Before you roast the seeds you carve out of your Halloween pumpkins, plant a few.
Even though the standard advice says to plant seeds in late spring to avoid frost damage, anecdotal evidence suggests that pumpkin seeds can survive winter and still come up in spring.
We have found this to be true, and since we don’t have much to lose — our jack-o-lantern seeds are free and easy to plant — why not?
Our first experience growing pumpkins was in fact born of a Halloween planting. Sofia and Virginia were little then, and we were carving pumpkins with a little boy in our babysitting co-op in Arlington, Virginia.
When he wanted to plant one of the seeds, I was sure it wouldn’t amount to anything: it was deep fall and soon winter would be here. But for the heck of it, we planted a few seeds under some shrubs in our side yard.
Those pumpkin seeds waited all winter and through the cool spring. By summer I had forgotten all about the seeds and didn’t recognize the large vine creeping around the side of our house.
It was so eager it made its way to the front and began heading toward our steps, and that’s when I realized it was a pumpkin plant. We even began to joke, half seriously, that one day we’d find it trying to open the door and climb into our beds.
By the middle of the summer, we were eating the flowers as fast as the plant could produce them. They were so good, dipped in batter, and fried: crispy on the outside and soft and buttery on the inside.
Last fall here in Washington, D.C., we planted a few seeds from our Halloween pumpkins. It didn’t take much effort to tuck them into our front garden bed.
That winter, polar vortex blasts brought temps as low as six degrees in our area (mid-Atlantic, zone 7a). After spring rewarded us with bursts of colorful tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, we thought all the surprises were over. Then a couple of seedlings popped up through the mulch. With teardrop-shaped seeds still stuck to the first leaves, we knew right away they were our pumpkins.
It turned out to be the biggest crop ever. Usually pumpkin plants are more about the edible flowers for us, with one or two orange balls making it through the hurdles, but by fall we had 14 pumpkins.
When the squirrels began gnawing on a few, we decided to bring them inside until Halloween. We’re down three (one rotted, one was given away, and one didn’t survive a bouncing experiment), but I’m sure we’ll make it to October 31 with the necessary five.
Tips for Planting Pumpkins
Whether you’d like to test fate and toss some pumpkin seeds into the dark of winter, or save your seeds and plant them in spring, here are some tips that will tilt your luck:
- Plant the seeds about 2 inches deep into rich soil (not dry, hard earth). “If your soil has been used in the past to grow flowers, a vegetable garden, or even a lush patch of weeds,” say pumpkin growers at Jack Creek Farms, “then it will be suitable to use for planting pumpkins.”
- Pumpkins need full sun and un-soggy conditions, so plant them away from the shade of trees and buildings and avoid areas that puddle.
- You don’t need a lot of garden space for pumpkins. The vines can spread out over the grass, sidewalk, or even be trained to climb up a fence or arbor, as we did with one of our plants this year (pictured below).
- Know what a pumpkin seedling looks like so you don’t weed them out in spring.
We have found pumpkins to be one of the easiest and funnest foods to grow at home. Their vines seem to stretch out before your eyes, growing as much as six inches per day, and producing vines 10 to 20 feet long. The star-shaped yellow flowers are delicious to eat — fried, stuffed, or folded into risottos and pastas. Sautée the tender vine tips in butter for a delicacy that rarely makes it to restaurant menus.
And then there is the fruit. Who doesn’t love to watch green globes grow bigger and rosier as the summer wears on? Plant cooking pumpkins to get the most flesh for making pies, breads, soups and sides, or carving pumpkins to get the best shell for holding a candle on Halloween night.