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Dublin: 14°C Thursday 24 June 2021

Carve out a space in your garden for pumpkin

Michael Kelly continues his Grow It Yourself series with this brightly coloured treat

Michael Kelly Grower

WE ASSOCIATE PUMPKINS with Halloween, and of course they are fun to carve faces in to – but, they are also very good to eat.

For the home-grower that is trying to produce crops to store over the winter, pumpkins are an attractive option since they store particularly well, thanks to their very tough skin. So, if you have the space, they are well worth a try.


Sow the seeds in early May individually in 7cm pots. Sow them about 2cm deep. The pots will need to be kept on a heating mat or a sunny windowsill.

Transplant them to larger 12 or 15cm pots after about 3 weeks. Leave the pots indoors, or in a greenhouse or poly-tunnel.


Since pumpkins are a hungry plant, you will need to make sure the soil where you are going to grow them has had a decent application of well rotted manure or compost. Harden off the plants well and then plant out in early to mid June. Cover them with fleece if it’s cold at nights.

Source: Daniel/Flickr Creative Commons

Space the plants 2m apart: this seems a lot, but once these babies get moving, there will be no stopping them. A single plant can support just one or two decent sized pumpkins, so you should remove the smaller fruits and flowers to allow the plant to focus its energy on growing the larger fruits.

Place a piece of slate or a brick under each fruit so that it’s not touching soil – if the fruit is in constant contact with wet soil it will go soft and might rot.


Harvest when the leaves die back or before if there’s a risk of frost. Cut off the pumpkin from the plant leaving the stalk attached to it.

If they need to be ripened further put them out in the sun by day, before bringing them in again by night. Do this for a week or so.

Alternatively, you can leave them on a sunny windowsill to ‘cure’ – this is where the skin hardens up which means they will store for longer. Pumpkins will store right through the winter in a cool place.

Recommended Varieties

Atlantic Giant, Baby Bear, Munchkin.


Pumpkins can take over a veg patch, sending shoots here, there and everywhere, so they’re probably not a great idea for a small garden.

Keep them in check by moving the shoots back to the bed they should be in. They can be coiled carefully in to a circle and pinned down to keep them in check.

GIY Tips

  • Grow them somewhere sheltered – they don’t like wind.
  • When you plant the pumpkin plants out in June, inter-plant with fast growing crops like lettuce or spinach which can be eaten before the pumpkins take over. This will use the space more efficiently.


Recipe of the Week – Ploughman’s Chutney

Source: Karen Brockney/Flickr Creative Commons

This recipe from Alys Fowler appears in the GIY book GROW COOK EAT and is my ‘go-to’ recipe for using up gluts of courgettes, squashes or pumpkins. This recipe makes 6 jars of delicious chutney.


  • 1kg pumpkin, courgette or squash
  • a couple of handfuls of salt
  • 500g apples (or green tomatoes) cored, peeled and chopped
  • 500g onions, roughly chopped
  • 250g raisins, sultanas, currants or dried elderberries
  • 500g brown sugar
  • 600ml cider vinegar
  • 3–4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • sterilised jars with lids

For the spice bag

  • 3 teaspoons cloves (around 9 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Peel and dice the marrow, courgette or pumpkin, discarding the woody part and any large seeds.

Place in a bowl and scatter over a couple of handfuls of salt, just enough so that all surfaces are lightly dusted.

Set aside for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) to draw out all the moisture.

Rinse and pat dry. This dry-salting process keeps the marrow in good shape and stops it collapsing, otherwise it just turns to mush.

Make up your spice bag by putting the spices in a piece of muslin and tying them tightly with string.

Place all the remaining chutney ingredients in a heavy-based pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thick but not stiff, roughly 40 minutes or so. By the end you should be able to draw a spoon across the bottom of the pan so that it clears, but rapidly refills with syrupy juices.

Ladle the hot chutney into warm sterilised jars, cover with wax discs and put on the lids.

Store somewhere cool and dark for at least 2 weeks before using. This chutney will keep well for up to 6 months.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Earthy, homely and tasty: how to grow parsnips for this winter

Read: Thanks shallot – these little members of the onion family are finicky but worth it

About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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