Planting a Perfect Pumpkin Patch

By Charlie Nardozzi

It's never too early to think about Halloween. Now is a good time to plant your pumpkin patch so you'll have pumpkins of different sizes ready for painting, carving, decorating, and eating. Why not mix a few different varieties in the pumpkin patch this summer so you can harvest a wider variety of fruits come fall? Here's a rundown of some of the options.

Pumpkins by Size

It's easy to group pumpkins by their ultimate size. Small varieties, such as 'Baby Boo' and 'Jack Be Little', are only 2 to 3 inches in width, great for decorating, and can store up to one year. The flesh is white and edible.

The next size larger are the small pie pumpkins. 'Cushaw Green Striped' is only 1 foot in diameter and has white rind with green stripes. It's grown mostly for the sweet, moist, yellow flesh. 'Small Sugar is the classic pie pumpkin, producing 6- to 8-pound fruits with sweet, dry, orange flesh. Both varieties are great for baking.

Pumpkins such as 'Aspen', 'Funny Face', and 'Connecticut Field', produce 10- to 20-pound fruits that are good for painting and carving. These varieties mature in less than 100 days, and the resulting fruits have a rich orange color, smooth rind for carving and painting, and yellow flesh for eating. For something unusual, try growing 'Lumina'. This 20-pound pumpkin features a white rind.

If you really want a challenge, try to grow one of the biggest pumpkins around -- 'Dill's Atlantic Giant'. These monster pumpkins can weigh over 1000 pounds. Grown mostly as a novelty, the flesh can be used for baking and cooking. Just be ready with lots of friends to eat all those pies.

For more information on pumpkin varieties, go here.

Growing Pumpkins

Pumpkins love rich, compost-amended soil, full sun, and plenty of water. Most varieties need 100 days to mature so start seeds in the garden in June for an October harvest. Plant pumpkins in hills 2 to 3 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Sow 4 to 6 seeds per hill and thin to the strongest two after the true leaves appear. Mulch between hills to keep weeds away and conserve soil moisture. Water as needed and apply a supplemental dose of a complete fertilizer when the vines begin to run. To produce larger, but fewer fruits, pinch off the end of the vine after a pumpkin has formed on that vine.

Let the fruits mature in the garden until they begin to color. With a sharp knife, cut the vine, leaving a 4- to 6-inch-long handle on the fruits. Harvest before a frost, especially if you're trying to store these through the winter.

For more on pumpkin growing, to here.

Question of the Week

Q. My green bean plants are loaded with bugs that look like ladybugs but have a more brownish tint and are square in shape. Q. What are they and how do I get rid of them without using chemicals?

A. It sounds like your beans have an infestation of Mexican bean beetles. Adults are round, yellowish beetles with 16 black spots on their wings, and they do resemble ladybugs. They can be formidable foes. Inspect plants frequently; handpick adult beetles from the plants and squish their yellow-orange eggs (found on the undersides of leaves). You may be able to manage the pest population at an acceptable level simply by doing this.

Be sure to clean up bean plant debris right after harvest so adults won't have a place to hide. Plant beans early to avoid attack, and try growing a variety of plants to attract predacious wasps and assassin bugs, both of which eat Mexican bean beetles. Since beans are self-pollinating, you can cover the plants with a fabric row cover to create a barrier against the beetles.

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