Unknown in Europe until the time of Columbus, pumpkins were first introduced to early American settlers by native Indian tribes, and were almost certainly part of the first American Thanksgiving.
Today, the pumpkin is also at the center of fall Halloween celebrations and carved as scary jack-o'-lanterns, or grown to record jumbo sizes in competition for autumn fairs and festivals.
An excellent source of vitamin A, pumpkins can be made into soup, mashed or pureed as a side dish, used in pumpkin bread or muffins and, of course, as the main ingredient in pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins - along with winters squash and gourds - are technically fruits, and belong to the same family as melons and cucumbers ("Cucurbitacae").
Like other tender crops, pumpkin seeds are usually planted in late spring when all danger of frost is past. Standard bush, semi-bush types, or miniature pumpkin vines are more suited for the small backyard gardener, but be sure to allow for extra space for prize jumbos!
For well-formed pumpkins, water well during peak summer months, and be careful of bruising young fruit to avoid later scarring. Harvest in late summer, as soon as pumpkins are bright orange and stems are rigid and woody.
Avoid powdery mildew on pumpkin - a white fungus that forms on leaves - by watering plants only during the day (which allows moisture
on to evaporate quickly) or by using a soaker hose which waters roots while not soaking the leaves.
Cucumber beetles and squash bugs, which usually attack young plants, may be successfully thwarted with chemical sprays.
Pumpkin fun facts:
What would Halloween
be without a pumpkin?
• Native Americans called pumpkins "isqoutm".
• Pumpkin got its North American name when 16th century French explorer Jacques Cartier reported that he had found "gros melons," which was translated into English as "ponpions," or pumpkins.
• The tradition of the jack-o-lantern originally came from Ireland, where scary faces were caved on turnips to help ward off evil spirits. When the Irish immigrated to America, they brought the jack-o-lantern tradition with them and the turnip was replaced with the pumpkin.
• Today, top pumpkin production states are Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
• Morton, IL is known as "the pumpkin capital of the world" where the Libby company cans and processes more than 85 percent of the world's pumpkin.
On the Web - How to grow pumpkins :
How to Grow Pumpkins from A-Z - Comprehensive tips &
advice on soil preparation, planting, care & feeding, watering, pumpkin varieties, how to deal with pests and diseases, recommended seed sources, plus a complete guide to showing off your prize specimen at state fairs and pumpkin festivals.
Watch Your Garden Grow - Pumpkin - A guide to soil bed preparation, general care & maintenance, recommended varieties, links to more on common pests & disease, with related recipes, canning instructions, nutritional benefits.
Growing Pumpkins and Winter Squash - Good fact sheet with information on cultivation, fertilizers, weed, disease and pest control, tables illustrating pumpkin and winter squash
varieties with information on size & row spacing.
Growing Your Own Pumpkins - Brief sheet on care & growth with troubleshooting tips for powdery mildew, bacterial wilt and other pumpkin pests. Also see related content on pumpkin
history & trivia, carving patterns and Halloween resources.