Growing pumpkins in Florida seems to be a Herculean task. After all, it’s way too hot to sprout them that long south. Nevertheless, you can grow healthy and juicy pumpkins in the northeastern region of the state. It may not be easy, and the capital needed may be a bit high for an average earner. But you can definitely do it!
Though pumpkin is native to North America, English and Irish immigrants introduced the custom of carving jack-o-lanterns for Halloween in America. They would use beets and turnips in England & Ireland to sculpt their festive moments. Pumpkins replaced turnips and beets as they were more suitable for engraving and setting a light inside.
Northeastern Florida is known for growing potato and cabbage, but the market is also available for venturers looking into growing other crops in the area. Pumpkins need a significant amount of fertilizer and 3-4 months long growing season. You’ll need to plant your seeds around late May to early July in the southern states. The month of July and the state of Florida is probably the worst time and place to do back-breaking work such as planting pumpkins, but you must endure the extreme heat if you want your juicy harvest-ready by October!
CHOOSING THE GROUND
Pick an area with full exposure to the sun (at least 8-12 hours+ sunlight per day) and enough space for vines. If you have a limited garden space, no worries! Pumpkins can still thrive at the outskirt of your garden, provided that vines can grow across your sidewalk or up a custom trellis. You can also try miniature varieties to fit in with your space. Pumpkins are heavy feeders that prefer well-drained soil. Before sowing the pumpkin seeds or transplanting them, you need to mix lots of (6-8 bags for 300-900 sq feet space) aged manure and compost into the growing site.
Hand-plant seeds with a row spacing of 2.75 feet, and with 6.5 feet between row centers. Spread reflective plastic mulch over the rows to deter pests and insects as well as to keep the ground cool. Pumpkins are likely to grow best when you plant the seeds directly in the selected area. If you plan to transplant, harden them off ahead of transplanting. The ideal soil temperature is at 95ºF.
Prepare the row hills in advance with a mixture of old manure placed about one foot deep into the ground. If manure isn’t available, you can slacken the soil and blend in a 2-4 inch stretch of compost. Plant the seedlings an inch deep into your cultivated rows with about four or five seedlings in each row. Make sure to allow a space of 4 to 8 feet apart between each row. Expect the seeds to germinate in a week with the right soil temperature and emerge in about 5 to 10 days.
Incorporate fertilizer into the soil, and lay the plastic with poked holes. When you see the plants to be around 2 – 3 inches long, snip off the unnecessary plants without harming the roots of the desired ones. Cut down the excess plants to trim the placement to 1 plant for every 1.5-3 feet.
Use row plastic covers to protect the plants early in the season and to prevent insect infestation. Pumpkins need lots of water. Northeast Florida gets a fair amount of rainy weather, but you may still have to irrigate your rows when necessary. Therefore, you need to water deeply, especially during the fruit setting. Try to keep the foliage and fruit dry because the dampness or extra moisture will make rotting and other diseases more likely. You can add mulch around your pumpkins to preserve the required moisture and curb weeds.
Do not over-cultivate to avoid damaging the roots. Most small vine varieties can climb up a customized trellis, which would save you space in your garden, but be sure to make them sturdy to support the expected weight.
Bees are crucial for pollination of your crops and fruits, so avoid using insecticides for killing pests. If it’s extremely necessary, use it in the late afternoon or early evening, when the blossom of flowers is done for the day. To entice more bees, you can try setting up a bee house in your garden.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are common pumpkin pests, particularly in late summer. Aphids, Powdery Mildew, poor lighting, and poor weather can adversely impact a healthy fruit set. So, spray for fungus and downy mildew on a 2-3 day regular basis for 3 or 4 weeks, but be wary of driving off the honeybees.
Also, pumpkins are highly vulnerable to leaf burn from bug-killing chemicals due to the intense Florida heat and sun conditions. So, use the smallest dosage possible.
HARVESTING AND STORAGE
The best time to harvest pumpkins is when they reach maturity. They will best stay fresh this way. Avoid picking pumpkins off the vine as soon as they reach your intended size, you should let them reach their maturity. If you prefer small pumpkins, purchase the small variety of seedlings. A pumpkin is due for ripening when its skin takes on a deep, sturdy orange color (in most cases). The shell will feel tough and it will make a hollow sound when you thumb the surface. Try to nail the skin as well. If it repels puncture, it should be ripe.
To harvest your pumpkin, cut the fruit off the vine carefully without rupture. Make sure you don’t cut too close to the pumpkin and you handle it very gently to avoid bruising. Keep them under the open sun for a couple of days to further harden the skin. Store them in a cellar, or anywhere with a temperature of about 55ºF. Remember that pumpkins grown in Florida will never be the big jack-o-lantern types so expect your produce to be around 8 to 15 pounders.
Do you think growing pumpkins in Florida worth the risk? Yes, of course! Florida-grown pumpkins taste good enough to compete with those grown in other states and are of supreme delectable quality for consumers to buy. Follow the tips above and you’ll soon see that pumpkins are easy to maintain if you have space and enough determination!