The Great Pumpkin Patch

Terry Prather - [email protected]

Traffic along West Maple Leaf Road seem to come to a crawl as drivers pass by Herman Ward’s great pumpkin patch.

Everybody wants to slow down to get a glimpse of the very large pumpkins that are growing near the house that he and his wife, Margaret have lived in for the past 43 years.

Herman Ward enjoys growing things. Flowers of all kinds and colors. Vegetables, mostly tomatoes and even pumpkins.

But why pumpkins?

“I have two great-grandsons that wanted me to grow them pumpkins,” Ward said.

“One lives in Kentucky and the other in Florida.” he added.

He tried last year to grown the big orange gourds that are popular in the fall but that endeavor didn’t work out very well.

Not giving up, he thought he would give it another go.

“Went to a local retail store in Maysville and bought a pack of pumpkin seeds,” Herman said.

Around the middle of May it was time for Ward to get serious about growing pumpkins.

“Tilled up an area roughly 12 feet by 24 feet and worked the ground until it was nice and soft,” he explained.

“Then sprayed it with weed killer and let it set for 30 days,” he said.

Carefully making three hills in the patch, he planted seeds in each of the hills and sprayed it well with Miracle Grow fertilizer.

It wasn’t long before vines begin to appear sprouting small yellow flowers.

Then things began to happen.

“I was shocked to see the amazing results,” Ward said.

Before long, there were pumpkins scattered throughout the patch.

“Might have been all the rain we had this summer,” he speculated.

One of the pumpkin that he sat on for a photo he estimates to weigh around 100 pounds.

“That one is going to my great-grandson Bryson Ward in Mercer County. Maybe today,” he said earlier this week.

What do you do with oversized pumpkins?

Mostly make jack-o-lanterns out of them or use them in fall displays, he said.

“They make great yard decorations, but aren’t good for eating,” Herman Ward said.

Pumpkins 101

Pumpkins are actually a type of winter squash. Many varieties can send out vines that are 10 to 20 feet long, which can be challenging for a raised-bed garden. One option is to grow them on a trellis, such as the Cucumber Trellis. Use a mesh bag or fabric to help support especially heavy fruit. Another technique is to plant them on an outside corner of your raised bed and let the vines ramble onto the grass.

Like summer squash, winter squash need rich soil that’s been amended with compost. They need warm weather and warm soil to grow and produce well. In most cases, it takes 90 to 100 days from planting seeds until the squash are ripe. Cold-climate gardeners may want to get an early start by planting seeds indoors about three weeks before the last spring frost. Plant two seeds per 3” pot, and cut off one if both grow.

Transplant into the garden a week or two after the last spring frost. You can warm the soil by covering it with clear plastic, which works better than the traditional black plastic, as long as you seal the edges with soil to contain the heat.

Some winter squash and pumpkins — the bigger ones, generally — will only produce a couple of fruit per plant. The seed catalog or seed packet should tell you what to expect. Pumpkins are always fun for kids, but not always good for pie. If you want jack-o-lanterns, you can grow any variety; for pies and soups, look for “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins,” which have sweeter, more flavorful flesh.

Butternut squash is a high-yielding winter squash and almost the entire fruit is edible. Most other types of squash and pumpkins have thick skins, large interior cavities and lots of seeds. Delicata squash are tasty and just the right for two servings. Buttercup and acorn squash produce medium-sized fruits and are good for storage, as are most winter squashes. Hubbard squash are great for soup, but often get to be 15 to 20 pounds, which can be too much of a good thing.

Harvest your pumpkins and winter squash in the fall, before they can be damaged by frost. Before being stored away, they should be cured in a warm, dry place for several weeks to allow their skin to toughen. Most squash and pumpkins taste better after they’ve been cured and then stored for a couple weeks, than they do straight from the garden.

Store pumpkins and winter squash in a cool, dry indoor room. A temperature of about 60 degrees F. is ideal so some people store them under the bed in an unused bedroom. Winter squash will rot quickly in the cool and humid conditions of a cellar or garage.


Terry Prather

[email protected]