When it's only June, Halloween seems like eons away. But if you want homegrown pumpkins for fall jack-o'-lanterns and pumpkin pie, early summer is the time to get started on planting your pumpkin patch.
Starting your harvest
Depending on the variety, pumpkins can take at least 100 days from germination to maturity. Larger varieties take longer, around 120 days. For this nearly four-month time frame, the end of May to early July is the prime time to sow pumpkin seeds for a late October harvest. Pumpkins are very sensitive to frost and require warm soil, with the ideal soil temperature being 60 to 65 degrees F. In northern zones, late May is about the earliest time to plant, and in southern areas, early July is best. For the cooler climates, we suggest starting your planting indoors two to four weeks prior to setting outdoors for optimal growth.
Before finding a permanent home for your pumpkin growing, ensure that you have a space that will provide plenty of sunshine and room. In addition, you will want to plant your very hungry pumpkins in rich soil to give them plenty to eat. It is most ideal if you also include manure or compost in addition to the soil mixture. Also, ensure that pumpkins are regularly watered (but never saturated) and fertilized on a regular basis.
Because pumpkins produce sprawling vines, we suggest 50 to 100 square feet for each hill of three plants. Plant seeds in hills, five or six seeds per hill, with each seed under about 1 inch of soil. After the seeds germinate and begin growing, thin the hills to the strongest three plants. Hills should be 5 to 6 feet apart in rows spaced 10 to 15 feet apart. If you're short on space, you can also plant your pumpkins at the edge of your garden, sidewalk or in large 5- to 10-gallon buckets.
Harvest pumpkins when they are deep orange in color and have a firm rind (try sticking your fingernail in it to test). If it resists the puncture, the pumpkin is ripe. Also verify ripeness by knocking against the rind to see if it is hollow. If you don't hear anything, you may want to leave it on the vine another day or two. You can keep them on the vines until October, as long as an early frost doesn't hit.
Cut your pumpkin using shearing scissors or knife, and handle with care to avoid any bruising. Leave out in the sun for five to seven days to toughen skin and then store the pumpkins in a dry, cool location until it's time to carve. The recommended temperature is 55 degrees to avoid early rotting.