How To Grow and Preserve Pumpkins

on June 18, 2015
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The Great PumpkinI love growing, preserving, and using pumpkins almost as much as I do sweet potatoes! I like the simplicity of starting them from seed, transplanting them into the garden, and then leaving them there until the rest of harvest rush is over. Pumpkins just sit in the garden until the vines have dried up. You can even leave them there until just before it freezes. It’s so fun to walk through the pumpkin patch and look at all the different sizes and shapes. They store well, preserve easily, and are a great food for all livestock.

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Pumpkins are a winter squash like butternut, or acorn. Winter squash is never used small or green like summer squash. They have to be allowed to ripen on the vine and are very nourishing. Pumpkins produce more per pound than any other garden vegetable I know of.

Planting:

Depending on the kind of pumpkin you plant, it will take anywhere from 90 to 120 days for your fruit to be ready. This means you want to plant them at least that many days ahead of your first frost date. I start my seeds in late April to early May so that we can transplant them to the garden in early June.

I normally plant two kinds of pumpkins. My favorites are Big Max and Juan Gros De Paris (both of these are available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds). This year I only planted 34 Big Max because of the flooding we had up through May.

We make our own potting soil by mixing sandy soil, compost soil, and dirt from the chicken yard in a 2:3:2 ratio. When they put off their second true leaf, we transplant them to the garden. Each new seedling goes into a hole 3 to 4 inches deep – depending on the size of the transplant. My pumpkins are planted in a deep mulched area about 3 feet apart. Read more about mulching.

Pumpkin Seedlings

You can direct seed your pumpkins by planting them 1 inch deep, three seeds to a hill, and each hill 4 to 6 feet apart. Your variety will determine how quickly you’ll see germination, but between 7 to 10 days is normal.

Care:

Once they start putting off their vines, it’s important to be careful with them. When they start to bloom and produce fruit don’t disturb them or break them. Pumpkins need lots of water, especially once they are bearing fruit. If I see that any insect has been eating the leaves, I sprinkle the plants and the ground around them with the diatomaceous earth.

Just a fun little note: watermelons and pumpkins are very easy to personalize. When your pumpkins or melons first start getting big, but are still green, use your fingernail or the dull side of a blade to lightly scratch names, a phrase, or a design into the skin. As the skin thickens, the scratch heals over into a raised scar and the result is so much fun! I used to love having the boys search the pumpkin patch for the one with their name.

Newly Transplanted Pumpkin Seedling

Harvesting and Curing:

Like we said, just let them sit until the vines are dried up or until the first frost comes and kills the vines. Be careful not to let your pumpkins freeze. When the vines are dead, cut the stems at least an inch from the fruit then let them sit there for 5 to 14 days depending on your weather forecast.

If you do have to bring them in early or when it’s time to bring them in, put them in a warm place to allow the rind to harden and the fruit to heal from any nicks or cuts. Be sure you handle your pumpkins gently because they won’t heal from bruises, which will rot first.

If you’re pumpkin does freeze, as soon as it thaws it will begin to rot so you’ll have to preserve them as soon as possible.

Part of our pumpkin patch

Partial view of the pumpkin patch. Notice the yellow leaves from all the rain we’re having.

Storing:

Remember, your stored pumpkins, just like any other garden produce, must never freeze. They will store longer if they are kept where they don’t touch one another. They tend to rot at the points of contact. The ones we’ll be giving to livestock do get piled up. We check them regularly to be sure any with bad spots get used first.

If one set aside for human consumption does develop a bad spot, you can usually just cut the bad spot out and use or preserve it right away. Long-term storage of your pumpkins is best between 50 to 60°, but we simply just do the best we can. Everyone has their own way of doing it. A root cellar is the ideal place for them, but we don’t have one…yet 🙂 The ones for us to eat are kept in an unheated room in our house. With careful monitoring and a little luck, the pumpkins you harvest in October will be good until February or March.

Pumpkin Pie:

Of course the first thing everyone thinks of when you mention pumpkin is the ever popular pumpkin pie. It’s part of our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Making your pie from home grown pumpkins is easier than you think.

Here’s how I do mine. Cut the pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds and place each half upside down in a shallow baking pan. Add just enough water to reach the rim of the pumpkin then bake at 400° for about an hour. When it’s done, scoop the pumpkin flesh out and puree it in a blender or use an electric mixer to mash it thoroughly. I use my Vitamix.

Another way I prepare my pumpkin for pie is to slice, peel, and cube the pumpkin. Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot. Bring it to a boil and let it cook down until all the liquid content of the pumpkin is cooked out and the pumpkin is thickened. You have to continuously stir it, especially once it starts to thicken to prevent burning. Be careful of the bubbling so you don’t get burned. I have good results with either method.

2 weeks post transplant

Seedling 2 weeks post transplant

Preserving:

Freezing – Simply cut open the pumpkin and remove the fibers and seeds. Cut it into pieces and boil it in as little water as possible until it just begins to soften. You can also steam or bake it until it is barely soft. When the pumpkin first begins to soften, remove the rind and slightly mash the fruit. You don’t need to puree it, just mash it well. Put as much as you would like in your freezer bag and place it in the freezer.

Drying – The old-timers preferred drying pumpkins. Of course they used air and sun to dry their pumpkins where I use a dehydrator. Slice the pumpkin into round slices 1/4″ thick. Remove the seeds, fibers, and rinds. Next, cut the round slices into pieces no larger than 1″ and place them on trays in the dehydrator. Dry on 120° for 18 to 24 hours. They will have a leathery texture.

Remember that when you are ready to rehydrate your pumpkin for use in any recipe, a little bit goes a long way since dehydrated foods shrink tremendously. Rehydrate by soaking in boiling water or place the desired amount into water and boil on low until it’s rehydrated. You can steam it to rehydrate, but I find this takes much longer.

Canning – Once you have the pumpkin peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes, cover it with water and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 2 minutes and then hot pack it into sterilized jars. Pour the liquid from the boiling pumpkin over the chunks in the jars. Be sure to leave a 1 inch head space. It’s best to not mash or purée the pumpkin before canning. Process in your pressure canner according to the latest guidelines. You can check them here.

I guess I should mention the seeds. They are very nutritious for people and livestock. We roast them, sprout them, eat them raw, and save them to replant. But that’s another conversation!

Which ever way you choose to preserve your pumpkin, you can easily use it in any recipe you want. Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe? Do you grow pumpkins and have pumpkin growing tips for us? Be sure to share with us in the comments below. You can also reach me personally by using the Contact Me page.

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Safe and Happy Journey

Rhonda and The Pack

Roxie and Bowser on Guard

Roxie and Bowser guarding the new chicks and turkey chicks

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