If you are going to have a school garden, then be sure to plan some space to grow your own pumpkins. They’re easy to grow, have a big impact in your garden and produce one of the most versatile crops to harvest with children. Here’s how to grow pumpkins with kids in your school or backyard garden at home!
Pumpkins can be started indoors or sown directly into the garden soil. I like to start our pumpkin seeds indoors because they make for a reliable veggie start that transplants well. Many seed starts indoors can be tricky to harden off and transplant with little fingers, but most squash seedlings are hardy and resilient, so a good choice for seed starting indoors and learning how to transplant.
We purchase our seeds from Westcoast seeds. There are many choices of pumpkins that you can plant that will all be available to harvest in October. Consider a mix of large and small pumpkins, smooth and textured, and even colour varieties, like white pumpkins! Also consider what you want to do with the pumpkins when you harvest them, before you choose your seeds. Some varieties are better suited for carving jack-o-lanterns because of their thinner rinds, and if you go with a Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety, be sure you have a wheelbarrow available to move it when it is fully grown! Gourds and other highly textured squash can be a fantastic sensory experience for children and will save you loads of money if you regularly purchase these decorative squash.
Pumpkin seeds take four months to grow into a ripe pumpkin. I usually start ours indoors in early May. You want your pumpkin plants started and in the garden by June 15th (at the latest) for a crop that can be harvested before October 31st! When we transplant our seedlings to the garden beds, I over plant the area with extra seeds directly into the soil in case any of the transplants fail. As always, when gardening with kids, over planting is recommended. It is far easier to go back and thin the overgrowth then to try and fill in later in the season with purchased starts.
Pumpkins enjoy a good compost heavy fertilizer. Be sure to prepare the soil for pumpkins by digging in well rotted manure or a liquid kelp fertilizer like “Kelp Man” to get your pumpkins growing quickly!
Caring for Pumpkin Plants
Fertilization can be tricky for pumpkins if the vines are big and bushy. If you have an abundance of pollinator friends in your garden, re-arranging your flowers to make them more accessible is a good idea. The pumpkin will grow from the female flower, which has a distinct bulb shape at the base of the flower. Pumpkins can be hand fertilized as well, which leads to an excellent lesson on pollination, cross pollination, and open pollination.
Pumpkins prefer to be well watered, but do not like having water sprayed on their leaves. Generously water the soil under the vines and add fertilizer weekly for large pumpkins. It can also be helpful to add grass clippings or straw to your garden beds to help regulate the soil temperature, keep the weeds down, and the soil moist. We like transplant our pumpkin seedlings and then add some straw to the growing area to support the overall health of the plant.
Pumpkins are susceptible to powdery mildew. This is an airborne fungal disease that looks pretty awful, but generally does not affect the growth of the pumpkins late in the season. Once the mildew has arrived, there is not much you can do. Harvest the pumpkins and dispose of the vines and leaves.
The hardest part about harvesting pumpkins is knowing when to bring them in. In our school garden, we suffer the theft of our pumpkins regularly. The garden is publicly accessed and, like most school gardens, we have to consider the timing of bringing our pumpkins in a bit early to protect them from theft, or leaving them on the vine a bit longer and having someone else harvest them.
Simply cut or snap the pumpkins from the vine to harvest. The longer you can leave the stalk, the better. Store the pumpkins in a protected, dry spot for a few days to let them cure before carving or cooking with them.
Pumpkins are a popular theme in October classrooms! Here is a related post with some great ideas of how my blogger friends have used pumpkins to inspire learning in Science, Technology, Arts and Maths.
Pumpkins are fun to grow and an awesome tool for learning across the curriculum, but they also taste amazing too! If you have an abundance of pumpkins, here is a related post with recipes to try in your classroom or at home with kids!
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