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Growing Pumpkins

Pumpkins are inescapably associated with Halloween, and are therefore spooky and fitting plants for any dark garden. This year is the first time I've tried growing them. I had some success, but I couldn't compete with the huge ones in the shops.

I bought some pumpkin seeds from a local superstore; a generic orange variety that should be good for eating and carving into Jack-o'-lanterns. I originally planted them in small pots at the end of May, at the same time I planted my Black Magic Sunflowers. When I had several good-sized seedlings, I transferred them into large planters in a sunny corner of the garden.

The seven seedlings I had were thinned out again as they started to outgrow the planters. I gave three plants to my Dad for his garden, and kept four. They grew and sprawled out quickly compared to any other plant I've had; their almost daily changes surprised me a bit, and I think they would be interesting plants for young children to grow. I'll get the girls involved next year.

The female flowers were easy to distinguish from the more common male ones by the bulb underneath the big yellow petals; this is what becomes the pumpkin fruit. I manually pollinated them when they appeared using a feather rather than rely upon the bees. Eventually there was a baby pumpkin developing on each plant.

Two of my pumpkins survived the really hot summer, but despite the sun and constant watering, they didn't get as big as I would have hoped. My Dad had better luck with his. I think that my planters - although a good size - still weren't able to accommodate the root system a pumpkin plant needs to thrive. He scored three decent pumpkins from his three plants, growing in the soil. They weren't massive, but impressive next to mine.

We harvested the pumpkins at the end of September, by which time the vines had pretty much withered away. They continued to ripen indoors. Mum and Dad used two of the pumpkins for soup. We had the other three for carving and making Pumpkin Pie. Both our girls - but especially the youngest - were ridiculously excited and kept shouting about our SPOOKY PUMPKINS!! as they had seen several lit up on their way home from nursery school. We used flickering LED candles in our pumpkin lanterns and kept them inside for the girls to play with; the pumpkins survived for a couple of days, being carried around and dropped.

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