Growing Pumpkins for Fun and Food

When growing pumpkins there are so many different ways to use the celebrated fall holidays to provide a fun environment for the surrounding community and is a sustainable way to make a living.

Of course you don’t need to grow your own pumpkins, but it certainly can be fun. Check out the varieties that grow best in your area, choose a sunny spot that gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day, and space the seeds 6-8 inches apart. Ideally the seeds should go in the grown during your planting season, when there is 100-120 frost free days. You must water your pumpkins regularly!

For larger operations you’ll need to think like a sustainable farm to get the best results.

A pumpkin patch can offer a variety of different pumpkins and gourds to sell for Halloween and Thanksgiving festivities. Creating themed patches or haunted patches, or letting people pick their own pumpkin straight off the vine is a great way to promote community gatherings. Kids love the sight of fresh pumpkins, creating jack-o-lanterns and collecting the pumpkin seeds to roast in the oven for a salty treat.

Currently there are under 100 farms in the US that produce certified organic ornamental pumpkins. To keep a pumpkin patch organic and truly sustainable there are some methods to consider putting to good use.

Crop rotations will ensure the nutrients stay within the soil and are not overused and depleted. If pumpkins and other gourds are the only crop being planted, make sure to have a big enough area that the crops can planted in different spots each year. Composting the old crop residue after harvest can be placed into the soil for the next years harvest. This creates a cycle of soil composting that will help create a natural and rich soil each season.

Commercial fertilizer and pesticide should be avoided. There are mineral-bearing rock powders that can be used to feed the plants and add extra nutrients when needed to the soil. Managing insects and weeds can also be managed without chemicals. Compost is a great weed inhibitor but also other livestock like ducks or goats are great at removing any unwanted weeds and pests. However if livestock is not an option there are other biorational controls that can be used like delayed planting, mulch, floating row covers and insect vacuuming. It all depends upon what type of pest you are dealing with and what will work best for your crop. The classic hand-hoeing before the plants begin to vine will also keep weeds at bay.

Roasted pumpkin seeds, a healthy snack from your homegrown pumpkins.

There are many opportunities available after harvesting. To know when the pumpkin is ready is usually based on the hardness of it’s shell. There should be no green spots and all the vines should be withering or dead. You can sell, can, freeze, or compost your yield. Teach your kids about seed saving with the pumpkin seeds! You can also make a delicious snack by roasting the seeds and seasoning them to your own taste. Winter squash and pumpkins are the hardiest of all cucurbits and the whole family can get involved with the sale and promotion of the farm. Although pumpkins are more associated now with fall decoration than winter food supply, there are many great pumpkin recipes available to offer both to friends, family and customers!

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