There can be few vegetables so fundamentally satisfying to grow as the pumpkin. A native of North America, the aggressiveness of its growth habit and the sheer size of the resulting fruit is a wonder to behold. As a member of the cucurbitaceae, its familiars include the squash and marrow. Before the advent of the modern age, pumpkin was essentially unknown to Europeans, though it has since been incorporated into regional cuisines from Styria to Illinois.
From the perspective of the grower, the defining feature of the pumpkin is that it is non-hardy. This means that the pumpkin cannot withstand frosts and struggles as temperatures approach the frost-threshold of approximately +4°C. In the UK, even at southern latitudes, this dictates a growing season beginning in June, with harvest being made in September. In order to gain a head start, consider sowing under cover (glass or plastic will do fine) in May and gradually acclimatise the developing seedlings to outdoor conditions once all possibility of frost has passed. For more northerly areas and frost pockets, it may be necessary to keep the developing plants under cover for all but the warmest part of the summer.
Beyond an intolerance to cold conditions, your pumpkins, including those grown primarily for flavour rather than size, will exhibit a vigorous growth habit. Logically therefore, they will require a rich growing medium. In my case, I indulge the seedlings by digging trenches as deep as the sub-soil and approximately 100cm in breadth, into which I spade a mixture of manure and compost. Although manure is inappropriate in its raw state for many vegetables, being overly acidic, the pumpkin will thrive in these rich conditions. Many growers, having dug their ‘pumpkin pit’, build a robust wall around each pit before planting the pumpkin seedling. This allows for effective watering and feeding of these greedy plants, without the wasteful run-off that might otherwise result.
Your pumpkin will be prey to relatively few pests and diseases, though mildew can be a difficulty later in the season, particularly in wet years. Keep an anti-fungal agent to hand and water on at the first sign of infection. By the same token, raise the developing fruits from the ground on a piece of slate or similarly flattish stone in order to avoid rots spreading from the soil.
Harvest your pumpkin during September, before the first of the autumn frosts. Whether hollowing out for a Hallowe’en lantern or simply for the pleasure of pumpkin pie, you’ll be sure to appreciate the effort you gave to growing this king amongst vegetables.