungicide. However these plants can be sensitive to some products and so check the small print before using.
Unless you are wanting to break the world record for the heaviest pumpkin – currently standing at a whopping 2,624 pounds – then I recommend ‘Expert F1’ or ‘Jack O’ Lantern’.
If you’d like to grow some smaller pumpkins for decoration rather than for carving out try ‘Jack Be Little’.
I have a firm favourite for squash varieties! It’s ‘Crown Prince’ and keeps really well.
Butternut squash comes a close second for me and keeps equally well and is versatile in the kitchen.
You might want to grow some of the more decorative ones such as ‘Turks Turban’ too.
Carving for Halloween
Carving the centre out of pumpkins for Halloween is a wonderful project to do with children.
Keep the carvings to make into soup but separate the seeds for roasting.
Put a night light inside and put on you doorstep.
If you found this blog useful you might like to read about the three sisters growing technique that I use as squash is one of the ‘sisters’.
What varieties of pumpkin and squash do you grow?
Do you have any growing tips to share?