When you arrive on the farm in the fall to pick your pumpkins, the patch is full of large, beautiful orange pumpkins. But they didn’t just pop up out of the ground like that. What started in the spring, takes much guided care throughout the summer to end up with a field of orange. Here’s the amazing path of a pumpkin seed.
The pumpkin seeds are usually planted near the end of spring. They are planted fairly close together to maximize the possible number of plants that will grow. The ground needs to be warm and moist to germinate and begin to grow.
After a couple weeks, the seed sprouts from the ground with a couple of small leaves. We can see at this time which plants appear to be healthy and which ones may struggle to flourish. If allowed to continue growing at this spacing, the pumpkin plants will compete with one another and will not grow to full size. This is when we walk through the patch and pick out the weak looking plants and the plants that are competing with others.
Within the next few weeks, the plant develops large leaves and yellow flowers. The plant itself is a few feet in diameter now, sending vines in every direction across the ground. Male flowers appear first and more numerous than the female flowers. You can tell the difference by the small green ball that grows behind the female flower. That small ball is a pumpkin waiting to be pollinated by the male flower.
During the growth period, many other plants are competing for space in the patch. Weeds of all kinds love the open, fertile soil and seek to establish the field as a nightshade patch or a foxtail patch instead of a pumpkin patch. We need to walk up and down every row to pull every small plant that may compete with the pumpkins for precious nutrients, water, and sunlight.
At this time, the pumpkins are in a very important, and delicate, stage. The female flowers need to be pollinated by the male flowers, but they aren’t close enough to each other to accomplish the task. So, we hire some winged helpers to float around the patch and carry pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. The incredible part of pumpkin pollination is that the female flower needs to be visited up to 15 visits from a bee to produce a good pumpkin. On top of that, the female flower only opens itself up for a short period in the morning and for just a day. With hundreds of plants throughout the patch, those bees have a lot of work to do.
If a flower is not pollinated, it will wither and fall off; not producing any fruit. If pollination is successful, the small green pumpkin will begin to grow and by October the patch will be filled with big orange pumpkins awaiting your choosing.