If there’s one way to get children interested in gardening its to give them their own growing projects. Kids either need to grow something that will give them fast and obvious results, like salads and potatoes, or a project that creates something that inspires them. Children love to grow giant sunflowers with their big smiley faces, tasty red strawberries or even their own pumpkin for Halloween.
Pumpkins are a great thing to grow with youngsters. Sow them during May and by the time they are ready to plant out into the garden the last frost will have passed. This is important as these tender plants will be quickly killed by a late frost.
Though many children will aspire to growing the biggest pumpkin possible, that’s a bit more of a challenge and one that should perhaps wait until they’ve learned the ropes, but there’s no reason why they can’t grow a more productive variety that produces small to medium fruits. These should bear 3 or 4 pumpkins per plant depending on the variety and will ensure there are at least one or two ready for carving in October and hopefully a few more spare to make into soups, pies and risotto‘s too. Or choose a miniature pumpkin such as ‘Jack Be Little’ that will produce six or more mini pumpkins on each plant.
Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbit family that also includes marrow‘s, cucumbers, melons, squash and even the more exotic loofah.
Fill several individual 7cm pots with a good quality seed compost. Use a dibber to make one hole in the centre of each pot about 2cm deep. Place one seed into each hole. Plant seeds on their side, rather than flat in the hole, this can help prevent them from rotting. Water with slightly tepid water and leave in a warm place on a sunny windowsill or in a sunny greenhouse. Do not over water.
The seeds will germinate in 4-7 days. Allow two or three sets of leaves to form and keep the plants moist but not over wet. When you can see the roots through the bottom of the pots they are ready to plant out. Plant each plant into the very top of a mound of rich soil or individually into a large planter. Feed with a quality fertiliser of your choice. Keep them protected from slugs and well watered.
The pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are orange, firm and ripe. Cut them off with an inch or so of stem and store them somewhere cool, dry and protected from frost.
You need a bit of space to grow pumpkins, traditionally that was a pumpkin patch, because these plants clamber and trail around the garden. To get a good crop you need to ensure that the female flowers are pollinated. Local bees will do this for you, or you can intervene and pick off open male flowers and rub their pollen onto the stigma of the female flower.