The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 4, 2007


The Country Gardener - Growing pumpkins in Carlisle

Pumpkins were grown by the Native Americans, and they are well suited to growing in Carlisle. Many years ago when I was a 4-H leader, the Carlisle 4-H Club grew a 108-pound monster and had the Carlisle Police take it into protective custody until it was time to display it at the Gleason Library Pumpkin Spectacle. Since then it has been hit or miss growing pumpkins in my gardens. Sometimes they grow well, other years nothing.

Pumpkins are vines that can eat up real estate at an astonishing rate. If well-watered and fertilized, one vine can take over a vegetable garden and creep onto lawns. "What fun!" says one. "What a pain!" says another. Do not let the thought of vast ground-gobbling pumpkin plants put you off growing them. There are several solutions to the problem of overly enthusiastic pumpkin vines.

Choose your variety well. Semi-dwarf vines never grow beyond reasonable boundaries. The size of the vine is always mentioned on seed packages. Pay attention to the size of the fruits. A huge pumpkin needs a corresponding vine of gargantuan proportions. If you are going for a forklift-needed-to-lift-it size pumpkin, then expect the vine to need space to roam. If little baseball sized orange cuties are more to your liking, then maybe one can be planted in your compost pile and allowed to sprawl a bit. Small pumpkins can be grown over fences and trellises. The key is to match your site with the variety of pumpkin.

This pumpkin was grown in Carlisle by Russell and Marcella Shepherd in 1996. (From the photo files of Ellen Huber)
Choosing pumpkin varieties to grow is great fun. Is it an ornamental pumpkin you are looking for, or do you plan on making pies? Some pumpkins look great, but taste nasty. Some ugly pumpkins taste wonderful. Are you going for the classic orange strong handled pumpkin for Jack O' Lanterns, or are you fascinated by the warty gray-blue weird looking ones? Are you growing them for Halloween, to decorate your porch, or to sell at the Pumpkins on the Common — A Community Fundraiser? Why not do all three? Why not also grow some extra this year to enter in the Pumpkin Contest on October 20? (For more information and ideas visit

Seed or plant, which is better? Most advanced gardeners would choose three pumpkin seeds over a potted plant any day. Three seeds planted in a group will almost always produce one or more quick growing vines that will out-pace the potted plant within two weeks of planting. But maybe you only want one or two plants. It takes some effort to order seeds, they give you too many seeds which seems wasteful, and you must keep track of the seed package until late May, their ideal planting time. It is just a lot easier to impulse-buy them from a nursery, or even better yet from the Carlisle Garden Club Plant Sale associated with the Garden Tour on June 15. There they are with a nice label, green leaves and those cute, twirly tendrils. Yeah, let's get one for us and one for the contest.

Water, fertilizer, sun...what else do pumpkin vines need to thrive? Squash borers are the larva of moths that sometimes burrow into the pumpkin vines at the point they emerge from the ground. Some people put panty hose over the vine stem to stop the moths from laying eggs. Some cover that vulnerable spot with Remay or similar cloth. A few brave gardeners just keep a watch on the stem and perform plant surgery by slicing into the vine and extracting the nasty gobblesome thing with a crochet hook. Ugghh!

One trick to protect the vines is to put a shovelful of soil on the vine at various points along the stem to encourage root formation. A vine that has roots at multiple points can get more food and water for growth and survival than one that just has the one main root system. Some years the bugs and rain make for bumper crops. Some years it is not so good.

I'm going to grow several varieties this year, having been inspired by the Pumpkins on the Common event in mid-October. Why not take a chance this year? Grow a pumpkin!

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito