Pumpkin Planting Season is Underway

(Featured image from Raley’s)

Jack o’lanterns might seem a world away from your summer barbecues, but pumpkin-planting season starts now. The stores will, of course, become full of pumpkins come Halloween, but people who want to grow their own need to get those seeds in the ground. Planting season is June 15 through July 4.

My heirloom Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seed packet from Lake Valley Seed says seedlings can be started indoors three weeks before the last frost date in your area, then transplanted outside. Atlantic Giant Pumpkins are those huge things that can grow over 800 pounds and need six feet of garden space for each plant.

Forneris Farms, a Mission Hills, Calif. farm market that boasts “the most beautiful pumpkins in Los Angeles County,” handed out a fact sheet years ago at a teacher conference.  The experts at Forneris Farms give the following growing tips. And, they should know. They have been in the family business since 1966. If your pumpkins don’t thrive, Forneris Farms offers a harvest festival each October with a corn maze. For now, you can stop by for seasonal produce such as strawberries, avocados, and tomatoes.

Here are those tips:

  • Plant pumpkins in rows every three to five feet. (The giant pumpkins need six to 10 feet.) They will need sun, but partial shade is OK.
  • Seeds germinate (sprout) in eight to 10 days. Giant pumpkins germinate in 10 to 15 days.
  • The plant opens with a set of two seed leaves that feed the plant until the plant grows more leaves. The leaves help make food for the plant.
  • Pumpkin plants grow two different kinds of flower buds: male and female. Buds growing on long stems are male; those growing on short stems and sit on top of green bulbous knobs are female. Bees take the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Your pumpkins will grow out of the female flowers.
  • Pumpkin flowers bloom at night and early morning, but close during the heat of the day.
  • If you’re growing the giant pumpkins, remove all fruit from the vine but one to get the largest pumpkin possible. Prop the fruit upright while it’s growing so that it doesn’t end up misshapen with a flat area.
  • Pumpkins are ready to harvest about 120 days after planting. The pumpkins will now turn deep yellow and orange. Some elementary school teachers create math lesson plans around this to help kids understand how they need to plan ahead to have pumpkins for Halloween or harvest festivals.
  • Pumpkins that are not carved can last up to two months.

Here’s a guide to pumpkin varieties, courtesy of Forneris Farms.

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