Expert on organic farming, Hajji Hassan Katureebe’s stall was among the most visited at Kololo Independence Grounds during the 12th Taxpayers’ Appreciation Week last month. At his stall were three giant pumpkins which he said weighed between 50-60kgs. He says these huge pumpkins are sold for not less than Shs50,000 each. Katureebe grows a breed he code-named magoba, which literally means, profit. He has full praise of his prize. He grows these pumpkins in Mbiriizi, Lwengo District.
Katureebe started commercial pumpkin growing in 2015 with 10 plants on half an acre and after three months, he had harvested 200 pumpkins, which he sold at Shs3m.
His pumpkins grow organically without fertiliser application. He has expanded his land to 10 acres, with his current market extending to South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, on top of local hotels.
Those gourds are loaded with antioxidants and disease-fighting vitamins. But what many people love most is that pumpkins are for delicious eating.
For those keen on adding value, Katureebe says there are a variety of pumpkin spice items that can be made. Some of them include: pumpkin spice ice cream, coffee, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, cheesecake and cocktails.
Ready or not?
A good pumpkin can stay fresh for a few months. Katureebe says to keep your pumpkins looking as good as the day you brought them home, it is recommended you keep them on a dry surface and watch out for cold weather.
He advises that before purchasing your pumpkins, check them and make sure they have no soft spots, and that they have a strong stem.
It is also advisable to purchase pumpkins during the early days of harvesting, because farmers sell off the best ones first.
His pumpkins cost a little more. For the smaller ones, he charges Shs50,000 yet the bigger ones sometimes go for up to Shs100,000 or slightly more.
Yet not all pumpkin plants grow this way. This is a special species that produces giant pumpkins. Katureebe had to move several hours to Kabale where he got his crop from an elderly woman.
Katureebe’s pumpkin will be on display at the 27th Uganda International Trade Fair 2019 at UMA Showgrounds Lugogo this month.
He spends about 30 minutes a day pruning vines and caring for the plants during their growing peak in the two planting seasons per year.
Katureebe says he has always enjoyed gardening, especially growing vegetables. In addition to growing giant pumpkins, Katureebe also grows yellow beans, sweet Ethiopian papaya and improved mangoes, but he said pumpkins are his cash cow.
Getting the best out of pumpkins
Pumpkins need good irrigation during a dry year or a year with below average rainfall. Katureebe advises planting them on lower ground for those intending to use irrigation systems, although a lot of water causes them to rot. He advises a farmer to prepare the land during the first ploughing and in the second ploughing, the land should be spread with manure. Pumpkins need an incredible space to grow. Katureebe recommends a minimum of 10 or 20 square feet from plant to plant. In the mound, he advises planting three pumpkin seeds about one inch deep. Once they germinate, he advises on selecting the healthiest and thin out the rest.
Caring for pumpkins
Katureebe advises on weeding even the surrounding area to reduce competition for nutrients and water while promoting better air circulation. Pumpkins like a lot of water especially when flowers and fruit start forming. During the dry season, Katureebe says, vines tend to wilt and flowers drop off. He says during this time, irrigation is an option by soaking the area.
Pumpkins are prone to some diseases, especially when young pumpkins appear. Cucumber beetles are dealt with by using insecticides. Squash bugs are also sprayed. He prefers to trap insects with Flying Insect.
Keeping an eye for disease is also crucial, especially for powdery mildew, the most common disease. It manifests as greyish dusty spot. It is managed by applying fungicides.
Pumpkins, Katureebe says, should be harvested normally after three months. At this point, their skins should also have thickened and hardened and they should not be able to be punctured with the thumbnail. His species, though, is so tough even at a younger stage.
After harvesting, they should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Over-ripe pumpkins should always be removed to prevent the same problem.
Katureebe says the abundance of wet weather is great for his pumpkin patch.
“Pumpkins are mostly water, so consequently they like the rain,” says Katureebe, who also grows beans and other herbs.
The dry weather may not help with size, but Katureebe says it could help control fungal diseases.
The pumpkin vines originate from one central stump, but they are not just spread out across the ground — each vine also sends down its own roots.
“The entire plant feeds the pumpkin but there are roots going down under every leaf,” he said.
How can I protect pumpkins from pests?
At the beginning of the season, cover your plants with floating row covers to protect them from common culprits like squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles. Remove these covers as soon as flowers develop, however, because you’ll need bees to pollinate them! For that same reason, always take care when using any type of insecticide on your garden. The chemicals can harm these all-important creatures and consequently prevent the plants from producing any pumpkins!
How long does it take to grow a pumpkin?
Pumpkins generally take about three months to reach maturity, but it can depend on the variety. Check seed packet for the “Days to Maturity” to determine when you can expect to harvest your crop.