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Home / Smart Harvest

Step by step: How to grow healthy pumpkin

John Gichuki on his pumpkin farm in Nyeri. For healthy crop, add manure to the soil every two weeks. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

How can I start planting pumpkin? This is a question many farmers ask me. Pumpkin growing is not difficult; the only big thing you need is enough space in your garden to accommodate them. Pumpkins grow on long vines that can reach 20 feet in length or longer.

When to plant pumpkins

Pumpkins are sensitive to the cold. As such, they should not be planted in the ground until the soil is warm enough. Pumpkins have a long growing season. If you live in a location where the soil will not be warm enough to support the plants throughout their entire growing season, select a planting site with full sunlight.

If you have limited space, no worries! Plant pumpkins on the fence and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk. Read the label on the seed packet for appropriate spacing. To increase their success, plant the pumpkins on the raised hills to allow the vines flow downwards and improve drainage.

As the pumpkins begin to grow on the vines, keep them off the ground using supports. This will help to promote even colouring and prevent rot. Alternatively, you can rotate the fruit once a week or so to ensure the plant takes good shape, even colouring and prevent rotting.

Watering

Water the pumpkin plants when the soil moisture is low. Pumpkin plants need a lot water, but they shouldn’t get too much. Apply about 1 inch of water to the plants at a time; however, adjust the watering schedule according to the rain availability in the growing area.

Over watering will cause pumpkins to rot. Note that, pumpkin leaves will look wilted in the heat of the day, even when their soil is still moist. As long as the leaves perk up again when the heat fades or when the sun goes under a cloud, you shouldn’t need to apply more water. Applying mulch to your beds will help to retain moisture in the soil. Additionally, mulch will help to keep weeds that could suck water away from your plants, at bay.

Avoid watering the pumpkin leaves. This encourages the growth of a fungus which can cause the leaves to wither and the plant to die. Water in the morning, rather than at night, so that any water that gets on the leaves has time to dry in the sun. When the pumpkins themselves begin to grow and turn orange, decrease the amount of water. Stop watering a week before you plan to harvest the pumpkins.

Fertilising

Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so you’ll want to make sure you fertilise your plants. When the plants first sprout (in about a week or two), adding fertiliser encourages healthy pumpkin plant growth. For the best results, feed your pumpkin plants every two weeks. You can also mix manure or compost into the soil regularly.

Get rid of pests and diseases

Pumpkins are attacked by pests and diseases. Cucumber beetles are the most common pest problem. They feed on leaves of pumpkin plants and small seedlings will not be able to survive an attack from these pests. Covering the plants with a garden fabric until they begin to flower will help to keep these pests at bay. Other pests to look out for are squash-vine borers, aphids, cutworms, leafminers and thrips. Planting companion plants with your pumpkins such as leeks, onion, and dill, can help to keep pests at bay. Control diseases by making sure that the garden is free of weeds.

[The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture]


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