Pumpkins For Eating & Just For Fun
Pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) are native to South America, where they have been grown as food for many centuries, but here in North America their popularity has skyrocketed, not so much for food, but as a Halloween and fall decorative item just for fun. Since they are such fast and vigorous growers and due to their large size, pumpkins make an impressionable first crop for young gardeners, and first-time gardeners as well. Whether they are for culinary or decorative use, or both, pumpkins are well worth adding to our garden if adequate space is available.
As a food crop, pumpkins are quite nutritional—being good sources of vitamins A, C and E—as well as beta carotene and potassium. The antioxidants beta carotene and vitamin E are believed to help reduce the risks of certain kinds of cancer. Pumpkins also exhibit a diuretic and laxative effect on our bodies, and while their flesh contains a moderate amount of starch, they contain very little fat.
Pumpkin seeds are also nutritious, containing approximately 45 per cent unsaturated fat and 25 per cent protein, with notable amounts of several minerals, including zinc and iron, and the vitamin B complex. When eaten raw, toasted or fried, they make a nutritious snack. When mixed with sesame seed oil or soy sauce, they make a tasty dressing for a salad. Commonly used in South American cuisine, they are roasted and ground and used in sauces or as dressings for salads and other dishes.
Pumpkins, like most cucurbits, need a sunny, open spot in the garden, and yet one that is protected from high winds, which may severely tear apart the large leaves. When the soil has warmed above 60 degrees F. and all danger of frost has past, large hills should be prepared to a depth of 12-18 inches by 24 inches across and filled with well-rotted manure or compost, as pumpkins are very heavy feeders. Hills should be spaced 6 feet apart, and even farther for more vigorous-growing varieties, and space rows at least 6 feet apart.