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Home > Food Preservation Articles, Reviews, & Buyers Guides > The Pumpkin by Angelina Jordan

The Pumpkin by Angelina Jordan  Item Number: article11



What’s inside its bright orange wrapping?

The pumpkin reflects autumn’s splendor and nature’s generosity in giving us yet another magnificent gift. It brings to mind thoughts of childhood afternoons filled with running through fragrantly turning leaves and crisp, clear nights of trick-o’-treating silhouetted by a blazing harvest moon.

Although typically planted and grown in a vegetable garden, the pumpkin is actually a fruit. It is a member of the Cucurbitaceous family of fruits, which also includes cucumbers, gourds, melons and squash.

Pumpkins are appreciated as much for their decorative value as for their food value. This makes them an anxiously awaited annual choice among professional decorators, floral designers and those of us who enjoy creating our own colorful autumn crafts and designs. The hearty composition of the pumpkin makes it as suitable for decorating the lawn as it does in for including in a dining table centerpiece.

 

History of the Pumpkin

Originating in Central America and eventually being brought into North America, evidence of the pumpkin indicates that it dates back as early as 7000–5500 B.C. The name itself pumpkin is derived from the Greek word pepon, which translated means large melon.

Long before the Europeans ever arrived here, Native Americans were impressive gardeners when it came to growing pumpkins. They made the most of each part of the pumpkin as they did with all of nature. Native Americans not only roasted strips of pumpkin over an open fire for eating, but they also flattened and dried strips of pumpkin for making mats. These early herbalists also used seeds, which contain oil for medicinal purposes.

Impressed by this versatile fruit, early Colonists used the pumpkin itself as its own pie-baking dish. By removing the stem, they could remove the seeds yet still leave the pumpkin intact. They then poured milk, honey and spices into the core of the pumpkin and placed it in hot ashes for baking the contents.


Growing Zones

Pumpkin can be grown in all of the U.S. growing zones, even Alaska. The primary concern is that soil temperatures must range between 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the seeds to germinate, so timing is critical. Various planting times range from late May in northern areas to early July in southern areas.

If planted too early and exposed to frost, the delicate leaves of the pumpkin plant will be nipped by the cold. A practical planting rule of thumb for pumpkins is to wait until after the threat of frost has passed in any growing zone. You can give your plants a head start by starting seeds indoors 10-14 days before you transplanting outside.


Ph Requirements

For producing quality pumpkins, you need to make certain that the ph content ranges from 6.8 – 6.8 for best results. Pumpkins also need nitrogen and lime.

If you have had poor results with growing pumpkins, it would be a good idea to have a soil sample tested. The results would let you know what, if any other nutrients might be lacking or possibly even excessive in your garden.


In general, pumpkins grow well in sandy, loamy or clay soil provided there is adequate drainage. If you have very heavy clay soil, pay close attention though if you have excessive rain, which can cause your plants to drown.


Planting

Seed Depth: plant 1 in. deep and plant 4-5 seeds per hill.

Plant Spacing: allow 5 – 6 feet between hills.

Row Spacing: allow 10 - 15 feet between rows.


Stakes and Cages

Although the pumpkin is a vine grower, the weight of its fruit is too heavy for using stakes and/or cages. However, it is very important that you provide the vine with proper care.

The vine is the pumpkin’s lifeline that delivers water and other required nutrients. If unattended and allowed to kink uncontrollably, this restriction of water and nutrients can cause the stem to tear or separate from the fruit.

Make sure that the vine near the fruit is loose, allowing it to move upward as the fruit grows. Position the fruit with its stem perpendicular to the vine so that it can grow away from the vine instead of covering the vine as it grows larger.


Sun Requirements

Always the ardent sun lover, pumpkins needs to be planted in a full-sun area allowing them generous exposure to summer light. They need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, eight hours is even better for producing a quality yield.

 

Water Requirements

A pumpkin is 90% water, which makes its water requirements significant, particularly during the peak stage of growth. It can actually double in size within a week’s time during this period of development.

This heavy-drinking warm weather plant will require even more water after it produces fruit. Drip irrigation is best if possible for delivering water to thirsty pumpkin plants to help ensure that the soil does not become excessively wet.


Pest Problems

Cucumber Beetles – bright yellowish-green beetle with black stripes and black spots. Its larvae injure plants by eating the roots and tunneling through the stems of the plant.

Squash Bugs – large, brownish-black bugs that both as adults and as nymphs suck the sap from the leaves and stems causing the plant to wilt and die.


Diseases

Bacterial Wilt of Cucurbits – bacterial vascular wilt disease caused by cucumber beetles. Wilt appears on single leaf and is spread to adjacent leaves by runners causing leaves to turn brown and die.

Botrytis Blight – fungus-born disease characterized by gray mold. It is often caused by a period of rainy weather at a temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Powdery Mildew – fungal mildew appearing as grayish-white dusty covering on leaves and other parts of plant. Typically caused by high levels of humidity. Its growth can be lessened by spacing plants farther apart from each other and also by gently rubbing the dusty spread covering the leaves.

Oedema – plant trauma resulting from excessive water intake. It occurs when roots absorb water quicker than the plant can use it and the pressure causes internal leaf cell swelling forming blisters on the plant.


Pumpkin Varieties

From miniscule to monstrous, different varieties produce a wide range of pumpkin fare in edible choices and also in ornamental selections.

Miniature Pumpkins

Baby Boo, Jack-Be-Little, Jack-Be-Quick

Standard Small Orange Pumpkins

Baby Bear, Baby Pam, Small Sugar, Spooktacular, Sugar Treat, Winter Luxury


Standard Intermediate Orange Pumpkins

Autumn Gold, Bushkin, Frosty, Funny Face, Harvest Moon, Jack-o-Lantern, Spirit, Young’s Beauty


Standard Large Orange Pumpkins

Aspen, Big Autumn, Big Tom, Connecticut Field, Ghost Rider, Happy Jack, Howden Field, Jackpot, Jumpin’ Jack, Pankow’s Field, Rouge Vif d'Estampes – often called “Cinderella”


Jumbo Pumpkins

Atlantic Giant, Big Max, Big Moon, Mammoth Gold, Prize Winner


Maturity

Most varieties of pumpkins reach maturity within the approximate range of 100-110 days except the Jumbo. This massive variety requires at least 120 days or more, depending upon whether it is being grown for competition.

Even though the pumpkin has reached maturity, its rind will still be hard. Color alone is not necessarily an effective indicator of maturity since pumpkins can range in color from white to nearly red, depending upon the variety.


Harvesting

If your vines remain healthy after the fruit has matured, you can expect to harvest the fruit in late September to early October before the earliest frost in your area. Pumpkins should be cut with pruning shears or a sharp knife in order to prevent their stems from cracking.

If the stem is broken or detaches from the fruit, the pumpkin will not keep very well. Be careful not to bruise or cut the fruit during harvest so that it keeps until you are ready to use it. Upon harvesting, pumpkins should be stored in a dry building or enclosed area at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with any damaged fruit being used immediately or discarded.


Nutrition

Pumpkins are an incredibly valuable food to us as far as its nutritional resources. The tell-tale orange hues of most varieties are a definite hint that it is a premium source of Beta Carotene, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A. It also provides a ready supply of potassium.

The seeds of the pumpkin, which also make a healthy snack option, are a valuable source of protein and iron. Fibrous consistencies of the fleshy fruit insides also promote digestion and regularity.


Preserving

Canning

2 ¼ pounds of pumpkin will yield 1 canned quart. On average, 10 pounds yields 9 pints and 16 pounds yields 7 quarts.

For canning pumpkin, choose varieties of smaller sizes that are sweeter. Make sure that the rind is hard and the pulp is mature so that it is not stringy.

Wash pumpkin and remove seeds. Cut into slices about 1 inch thick and peel the rind, then cutting the slices into 1 inch cubes. Place cubes in water and bring to a boil, allowing them to boil for only 2 minutes, and then remove from heat.

Fill pre-heated canning jars or canisters with boiled pumpkin cubes and liquid to 1 inch below the rim. Add ½ teaspoon salt to pints and 1 teaspoon salt to quarts before covering with jar lids.

To complete the canning process, place in a pressure canner of appropriate size for the amount and size of jars being canned. Check with your local extension for proper cooking times required for your elevation.


Freezing

Choose pumpkins that are mature so that the texture is fine instead of coarse and stringy. Wash and cut into quarters for removing seeds.

Cook pumpkin until its texture is soft by boiling in water, using a pressure cooker or baking by placing it in the oven in a pan of water so that it is steamed. Drain water after cooking and place pumpkin in a pan, which you will then need to place in cold water for cooling. After cooling, drain the pumpkin and puree it in a food processor.  Package processed pumpkin puree in clear freezer storage bags protected from freezer burn by a vacuum sealer. Attach labels and store bags in freezer.

Pumpkin puree stores very well in the freezer for up to a year. It can be used in any recipe that calls for solid pack canned pumpkin. Use the same amount of puree that is required for solid pack.

Drying

To dry pumpkin, select those that are generally sweet. Wash and quarter the pumpkin, then remove the seeds. Make certain that you do not discard the seeds, which can also be dried or roasted for a tasty and healthy snack.

Peel pumpkin and slice into pieces ¼ inch to ½ inch thick and steam for 4 –6 minutes. After steaming, remove from water and pat dry.

Place pumpkin in food dehydrator and adjust thermostat to 140 – 150 degrees Fahrenheit drying for approximately 9 hours. For even consistency in drying, use a food dehydrator that features air flow technology that forces air evenly across trays for quick drying.

Before drying pumpkin seeds they should be washed and have their fibrous coatings removed. Place in a food dehydrator at 115 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 – 2 hours depending upon the number of seeds you are drying. If you want to dry only a few seeds, you may want to use a snack-sized food dehydrator.






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