Pumpkins are very versatile. Our pumpkin plant trailing across the lawn in the backyard was a wonderful sight to see with its big bright yellow flowers glowing in the sun. We walked through the vine mass and we were up to our knees in leaves counting the flowers with fruit, laughing and smiling as we found out how many pumpkins might grow!
The pumpkin plant belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and some varieties are known as squash. Pumpkins have orange and yellow funnel-lobed flower blossoms and leaves that are deeply round and lobed and they grow on a vine.
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They are interesting to observe, as they grow male and female flowers. The female plant has a small fruit attached to the flower and the male flower does not have any fruit, only a flower. Male flowers will appear first and when the female flower is established, the male flowers will drop off the vine.
When the bees have visited the male flower and then the female flower, they have then pollinated the female flower and it will develop into a mature big fruit. If there are no bees buzzing around your pumpkin flowers, you can use a small skinny stick and poke it gently inside the male flower to take some pollen and then carefully place the pollen into the female flowers.
There are many different types of pumpkin plants and it’s good to choose one that grows best in your climate and soil type. It is easy to grow them by collecting the seeds from a pumpkin that you love the flavor of.
Pumpkins come in many varieties and colors
I have had success growing pumpkin plants from seeds from a homegrown pumpkin that was given to me and also from the ones I’ve bought at the vegetable shop. Alternatively, a punnet of seedlings or a packet of seeds can be purchased from a local nursery.
Plant the seeds in the spring in a vegetable patch with fertile soil or grow them in a seed tray with a mix of soil recommended for raising seeds. Pumpkin seeds and plants need to grow in the sun or part shade, needing a minimum of six hours of sun to grow. A position with more sun is the best for a larger number of fuller developed fruit. It is best to grow them in the ground or in raised vegetable beds. If the only space you have is a large pot or container then that is also fine. If the plant is growing well in the container, it will overflow the pot and this growth is good. Pumpkin plants grow 10 to 30 inches (25 to 76 cm) tall and 4 to 16 feet (1.2 to 4.9 m) wide.
Seeds will take about four to six days to germinate. If you plant straight into the ground or vegetable bed, then if many seedlings emerge and they are too close together, it is good to pull out some plants to make plenty of room for them to grow.
If you have chosen to plant seeds in a tray, when the first leaves appear, you might want to plant the best seedlings. Most growers plant seeds straight into the ground because pumpkin plants don’t like their roots to be disturbed in the transplanting process. If you transplant the seedling while it has its first leaves with little root growth they should grow well also.
Spraying with a liquid fertilizer regularly will help the growth of the pumpkin plant and the roots, and it can also deter pests. Also, putting some chook or cow manure around the base of the plant will boost your pumpkin vine for better fruit growth.
Planting compatible plants with pumpkins will help to ward off insect pests. Planting pumpkins with herbs and other ornamental plants will also benefit their growth. They are ideal in a garden bed on their own or they can be grown with companion vegetable plants such as corn, beans, radishes, peas, onions, garlic, and shallots.
It is intriguing to watch a pumpkin plant growing over the spring and through the summer. They can be a feature in the garden as well, with their bright yellow flowers, and as the days go by, watching them when walking past the garden to see how big the fruits have grown.
A meandering pumpkin vine growing between herbs such as lavender, sage, thyme, marjoram, or ornamental plants like geraniums, daisy bush, diosma, sunflowers, or petunias.
Plants can grow large fruit — anything from 4 ounces to several hundred pounds. The size doesn’t matter to me, as there is plenty of fruit growing on our vines. To test to see if your pumpkin is ready to be picked, give it a tap and the fruit will sound hollow. If you hear the hollow sound, it is ready to be picked, or you can wait until the vine has died off and it should be ready then.
Health benefits of pumpkins
The reward for growing vegetables with brilliant colors and shapes in your garden is flavorsome fruit with a high nutrient value. The fruit is not the only part of this plant that is edible. The leaves, flowers, and seeds can be added to salads, soups, a stir-fry in a wok, or steamed. The flowers can also be eaten as a snack.
The pumpkin plant is low in calories and contains 94 percent water. The pumpkin is high in alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, both of which are precursors to vitamin A. Some of the health benefits of pumpkins are anti-aging for the skin, optimal vision, and healthy teeth and bones. They help maintain correct blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels, while also supporting a healthy digestive system.
The fiber content in pumpkins helps you lose weight, as pumpkin stops hunger pains and reduces overeating. A pumpkin’s antioxidants and fiber contribute to a healthy heart. Pumpkin seeds are full of essential fats, phytosterol, magnesium, and zinc, which contribute to a healthy heart.
The leaves can be used for healing wounds and scars. You can add fresh green pumpkin leaves to your diet by adding them to salads or you can juice, steam, or stir fry them with other vegetables. The leaves improve your digestive system, improve body tissues such as muscles and the nervous system, and their high levels of antioxidants are great for preventing cancer and ulcers by preventing damage from oxidative stress.
I had never eaten pumpkin leaves before and when I dared to try one, the taste was unlike what I had expected. I thought the small hair spikes would stick into me, but they were actually like a soft, fluffy texture and mild in taste. I suggest trying a new small leaf first to see if you like the flavor. I added them to a stir-fry with black kale leaves and spinach along with an assortment of vegetables. The fluffy, juicy leaves give a stir-fry more filling in the dish, while the leaves take on other flavors.
Pumpkin leaves, flowers, and fruit not only brighten the garden, but when adding the whole or parts of the plant to your weekly dishes, you are sure to be bright and cheerful, radiating with the abundance of health benefits from the rejuvenation of your body.