How to pick the perfect pumpkin, gourd or squash


Pumpkins, gourds and squash are all members of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. Most non-botanists distinguish the three by our purpose for the plant: we carve pumpkins, eat squash and use gourds for fall decorating.

Grow your own

Jack be little pumpkinsPumpkins, gourds and squash seeds can be direct sowed. A common mistake gardeners make is planting seeds too early in spring. Cucurbit seeds require warm soil to germinate, so wait to plant until after the ground has warmed. Another pitfall of early planting is that pumpkin, gourds and squash will be ready to harvest before the fall season arrives.

To project an appropriate planting date, identify your desired harvest date and count backwards days to maturity. Add two weeks curing time. Ex: Jack Be Little Pumpkins indicate 95 days to maturity on the seed packet. To plan my fall decorating for the third week of September, I count backwards 95 days plus two weeks to cure. June 1st is an appropriate planting date.

How to plant

Plant 2-3 seeds 1 inch deep in a hill (small mound). Make sure to provide enough space for sprawling vines. Large cucurbits require 5-6 square feet between hills. Semi-bush varieties are space savers, requiring 4 square feet per hill. Small cucurbits can be grown up a trellis to save space.

Harvest and cure

variety of gourdsWell-developed fruit and dead vines are good indicators pumpkins, gourds and squash are ready to harvest. The exterior rind should look dull and dry. Hasty harvest, scratches and other surface injuries cause fruit to rot prematurely.

Cut pumpkins and gourds with 3-4 inch stems. Cut a 1 inch stem on squash. Don’t use the stem as a handle until the fruit has been cured.

The ideal post-harvest curing environment is a warm room with good air circulation. Damp or humid weather promotes rot. A drying period of 10 days is sufficient to cure pumpkins and squash. Small gourds require 2-3 weeks curing.

Large gourds such as birdhouse or apple take several months to dry completely. Large gourds may develop exterior mold as they cure. Mold does not damage gourds. Buff exteriors to remove mold once gourds are completely dry.

Saving Seed

Pumpkin, gourd and squash seeds are some of the easiest seeds so save. Unfortunately they are also some of the most notorious cross-pollinators. If you don’t want to be surprised by mystery cucurbits the following season, try separating species with as much space as your garden allows. Planting along the garden’s edges helps. Hand-pollinating is an aggressive approach that ensures true plants.

Seed saved from open-pollinated pumpkin, gourds and squash will produce a plant identical to the parent. If you want to save seed from store bought pumpkins, gourds and squash purchase heirloom varieties. Hybrid varieties will not produce identical plants.

2 more posts about pumpkins:

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