Pumpkins for Halloween

by Kate Bradbury

I love growing pumpkins. They're great fun and the results are incredible, although they're not the prettiest plants.

Home-made Jack-O-Lantern, photo taken by Julie WatsonI've just bought a new compost bin. This is all the more exciting because next year I'll use it to grow pumpkins. I plan to raise the bin on bricks and plant pumpkin plants in the exposed compost. The well-rotted matter will provide the plants with all the nutrients they need, and as the waste breaks down they'll get a fair amount of water too (saving me a job).

My garden is far too small to grow pumpkins really, but I won't let that deter me. I'll drape the long, winding stems up and over the compost bin as they grow. I'm quite sure this will work.

I love growing pumpkins. They're great fun and the results are incredible, although they're not the prettiest plants. They also require a lot of food, take up a lot of space and are in the ground for ages. I remember being a very confused three-year-old when, in April, my dad started digging a huge hole in the garden "for Halloween", which seemed an awfully long way off. It transpired that the holes would be filled with well-rotted compost, over which he would plant two pumpkin plants. My sister and I eventually got pumpkins in time for Halloween, though mine was oblong (I didn't think he'd done such a good job).

Twenty years later, I grew my first pumpkins on my allotment. I chose the F1 variety, 'Becky', as it promised to yield large, orange fruits with a good flavour. It did. I let my partner get on with carving them for Halloween, while I set to making pumpkin curry, pumpkin soup, and roast pumpkin risotto. I do love a pumpkin curry.

I've already bought my pumpkin seeds for my compost-growing experiment next year. I chose a pack of mixed varieties, which includes 'Jack O' Lantern', 'Baby Bear', 'Small Sugar' and one called 'Ghost Rider'. So all I've got to do now is make sure there's enough compost in the bin to feed all the hungry plants. And wait for that horrible business of 'winter' to be over with.


To grow pumpkins you need a sheltered, sunny position and rich, moisture-retentive soil. Sow two seeds 2.5cm deep in a 5cm pot in late-May or early June and keep on a window sill, in a cold frame or cover with a cloche. Germination should take place within a few days. Keep the compost moist and remove the weaker seedling after two weeks.

If growing in the ground, dig a hole 30cm² and 20cm deep and fill with a mixture of home-grown compost and well-rotted manure. Cover with soil so the mound is slightly above the surface of the soil, leaving a dip in the top. Leave to settle for one week while you harden off your pumpkin plants, and then plant one in the top of each mound.

Keep the plants well watered, then feed every two weeks with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato fertiliser or comfrey solution once the fruits have started to swell. Pinch out the tips of the main shoots of trailing varieties when they are 60cm long. Eventually the pumpkins will need supporting. I hope to be able to balance mine on top of the compost bin. I'll harvest them when fully mature, when the stems connecting them to the plant start to wither, making sure I get them before the first frosts do.

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Gardeners' World Web User 27/10/2009 at 22:27

Went for a brilliant trip to the Savill Gardens and loved their display of pumpkins and squash. I have grown many varieties over the years but have decided that next year I'm going to grow enough to make a display that will be worth walking along The Ridgeway near Wendover to see. That's a promise.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/10/2009 at 17:47

Thisyea r for the first time my children and I planted pumpkins.What excitment as we watched them engulf the garden, the two green orbs get bigger until they began to turn orange.They can't wait to start carving and I going to have a go at soup.We'll definately grow them again next year.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2009 at 01:02

Instead of growing your pumpkins, you might want to try melons on the compost heap. Canteloupe,watermelon, etc. all love and need the heat, nutrients and water from the compost to really come along. Try them. If I had a choice between them, it would be melons and not pumpkins. If you do do the pumpkins, get a few small pie pumpkins. They make gorgeous pumpkin pies.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2009 at 10:20

Thanks for your comments. I'll give melons a whirl one day but I'm set on pumpkins for next year, thanks TheWrightWay. Good luck with your display project LeighPorter. Kate

Gardeners' World Web User 30/10/2009 at 21:35

there the best

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