How Do Pumpkins Grow?
By: Liz Froment
Heading out to the local pumpkin patch and picking out a few choice pumpkins for Halloween is a tried-and-true fall activity. But did you know that pumpkin farmers work hard all summer to ensure you've got the perfect jack-o-lantern to scare those trick-or-treaters?
If you've ever been curious how to grow pumpkins, keep reading.
How to Grow Pumpkins
Pumpkins are native to North America. Records show people have been growing pumpkins on this continent for over 5,000 years.
Today, the majority of pumpkins are grown in 10 states, with Illinois leading the way by a wide margin, followed by Texas, Pennsylvania and California. The vast majority of Illinois pumpkins are processed—they make up your pies, fillings and other pumpkin-flavored snacks. While in states like California and Pennsylvania, the opposite is the case: Nearly all of the pumpkins grown are fresh and used for Halloween and/or home decoration.
To plant pumpkins, you'll need to create rows of small hills with dirt and compost. Then plant about four to five seeds 1 inch deep into the hill. Keep each seed about 5-8 feet apart. Tend the areas for weeds and don't overwater.
Pumpkins take about three months to fully grow, between 75 and 100 days, with some varieties maturing in as long as 125 days. When planting, make sure your frost season is fully over, since it will damage the plant. Depending on your location, that means you could start planting as early as May or as late as July.
Something else that's vital for pumpkin growth is the sun. Pumpkins need lots of it to thrive.
Your pumpkins are ready for harvest when they are deep orange with a hard rind. Cut each pumpkin with about 4-6 inches of stem—that helps them keep longer and makes it easier to carry them around. From there, pumpkins are shipped off to stores or processing plants, or stored in well-ventilated, protected warehouses that should have a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees.
There are dozens of pumpkin types, but the most common for consumers are pumpkins for carving, and those for baking which are smaller and sweeter. There are also mini pumpkins that are often used for holiday decor.
Adding Pumpkin Farming to the Mix
Pumpkins are often known as "garden gorillas" because they take up so much space. This can make it hard for home growers, as vines can extend 20 or 30 feet. That means you'll need a good-sized yard. For farmers who already have ample space, adding some pumpkins into your rotation might not be a bad idea.
Pumpkin farming is a great way to diversify your crop offerings. Since pumpkins are relatively low maintenance and just require a lot of space, they are easy to add to your crop formation. They're a popular addition among wheat, corn and soybean farmers. You also don't need any specialized harvesting equipment—they are cut from the vine by hand.
Many farmers squeeze two plantings into the season. If you plant your first batch in June, you can replant and harvest again in October.
Growing pumpkins can also bring in extra income. For example, you can leave your pumpkins on the vine and tell customers to cut their favorites. Or, you can create a fall festival atmosphere by adding in weekend hayrides and petting farms to bring in locals. A lot of farmers will sell to local wholesalers and markets, as well.
For some farmers, adding pumpkins to the mix might be worthwhile—and if you're just an interested consumer, now you know exactly how a pumpkin goes from a field to your front stoop.
Liz Froment is a content marketing writer and strategist with a focus towards insurance, real estate and finance.