Grow your own pumpkin for next Halloween
Our passion for pumpkins at Halloween can take a significant environmental toll. More than 43,000 acres of land were used for pumpkin production across the US in 2007. Ninety percent of those pumpkins came from one area, a 90 mile radius around Peoria, Illinois—meaning that most of us purchased pumpkins that had taken quite the fuel-intensive, CO2-creating road trip in a long-haul diesel truck to illuminate our holiday. Pumpkins grown conventionally are also treated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which can pollute soil and ground water. You can avoid all these eco-horrors, and still sport the scariest jack o lantern on the block, by growing your own pumpkin.
How to grow your own pumpkin
Pumpkins can be grown in most locations throughout the United States, but they do require 3 to 4 months of warm weather, with day time temperatures of 70 degrees or hotter, to thrive. Follow these steps to grow a Great Pumpkin that even Charlie Brown would approve of.
- When to plant: Pumpkins are delicate and they cannot tolerate frost. Do not plant them until all risk of frost has passed. Check the seed packet for exact planting times for your area, but the general time line for planting falls between April and July.
- Where to plant: Choose a sunny spot where the soil is rich and well drained. Medium-textured soil is best.
- Prep the soil: Pumpkins like a lot of organic matter to make the soil very rich. Stir in compost, manure, dry leaves, and other organic matter before planting.
- Spacing and depth: Pumpkins grow on vines that require a lot of space. They are planted in small hills or mounds, about three feet in diameter. In one mound, often called a "hill", plant four to five seeds spaced one to two inches apart. Leave five to six feet between each hill.
- Care for your pumpkin plants: Pumpkins must be heavily watered once a week. Also be sure to pull weeds from around the plants as they start to sprout. When the young pumpkin plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants by pulling and composting the two or three weakest plants per hill. And of course, do not use chemical pesticides and fertilizers that can pollute soil and ground water. Use homemade compost and natural pest control methods instead.
- Harvest your pumpkins: As your pumpkins mature, they will begin to turn from green to orange, and the vein will start to wither and dry. Pumpkins are ready to harvest once the color has deepened to something between a deep yellow and fiery red, depending on the variety. Leave several inches of stem when you cut your fruit from the vine and let them cure in the sun for 10 days. (Cover them at night if there is danger of frost.) You can store them in a dry cool place for several months.