By Jason Hauser
We usually fail to grow them on purpose but succeed spectacularly when growing them by accident, and usually in places we didn’t really want to grow them.
In a food forest setting they also have a place. The common notion is to grow them as a ground cover like you see on pumpkin farms, sprawling expanses of pumpkin vine covering the earth. The reality is however that the very second they get the chance to, they will climb up through your forest layers to reach the canopy and spread out from there. This isn’t a deal breaker and can provide welcomed shade in the hot summer months, but it can also turn into a bit of a tangled mess if left to its own devices. If growing conditions are favourable they have a habit of shading out other plants that are trying to grow below them. This shading ability is a quality that can be harnessed to snuff out grass and unwanted weeds at the leading edges of your food forest area, helping you with extending into new growing areas.
Growing pumpkins is otherwise very straightforward right? Each of you are very familiar with them and have absorbed all the useful information about growing them from friends, family, and Bob down the road who you lent your ear to recently. But do you really know the humble pumpkin as well as you think you do? Can you tell a big pumpkin porky from the truth? Read on to find answers to many common pumpkin queries and to potentially debunk some of your own long held mis-truths about growing pumpkins.
Why does my pumpkin vine never produce any fruit?
MYTH – You have a male plant and so you will never get any pumpkins. Plant several so you get a male and a female plant.
TRUTH – You only need one vine. Pumpkin vines usually produce male flowers first, and when they are more established will start producing female flowers. Female pumpkin flowers will also readily accept pollen from male flowers produced on the same vine (self-fertile).
I knocked my pumpkin off early can I still eat it?
MYTH – You need to wait until the stem of the pumpkin goes brown and it is fully ripe before you can eat it.
TRUTH – As a member of the squash family you can eat just about any part of the plant at any stage of growth. The fruit and the flowers are the best bits as far as I’m concerned. Immature fruit are great for roasting – less likely to turn into a mush. Fully ripe fruit is gold for pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie – full sweetness at this stage. If you have heaps of male flowers on your young vine – eat them too, sweet with a mild pumpkin flavour – add them to salads and stir-fry’s.
Do I have to cure my pumpkin before I can eat it?
MYTH – You have to cure it in the sun for at least a week before you can eat it.
TRUTH – Curing pumpkins is traditionally performed to increase their storage/shelf life. It has nothing to do with making them edible, they are edible from the word go! If you plan to eat it within a month – don’t waste your time curing as this just increases the opportunity for rats, mice or possums to steal your pumpkin plunder especially if you leave it outside.
Do I have to pull all my pumpkin vines out and start fresh every year?
MYTH – Pull them all out as they will surely die and you don’t want to let it spread diseases into the next year.
TRUTH – In warmer areas pumpkins can basically keep growing indefinitely. If it doesn’t die on its own and you wish to attempt to keep on growing it, there is no reason not to try. I have a four year old Jap pumpkin vine which is still producing. It’s suffered powdery mildew out breaks, white fly invasions, and a snail and grasshopper plagues – and bounces back each time. Sometimes you just get a vine that doesn’t want to give up!
Pictured – heirloom pumpkins, immature fruit, cut in half with no mature seeds inside plus male and female flower, 10cm diam pumpkin (Was one of the best roasted pumpkins I’ve had).