Pumpkins and squashes (Genus: Cucurbita)

Pumpkins & Squashes

Why plant

These plants really brighten up the vegetable patch. Bright in colour, they range from orange to cream and come in a fascinating range of shapes. Additionally you can grow huge pumpkins for competitions or to frighten the life out of children on Halloween night.

Last but not least, you can make a wonderfully warming soup along with other great recipes to warm a winter’s evening.

Interesting uses

Apart from carving a pumpkin face, or entering competitions for the largest vegetable, how about the following…

  • Felling artistic? For inspiration click here or here
  • Make a musical instrument, for guidance click here, here or here
  • How about a bird box, click here or here
  • Make an attractive bowl, guidance here and here


Native to Mexico and Central America. The oldest evidence for use are traces of pumpkin seeds dating back to between 7000 and 5500 BC. It’s possible the fruit were first used for containers, and when consumed this was initially only the seeds since the flesh tended to be bitter and sparse. Over time sweeter tasting flesh was developed.

The word ‘squash’ comes from askutasquash, from the Narragansett language meaning ‘a green thing eaten raw’.

‘Pumpkin’ originates from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for ‘large melon’. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion. Later American colonists changed that to the word used today of pumpkin.

Health benefits

Pumpkin seeds have many health benefits. They’re a good source of protein, zinc, and other vitamins, and are even saidPumpkins & Squashes nutrients to lower cholesterol. One gram of pumpkin seed protein contains as much tryptophan as a full glass of milk. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of magnesium,manganese, phosphorus, and phytosterols.

Studies have shown that, due to their carotene properties, squash exert a protective effect against many cancers, particularly lung cancer.  Diets that are rich in carotenes (especially pumpkins) offer protection against cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.


There are just too many to list! With at least more the 150 varieties, click here to see enough images to keep you going for a while.


Start seeds off indoors from March in a warm place. To germinate you’ll need a temperature of about 70°F (21°C) or higher. When all risk of frost has passed and the plants have at least four ‘true’ leaves transplant them into their final growing positions.

The plants develop best when placed in small hills which keep the soil warmer and should be grown in full sun. Dig a hole about 18 inches (46 cm) across and one foot (31 cm) deep and fill half full of compost. Then mix the compost and soil and form it into a small mound. Space the plants 4 feet to 8 feet (1.2m to 2.4 m) apart. In general, the larger the squash, the larger the vine, and the farther apart the hills should be.

Being heavy feeders, plant in soil rich in organic matter.


It’s a good idea to sink a 15cm pot into the soil next to the plant. By watering into the pot you will direct water straight to the roots, where it is needed. Water regularly and deeply, especially during dry periods and the fruit growth stage. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Irregular watering can result in pre-mature ripening of the fruit.

Weed regularly, especially during the early growth stage. Adding a layer of mulch or compost will keep the weeds down and feed the plant.

Train vines in your preferred direction. Carefully, and slowly turn the vines as needed. Move them a little each day. Trim vines, removing tertiary vines to promote larger fruit growth. You can also bury vines with an inch or two of garden soil, to encourage secondary root growth.

When the plant’s main shoots have grown to 2 feet (60 cm) long trim them back so the plant’s energy is concentrated on producing flowers and fruit rather than masses of foliage.

Soil-borne pests or fungal diseases can damage the tender fruits, so support them by lifting them off the ground, using bricks, tiles or polythene.


For storing over winter, allow the fruit to fully mature on the plant and then harvest when the foliage has died down. Immature fruit do not store well. Harvest before the first frost. Although the damage may not be immediately apparent, even light frost can damage the fruits’ integrity.

Although their tough skins and hard flesh would make you think otherwise, pumpkins and squash are surprisingly fragile. Successfully keeping them through the winter requires very careful storage and handling. Pumpkins and squashes are very likely to develop fungus on their skin that causes them to rot. To prevent this from happening, follow these simple practices.

  • Always harvest with a length of stem attached, any fruit with stems broken off should be used as soon as possible as fungal rot is sure to set in at the stem juncture.
  • Handle carefully, they're not as rugged as they look. Be extra gentle when moving the fruit about; for example never throw them or dump them out of a wheelbarrow. Doing so will bruise them and allow fungi to get a toehold in the damaged tissue.
  • Some people say wiping them with a bleach solution prolongs their life by killing superficial spoilage organisms.
  • Store in a dry, well-ventilated space with a steady temperature of around 40°F 45°F (4°C to 7°C) . Extremely cold temperatures significantly diminish storage life.
  • Most importantly, ensure circulation around all surfaces of your squashes by storing them on shelves or a slatted surface. Nothing causes spoilage faster than storing on a damp cement or earth floor. Slatted wooden crates are ideal for both moving the fruit around and for storage as they allow air to circulate fully.


Halloween pumpkin cake

Pumpkin soup

Creamy chicken and pumpkin

Pumpkin and ginger teabread

Roasted butternut squash with goats cheese

Butternut squash soup with chilli and crème fraiche

Thai squash and pineapple curry

Creamy parsnip and squash bake

Squash, ricotta and sage pasta bake

Roasted squash and red onion pasta

Common problems

  • Powdery Mildew can affect leaves, showing as a white powdery substance on leaves. Use surface or underground watering methods to avoid wetting leaves. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate planting location from year to year.
  • Cucumber beetles attack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles in early September because these beetles can damage the mature fruits. At planting time in spring cover vine plants with polyester row covers to protect them. Remove covers when blossoms appear to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers.
  • Squash bugs attack vines as the fruit begin to set and increase in numbers through the late summer when they can be quite damaging to maturing fruit. They hatch and travel in groups, which seem to travel in herds until they reach maturity. Using the proper insecticide when the numbers of this pest are still small minimizes damage. Be vigilant and squash the bugs if seen.

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