Prepare the Site: Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with moisture retentive, humus rich soil. Improve the soil by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost. The simplest way is to dig a hole 30cm (12in) deep and 45cm (18in) across and fill it with well rotted compost or manure. Cover with a 15 to 20cm (6-8in) layer of soil to make a raised mound that will provide drainage along with a rich source of nutrients. Left to their own devices the plants will trail for several feet in all directions. Ideally each plant needs 120cm square (4ft square) in order to spread and avoid competing with nearby plants. (Alternatively you can grow them in large containers).
Sowing: Sow indoors in pots October to December or sow direct from mid November to the end of December. A minimum temperature of 10°C (50°F) will be needed for germination, which can be supplied in the greenhouse, glazed porch, or cold frame. If grown entirely in a heated greenhouse seed can be sown in situ in late winter, or early spring for transplanting to a cloche or cold frame. If you do not have any glass, then delay sowing until late spring to avoid damage from heavy frost.
Sowing indoors: Fill 7.5cm (3in) pots with compost and firm gently. Sow seed on its side, not flat to ensure reliable germination. Sow 12mm (½in) deep and cover. (You may choose to sow two seeds per pot, and remove the weaker seedling later; the strongest plants are kept.) Label, water and put in a propagator or on a window sill.
Germination should take place 10 to 14 days later. If temperatures are higher it may only be 4 to 6 days. After germination the young plants will grow very quickly and will need repotting almost at once. When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot, transplant to a 12.5cm (5in) container. Keep barely moist to prevent stems from rotting and protect from strong sunlight with a sheet of newspaper.
Hardened off before planting outside, around late November/early December and all danger of frost has passed. Plant out with 120cm (48in) between plants, providing good air circulation to avoid mildew. Protect seedlings from slugs.
Sowing directly outdoors: Early sowing outdoors is rarely of much benefit as the seeds may not germinate if the soil is too cold, or cold temperatures may damage young plants. Four weeks before the last frost is expected is about right. Sow two or three seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep on their edges under cloches or glass jars with 45 to 60cm (18 to 24in) between plants. Remove the weaker seedlings later.
Cultivation: Hoe gently to keep the weeds down and do not let the plants dry out. Plenty of water is essential, especially when the plants are in flower and when the fruits have started to swell. Avoid splashing water on the stems of the young plants. Apply a mulch of about 12mm (1in) deep of grass cuttings or compost after watering. This helps conserve soil moisture and keeps the weeds down.
If you dig in plenty of manure before planting, additional feeding is unnecessary on heavy, fertile soil. On sandy or light soil, regular liquid feed will help boost production. Plants under glass should be hand pollinated. The female flowers are distinguished by the swelling below the bloom. Male flowers have a prominent central core, bearing yellow pollen. The male flower is first to appear and the female flowers will follow. To hand pollinate, remove the petals from a male flower; push the core into the centre of the female flower. For a high success rate, use a different male for each female flower.
Harvesting: 80 to 95 days (11 to 14 weeks). Unlike summer squashes, such as courgettes and marrows, it pays to let winter squashes ripen thoroughly. If you harvest the fruits regularly you will get a heavier crop over a longer season. You will know that your plants are ready after the rind of the vegetable has hardened and the stem is two inches long. If you harvest it before it is fully mature it will lose its sweet flavour. Harvest before the temperature falls. Use a sharp knife or secateurs to sever the fruit from the plant leaving a short stem, do not pull them off. Harvest all fruits before heavy frost, and they can be stored indoors at 10°C for several months.
Storing: Before storing, cure the fruit. Curing is best accomplished by allowing them to remain in the sunshine for about ten days. It is the sunlight that cures or hardens the skin. If there is a chance of freezing weather, protect in a storage building and return to the sunlight the following day. If you cure the fruit and store them properly, they will last well into the winter. The storage area should be dark, about 10°C (50°F), and rather dry (less than 65% humidity).
Nomenclature: Often referred to as a Pumpkin, it is a gourd-like squash of the genus Cucurbita, species moschata and the family Cucurbitaceae (which also includes gourds). Pumpkin seeds are known as pepitas. The common name of pumpkin can refer to cultivars of any one of the species Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita moschata. The fruit of which can range in size from less than 1 pound (0.45 kilograms) to over 1,000 pounds (453.59 kilograms).
The word originates from the word pepon, which is Greek for “large melon”. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and later American colonists changed that to the word we use today, “pumpkin”. The origin of pumpkins is not definitively known, although they are thought to have originated in North America, the oldest evidence, pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 B.C., were actually found in Mexico. Traditionally, Butternut is one of the main squash types used to make pumpkin pie.
The word squash is a shortening of the Narraganset (native American Indian) word ‘asquutasquash’ meaning ‘green things that may be eaten raw’. Pumpkins tend to have the thicker rind while squashes have a denser, sweeter flesh.
Edible Pumpkin Seeds
Toast pumpkin seeds for a snack, instead of discarding them when you prepare the flesh. Scoop out the seeds and wipe off any stringy flesh.
Place the seeds in a single layer on greaseproof paper on an oven tray. Add salt to taste and bake at 250ºC for 15-30 minutes.
To spice them up, prepare as above then place them in a frypan with 1 1/2 tablespoons of peanut oil and two tablespoons of sugar. Cook until the seeds begin to caramelise (about 45 seconds), then mix in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, ground cumin, cinnamon, and ginger. Allow to cool.