It’s too late to plant pumpkins, but not to plan

It’s too late to plant pumpkins, but not to plan

When you and I were popping firecrackers on July 4, the pumpkin growers of Texas were planting pumpkin seeds. These harbingers of fall take 100 days to mature, so you have to think ahead — way ahead — to have them for Halloween celebrations. Pumpkins are members of the gourd family, which incudes cucumbers, melons, cantaloupe, watermelons and zucchini. What do members of the gourd family have in common? They need plenty of space.

These beloved staples of fall and winter are native to Central and South America. They are the key to many popular dishes including pies, soups and breads, and are prominent on our Thanksgiving tables. Texas is the fourth leading state in commercial pumpkin production, and pumpkins generate $2.4 million for our Lone Star farmers. From 5,000-8,000 acres are planted annually in Texas with a majority in West Texas. Floydada, Texas, out near Lubbock, proclaims itself the “Pumpkin Capital of Texas,” with its annual Punkin’ Day celebration the second week of October.

Maybe you have been encouraging your kids, grandkids or yourself to try your own hand at raising pumpkins. Just think of the display you could have for Halloween and Thanksgiving! You will need plenty of space and lots of sun. Plant seeds sometime between June 1 and July 4 in order for your pumpkins to mature by Halloween. Pumpkins keep well after they have been harvested, but you can’t speed up the ripening process, so start earlier than later.

A space 10 foot by 20 foot (200 feet) will only handle a few pumpkin plants. Popular varieties to plant are the really large ones like Dill’s Atlantic Giant and Big Max. Smaller pumpkins like Small Sugar and Jack B Nimble are also good choices. You may also want to look for different pumpkin colors in unique shades of orange, blue and white. It’s interesting that smaller pumpkins can actually be squash. The way to tell a true pumpkin is by studying the stem. At harvest time, the stem of a true pumpkin will be angular and tough when you cut it. The stem of the squash will be round and much easier to cut.

They prefer loose, well-drained soil for their Texas-size root systems. Compost well and add barnyard manure or organic fertilizer. Plant the seeds in hills or groups of about five seeds with hills about 6 feet apart. Water deeply once a week if it doesn’t rain. In Mexico, farmers harvest pumpkins at many stages of growth. They use the baby pumpkins much like we would use squash in recipes.

Don’t forget the Fall Fruit and Vegetable show Oct. 15, 8 a.m. – noon at Central Mall. Due to unexpected rain and high winds, spring’s event was canceled. Come and see the produce from the abundant fall gardens that will be showcased this Saturday. Master gardeners will be there to answer your questions and suggest crops for your area. You can enter, too! Call Peggy at (409) 835-8461 for further information.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and add one chopped onion and one crushed garlic clove. Cook until softened. Add one teaspoon each of ginger and cumin, four cups chicken stock, and one 2-pound peeled, seeded pumpkin cut into chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste, boil then reduce heat to simmer for 25 minutes. You can eat the soup chunky or put into a blender to make it smoother in texture. Top with sour cream or yogurt if you like.

 

Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”

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