Food and nutritional security of resource poor farmers globally is increasingly under a serious threat of climate change.
In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda agricultural production rates are low and this is exacerbated, by frequent erratic rainfall and prolonged drought arising from climate change effects. The harmonisation of agriculture to single crop varieties in hope of higher yields, coupled with the associated loss of biodiversity has further decreased the resilience of resource poor farmers.
As such scientists from the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in collaboration with Naro scientists at Bulindi Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Bulindi ZARDI) have been breeding a number of crop varieties such as beans, finger millet, pumpkin and eggplant among others.
Seeds of Gold caught up with some of the scientists who took the reporter through the agronomy of growing pumpkins and below are the details.
When to plant pumpkins
According to Jasper Ahumuza, a research assistant in charge of technology promotions at Bulindi Zardi, pumpkins do best when the seeds are planted directly in the ground.
Farmers are expected to wait until the plant soil is 70ºF or more before sowing seeds outdoors with optimum soil temperature of 95ºF because the plant is very sensitive to the cold. Farmers are advised to pick a site where there is sunshine and shade with lots of space for sprawling vines. Vine varieties need 50 to 100 square feet per hill. However, if your garden space is limited, no worries. Plant pumpkins at the edge of the garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk.
How to plant pumpkins
Ahumuza explains that farmers are expected to plant seeds in rows or anthills which are the size of small pitcher mounds. With hills, the soil will warm more quickly and the seeds will germinate faster. This also helps with drainage and pest control and the mound should be prepared in advance with an abundance of old manure dug deep into the ground 12 to 15 inches. If you don’t have manure, loosen the soil and mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep into the mounds 4 to 5 seeds per hill. Space hills 4 to 8 feet apart. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones. In rows, sow seeds 6 to 12 inches apart and in rows 6 to 10 feet apart. Snip off plants to thin to one plant every 18 to 36 inches.
How to grow the plants
The farmer must use row covers to protect plants early in the season and to prevent insect problems. However, remember to remove covers before flowering to allow pollination by insects. Water the plants when one inch per week for good fruit development.
It is also important to mulch in order to keep the soil dump for a longer period of time. If your first flowers aren’t forming fruits, that’s normal. Both male and female blossoms need to open and bees are essential for pollination. Pumpkin vines, though obstinate, are very delicate. Take care not to damage vines, as this can reduce the quality of fruit.
Pests and disease
The diseases include alternaria leaf blight, alternaria cucumerina, alternaria leaf spot, alternaria alternate, cercospora leaf spot, cercospora citrullina, powdermildew pseudoperonospora cubensis, fusarium crown and foot rot fusarium solani, gummy stem blight didymella bryoniae, powdery mildew erysiphe spp.
Various beetles infest pumpkins; they normally target the vines. One common species is known as the red pumpkin beetle. Its larvae attack this plant and continue to do so after they mature. Others are red ants which mainly attack the farm during drought.
The best time to harvest pumpkins is when they are fully mature. It is not advisable to pick them off the vine because they have reached your desired size. A pumpkin is ripe when its skin turns a deep, solid colour - in moat varieties orange. When you thump the pumpkin with a finger, the rind will feel hard and it will sound hollow.
Ms Evelyn Kugonza, aged 55, is a single mother who majors in growing assorted vegetables, pumpkin being one of them. She says she is growing it on small scale in a quarter acre land for food and nutritional value because it contains iron, zinc and calcium which is good for the body.
Kugonza harvests between four and five tonnes of desirable pumpkin fruits per season which she sells at Shs720,000 per tonne making up to Shs3.6m per season. This being farm-gate sales or selling at Bulindi open-air market.
If she transports the fruits to Hoima City, Kugonza sells each depending on the size from Shs4,000 and Shs10,000. The rest of the fruits which are smaller in size she breaks and remove the seeds which she dries and sell or fries then and use them as food.