Why you should plant pumpkins

Pumpkin farmer 

What you need to know:

  • Pumpkins do well in loamy soils with a good drainage and a high humus percentage.

Growing pumpkins on commercial scale is slowly becoming popular among farmers in the country. 
Traditionally, almost every household used to have one or two pumpkin plants in the backyard mainly for domestic consumption but this is now changing as many people grow it for sale.
Pumpkin is a desirable nutritious vegetable and it contains high food nutrient which is healthy for the human body.
It is low in calories but rich in vitamins and minerals all of which are in its seeds, leaves and the pulp. People can incorporate it in their food diet as desert, soup, salads and steamed as whole.
Pumpkins are seasonal vegetables belonging to the genus cucurbita family known to be grown well in warm temperature. 
In Uganda, most communities consume pumpkin in its steamed form. Although not so many people are growing it experts are encouraging farmers across the country to grow it as commercial crop because it has readily available market since the demand is so high.
Farmers wishing to grow pumpkin for commercialisation, must observe the best practices in order to achieve higher yields and below are the details of the agronomy to be followed.

Best agronomy practices
National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) scientists at Bulindi Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Bulindi ZARDI) have been breeding a number pumpkin varieties which they encourage farmers in western Uganda to adopt and grow as a commercial venture.
Jasper Ahumuza, a research assistant in charge of technology promotions at Bulindi Zardi notes that pumpkins do best when the seeds are planted directly in the ground.
The experts note that there are more than seven varieties of pumpkin grown in Uganda, they include among others sweet cream, Bala, Dulu, Onziga, Sunfish, Sugar pie,and Anderina.

Soil requirements
Pumpkins do well in loamy soils with a good drainage and a high humus percentage.
The soils should not be water logged as the plant can easily rot off.
Farmers are advised to grow pumpkins from well dried seeds with viability to germinate and this is after it is extracted from the fleshy pulp and dried under sunshine.

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.
Growing Pumpkins requires a space which receives direct sunlight for at least six hours daily in order for them to do well.
A single trailing plant can grow as long as 30 feet, sending out many vine shoots all along the way.

When the soil is heaped in hills, it 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 a farmer does not have manure, loosen the soil and mix in a 2- 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
Prune the vines early in the season to discourage random growth and out of control patch.
Keep pumpkin plants free of weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate your plantings if there happens to be extended dry periods.
Watch out for powdery mildew which causes a dusty white mould on the plant, cucumber beetles as these mainly attack seedlings and the vines at their tender age.

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.
The pests are many though 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.

Harvesting and marketing
It takes about 100 to 120 days for a given pumpkin variety to reach maturity. Pumpkins are hand harvested at their mature stage. Multiple harvests are so common because individual fruits are pollinated at different times.
Farmers are expected to harvest their pumpkin fruits when it turns pale.
Demand for pumpkin is constant and a farmer can market their harvested pumpkins in markets around Kampala such as Nakasero, Owino, road side stalls and even at the supermarket vegetable shelves  ans hotels.

Young pumpkins are effective in de-worming children and also help in fighting malnutrition. They can serve as animal feeds. The seeds can be roasted such as groundnuts and seasoned with salt. Experts contend that many studies have suggested that eating more plant foods such as pumpkin, decreases the risk of obesity and mortality arising from obesity is regulated.


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