Pumpkins can be a great crop for home production as well as commercial production. The following information outlines several items needed to manage a pumpkin crop throughout the growing season.
Items to Consider Before Planting
Pumpkin is in the cucurbitaceae family which includes cucumber, muskmelon, squash, watermelon, gourd, and honeydew. It is common for plants in the same family to share diseases, making it important to rotate crops. If possible, it is recommended to wait several years before growing a crop such as pumpkin in the same place as any other crop from the same family. This is easy to accomplish if you are planting small plots and have enough land, but difficult for farmers who plant large acreage of the same crop.
If crop rotation is not possible, plant pumpkin cultivars with the most disease resistance as possible. Planting disease-resistant cultivars is also a good idea for those that can easily rotate crops as well. Some pumpkin varieties offer resistance or tolerance to certain diseases such as powdery mildew and some viruses. However, there is not a pumpkin that is resistant or tolerant to all the diseases, and some popular pumpkins may not be resistant or tolerant to any diseases. This makes crop rotation, planting cover crops, planting in a good location, and other management practices important.
Of course soil testing in advance of planting is recommended along with growing cover crops. Soil testing in the late summer and applying any needed lime when planting cover crops is a good practice. It is known how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium pumpkins need to grow, but growers cannot know what amounts of these elements are already present in the soil without testing. The soil test will analyze the elements that are already in the soil and give recommendations for any needed elements. Professionals in your county’s Extension office can explain how to take soil samples and answer questions concerning the soil test results.
Like most crops, pumpkins should be planted on a well-drained site. Pumpkins should not be planted in a low spot that is susceptible to flooding or on land with poor internal drainage. It takes time, but growing cover crops is a great way of increasing the organic matter and improving the internal drainage of a field.
Plant spacing for pumpkins varies depending on the growth habit of the pumpkin. Pumpkins do grow on a vine and are put into different categories depending on the growth habit of the vine. These categories are bush types, semi-vine types, and vine types. Spacing for bush-type pumpkins is 5 to 6 feet between the rows, with plants spaced 2 to 3 feet apart down the rows. Rows for semi-vine types are spaced 6 to 8 feet apart, with plants spaced 2 to 4 feet in the row. Rows for vining types should be 8 to 10 feet apart, with plants spaced 4 to 5 feet apart in the row. Planting time for Halloween pumpkins is around the middle of June and probably no later than the July 4.
Pumpkins are a host to several insects and diseases, and these pests, along with weeds, can reduce production. Scout the plants on a regular basis and manage the pests before they become a problem. Information on managing pests of pumpkins is available through your county’s Extension office.
Drip irrigation is highly recommended when growing pumpkins. If you have a water source near the field, drip irrigation systems are relatively low cost when compared to all the other production costs. Overhead irrigation can cause major disease issues with vegetable crops, and drip irrigation systems are always recommended. In addition to reducing potential disease problems, drip systems use less water, require less water pressure, allow you to work in the field while irrigating, and can be used to supply nutrients to the plants when needed.
Harvest pumpkins when they are mature. It can sometimes be difficult to tell when to harvest a pumpkin, but pay attention to the tendril closest to the pumpkin. When the tendril starts to wilt, the pumpkin should be mature. When the pumpkins are mature, they should be harvested and cured. Curing pumpkins involves keeping them at 80 to 85 degree F with 75 to 80% relative humidity for 10 to 20 days. After curing, pumpkins can be stored at 50 to 55 degrees F and 60 to 70% humidity. Keep the fruit dry and provide good air circulation. More information about harvesting pumpkins is available in the Alabama Extension publication Harvesting, Curing, and Post Harvest Care of Pumpkins and Winter Squash.