It's almost Halloween! But once again, you may well be kicking yourself after forgetting to sow any pumpkin seeds.
Way back in spring you were busy sowing summer crops and Halloween was the furthest thing from your mind. But now you are faced with disappointment of picking your pumpkin from the supermarket shelves instead of your own vegetable garden.
It's a shame that these magnificent autumn vegetables are so easily forgotten, because growing a pumpkin is great fun for all the family. And don't forget that you can make tasty pumpkin pies too! Read our pumpkin growing guide to learn just how simple it is to grow your own pumpkins. Don't get caught out again next year - add some pumpkin seed to your order today in preparation for next spring.
There's a pumpkin to suit every home at Halloween, from the tiny Pumpkin Jack Be Little' to the enormous Pumpkin Dill's Atlantic Giant'. Or perhaps you'd like to have a go at growing Pumpkin 'Paton Twins Giant' with seeds taken from an award-winning, 1200lb pumpkin! But before you begin growing giant pumpkins its wise to think about how much space you have to spare!
If you prefer traditional sized pumpkins then Jack Of All Trades' is the perfect choice for carving and making pumpkin pies. For something slightly different why not try the small, attractive fruits of Pumpkin Hooligan'. The green and orange patterned fruits that are the perfect size for popping in the microwave.
Pumpkins require warm daytime temperatures of between 18 - 30C (68F) and prefer a minimum night temperature of 16C (61F), at least until they are planted out. In cooler areas pumpkins can be sown indoors from April to mid May for transplanting outside later on when temperatures have risen.
However if sowing space is at a premium then you may prefer to wait until the soil has warmed up in late May and early June, and sow them directly in situ outdoors. Whether you choose to start them in pots or in situ, it's best to sow two seeds per hole and thin the weakest plant out later on. If you are direct sowing pumpkins outdoors start them off under cloches to give them the best start.
Step 1 - Sow pumpkins seeds on their sides in small 7.5cm (3") pots of seed compost at a depth of about 2.5cm (1").
Step 2 - Place them in a propagator or seal the pots inside a plastic bag at a temperature of 20C (68F) until germination, which takes 5-7 days.
Step 3 - Once germinated, grow pumpkin plants on for about 4 weeks until they are large enough to be transplanted outdoors.
Step 4 - Gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting pumpkins into warm, well drained, humus rich soil in full sun, with shelter from winds. Choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun per day and prepare the soil in advance, adding plenty of well rotted manure or compost.
Step 5 - Planting distances can range from 90cm apart to 3m apart depending on the variety, so you will need to check the seed packet. At each planting station, pile the soil into mounds about 15cm (6") high. Plant each pumpkin plant on top of a mound to ensure good drainage and keep them well watered until they are established.
Step 6 - Pumpkins enjoy plenty of nitrogen so they will appreciate a feed of general fertilizer a few weeks after planting. They will begin to produce long stems which can be trained in a circle around the plant to prevent them spread too far. They have deep roots and are normally quite capable of finding their own water within the soil, but in very dry periods some supplementary watering may be required.
Pumpkins are normally insect pollinated but if the fruits are not setting then you may need to hand pollinate them. Female pumpkin flowers can be identified by a swollen bump at the base of the bloom, which male flowers don't have so you can easily tell them apart. Don't be alarmed if the first few flowers are all male. This is normal and you will start to find female flowers developing soon after.
As the flowers develop, pick a single male flower and remove its petals. Press it against the centre of each female flower. If you prefer, you can tickle the centre of each flower with a small paintbrush to transfer the pollen from the male flower. If you are growing pumpkins for Halloween then you will be hoping for the largest fruits possible. Select just two or three pumpkins per plant and remove all the others to focus the plants energy on your chosen fruit.
Leave your pumpkins on the plant for as long as possible until the skin has hardened and the fruits start to crack near to the stem. But be sure to harvest them before the first frost though! Cut each fruit from the stem leaving several inches of the stem attached.
Pumpkins can be prone to rotting if they are sitting on wet ground. If necessary you can raise the fruits off of the ground using a wooden board or a large upturned seed tray. When growing pumpkins you can help the fruits to ripen by removing any foliage that is shading them. In cool seasons you may need to harvest pumpkins a few weeks before Halloween and bring them into a warm room to help them ripen in time.