Pumpkin is a gourd fruit and a member of the genus Cucurbit family. Pumpkin farming is believed to have originated in America centuries of years ago. It is now a common agricultural practice across the world. Pumpkin is a warm loving fruit that is highly susceptible to frost as well as pests and diseases. Pumpkins require a long growing period. The quantity, quality and size of the pumpkins harvested are defined by the production techniques employed. Poor practises cause a sharp decline in yields. As such, efforts must be made to learn more about proper pumpkin farming methods.
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Pumpkin farming is most successful in areas that experience prolonged warm temperatures. Pumpkins grow well in temperatures of about 18oC to 27oC. The ideal temperatures are 18oC to 20.5oC. For germination to occur timely, temperatures have to be roughly 20oC to 25oC. Pumpkins are highly sensitive to low temperatures; a light frost can be detrimental. For this reason, farmers have to make sure to practise pumpkin farming when temperatures are likely to be high for extended period of time. Although pumpkins thrive in warm weather temperatures, excessively high temperatures can be just as detrimental. Temperatures above 35oC tend to be characterised by domination of male flowers during pollination leading to low yields. Pumpkin farming requires a generous water supply for quality harvest. Too much water is however as bad as under watered pumpkins, flowering and fruit development are affected. As such, efforts should be made to ensure that there is uniform water supply throughout the growing period. Pumpkin farming excels in altitude that is up to 2000m.
Pumpkin farming thrives in areas with very fertile soils. Soils that are rich and light textured are highly preferred. It is advisable to grow pumpkins in sandy loam soils or well drained loam soils that are deeper than 1000mm. Pumpkins can grow well in heavier soils provided they have adequate drainage. Ideal soils have sufficient organic matter and are able to effectively retain water. Organic fertiliser such as mulch can be added to improve soil fertility and its capacity to retain water. In addition, soils should have a pH level between 5.5 and 7 for a bumper harvest.
Land preparation is one of the key elements that determine the success of pumpkin farming. The soil around the whole area where pumpkin vines will be spread should be prepared and loosened. This will help acquire a yield with larger sized pumpkins. Take care not to make the soil compact as it hinders proper root development. When preparing a planting station, there is need to dig a pit at least 45cm in diameter and 25cm to 30cm deep. Organic fertiliser is then be mixed into the soil using a fork so as to increase is fertility. Most farmers prefer manure and compost. Organic fertiliser should be added in generous proportions. Note that improper application of organic fertilisers can be harmful to pumpkin, burning the roots or diminishing nitrogen levels in the soil. Pumpkins are sensitive to waterlogging and this has an adverse effect on development. For this reason, the land where pumpkin farming is to be practised should be level to prevent water accumulating in hollows.
Moist soils can be improved by fertiliser. Prior to the application of fertiliser, a soil test has to be taken to determine the type of fertiliser needed by the soil in its exact quantities. A soil test can also help to define the amount of moisture available in the soil, thus farmers are able to properly water their pumpkins. Pumpkins appreciate to be treated generously throughout their growth period, therefore, an application of compost or manure will aid the growth of pumpkins. Inorganic fertilisers can also be used, provided they are registered and are administered in accordance with the soil test results.
Pumpkin farming is highly susceptible to low temperatures. It is tender and seeds fail to germinate in cold temperatures. As such, pumpkin farming should be practised after the cold season is past. Pumpkins can be planted directly in the field where they will mature. They can also be planted earlier using small containers where growth can be properly controlled and monitored before they are moved to the actual field. Plants should gradually be introduced to the field conditions for 4 to 7 days prior to transplanting. During the seedling stage, the top 5cm of the soil should be moist to allow optimum growth. As the pumpkins grow, the top 5cm has to be dry but the lower 25cm layers should be moist. It is best to plant on raised beds which are level as they promote drainage. Roots are not subjected to a constantly wet environment, hence are protected from diseases. When growing pumpkin on hills, 3 to 5 seeds are recommended per hill, they should be about 2.5cm deep. Upon maturity, plants should be spaced at 2 seeds per hill. Spacing however tends to differ with variety and vine size. Plant bush or short vined varieties must be 0.5m to 1m apart in the row and 1m to 1.5m between rows.
Weed and Pest Control
Pumpkins are often under attack from pests and diseases; these include beetles which attack seedlings and vines as well as both mature and immature vegetables. Powdery mildew causes a dusty white mould growth on the upper surface of leaves, shrivelled and twisted stems. To control pests and diseases during pumpkin farming, farmers should select highly resistant varieties and make use of registered pesticides. Crop rotation is also an effective way to control pest infestation while improving the health of the soil. It is unadvisable to conduct pumpkin farming on land that was used to plant other cucurbit crops such as squash and watermelons as this will expose pumpkins to infestation. Take care to keep the land free of weed that will compete with the crops for water and nutrients resulting in lower yields.
A successful pumpkin farming venture produces an average of 15 to 25 tonnes per acre, depending on variety. Pumpkins are harvested whenever they are mature. They should have a deep solid colour and the rind has to be hard. Harvest should be done before a period with frost. When harvesting pumpkins, they should be cut from the vines leaving 4 to 5 inches of stem attached. Take care not to damage the skin or the rind as it will lead to rot. Ideal storage is about 10oC to 13oC. For prolonged shelf life, the air moisture content should be 50% to 70% and temperatures 6oC to 13oC. Under appropriate conditions, pumpkins can be stored for a period of 1 to 3 months.
Successful pumpkin farming is often hindered by poor crop management practises which expose the vegetable to frost and disease infestation. For a bumper harvest, farmers have to ensure that the climate is suitable, soil is healthy and that there is efficient control of pests and weed. Pumpkin farming is a quite easy venture once knowledge and skills have been mastered.