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Pick a pumpkin…

For many weeks, pumpkins have maintained a high retail price at the markets. Pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata), belongs to the family ‘Cucurbitaceae’. Pumpkin is a good source of Vitamins A, B and C and minerals. Some common varieties grown locally are Local Large, Iron Cap and Crapaud Back. Hybrid varieties are also available.

At the beginning of 2022, pumpkins were priced at TT $1 per lb whilst at the beginning of 2023, pumpkins are now TT $10 per lb. Prices may fluctuate as the Dry Season progresses; however, if you love pumpkins and squash, it is quite easy to grow them yourself, even if you have a small space at home.

You will need a spot with full sun accompanied by space for sprawling vines to run approximately 50 to 10 square feet per plant. If space is limited, you can plant at the edge of the garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or pathways.

In a very limited space, you can grow pumpkins in 10/ 12/ 15-gallon buckets (depending on variety) or try miniature/hybrid varieties. You will need to mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil for containers or garden beds.

If direct seeding, sow five seeds per mound, at a depth of 5-7cm. Thin out and leave 3-4 healthy seedlings about 1-2 weeks after germination. If using seedlings, plant three healthy seedlings at the centre of each mound.

If needed, apply a soil fungicide as a drench in the planting hole to prevent attack by fungi and an insecticide to prevent attack by soil insects such as cutworms and mole crickets.

Ensure the plants get sufficient and uniform watering. Keep the plants free from all weeds in the first five weeks and thereafter, no further weed control is necessary.

When fertilising your plants, apply 25g (5 tsp) of a high phosphate NPK fertiliser (e.g., 12:24:12) to each mound within one week after transplanting. If direct seeding was done, make this application one week after seedlings emerge. Apply the fertiliser at the middle of the mound around the plants. Do not place the fertiliser too close to the plant.

Five weeks after after transplanting, apply 25g (5 tsp) of Calcium Nitrate mixed with 25g (12: 12:17) distributed over the entire mound.

Around nine weeks after transplanting, apply 75g (5 tbsp) of 12: 12: 17 + 2 per mound. Water your plants regularly as pumpkins need one inch of water per week.

Water generously in the morning and on very hot afternoons, especially during fruit set. Avoid watering foliage and fruit unless it’s a sunny day. Dampness invites rot and disease.

Bees are essential for pollination, so be mindful when using pesticides in your garden. If you must use, apply only in the late afternoon or early evening, when blossoms are closed for the day.

Add mulch around your pumpkins to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and discourage pests if you planted in garden beds. Small vine varieties can be trained to grow up a trellis.

Larger varieties can be trained upward, too, to support the fruit, usually with netting or old stockings. You can harvest your pumpkins when they are fully mature.

Pumpkin matures in about 3½ months and usually yields about 5 – 7 good sized fruits or 45 kg (100 lb) per mound. Harvest your pumpkins on a dry day after the plants have died back and the skins are hard.

To assess if the pumpkin is ripe, thump the pumpkin with your finger, the rind should feel hard and sound hollow. Press your fingernail into the pumpkin’s skin and if it resists puncture, it is ripe.

Carefully cut the fruit off the vine with a sharp knife or pruners and avoid tearing it. Be sure not to cut too close to the pumpkin. Leave three to four inches of stem to increase its shelf life.

Handle your pumpkins very gently or they may bruise and remember, never carry a pumpkin by its stem. Pumpkins can be stored at room temperature and at a relative humidity of 65–70 per cent for six weeks or longer.

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