Jack O' Lantern is a traditional pumpkin and a good all rounder. It is a long established favourite especially bred for carving out Jack O Lanterns for Halloween.
With medium orange colour and sweet flavoured flesh it makes a superb carving pumpkin and a tasty cooking pumpkin. It lacks the uniformity of hybrids so shapes and sizes can be varied.
Jack O' Lantern pumpkin tastes good in soups, muffins, casseroles, pies, and many other dishes. When mature they measure around 20 x 25cm (8 x 10in), with round to oblong fruits that weigh around 4 to 7kg each. The rind is a ribbed bright orange with orange-yellow thick flesh.
Pumpkins are the most handsome of all the autumn vegetables. The best are friendly, soft and curvaceous, and by growing several varieties you can have a mixture of the loveliest colours. Cut back the leaves and you will reveal a set of beautiful pumpkin-shaped colour splotches across your garden.
Prepare the Site:
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot with moisture retentive, humus rich soil. Improve the soil by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost. The simplest way is to dig a hole 30cm (12in) deep and 45cm (18in) across and fill it with well rotted compost or manure. Cover with a 15 to 20cm (6-8in) layer of soil to make a raised mound that will provide drainage along with a rich source of nutrients. To get the best results ensure you have good, nutritious growing compost and that you feed them through the season.
Sowing: Sow indoors in pots April to June or sow direct from mid May to early June.
Germination of pumpkin seeds is about 2 weeks and requires temperatures above 20°C (68°F). If grown entirely in a heated greenhouse seed can be sown in situ in late winter, or early spring for transplanting to a cloche or cold frame. If you do not have any glass, then delay sowing pumpkin seed until late spring to avoid damage from heavy frost.
Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost and firm gently. Sow a seed on its side, not flat. (reduces the risk of damping off) 12mm (½in) deep and cover. (You may choose to sow two seeds per pot, and remove the weaker seedling later; the strongest plants are kept.) Label, water and put in a propagator or on a windowsill.
Germination should take place 10 to 14 days later. If temperatures are higher it may only be 4 to 6 days. After germination the young plants will grow very quickly and will need repotting almost at once. When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot, transplant to a 12.5cm (5in) container.
Hardened off before planting them outside, around late May/early June and all danger of frost has passed. If seedlings are planted out too early, and exposed to a period of cold weather, it can set back their development for the whole growing season.
Plant out with 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) between plants, providing good air circulation to avoid mildew. Protect seedlings from slugs
Sowing directly outdoors:
Early sowing outdoors is rarely of much benefit as the seeds may not germinate if the soil is too cold, or cold temperatures may damage young plants. Four weeks before the last frost is expected is about right.
Sow two or three seeds 2.5cm (1 inch) deep on their edges under cloches or glass jars with 38 to 60cm (15 to 24in) between plants. Remove the weaker seedlings later.
Hoe gently to keep the weeds down and do not let the plants dry out. Plenty of water is essential, especially when the plants are in flower and when the fruits have started to swell. Avoid splashing water on the stems of the young plants. Apply a mulch of about 12mm (1in) deep of grass cuttings or compost after watering. This helps conserve soil moisture and keeps the weeds down.
If you dig in plenty of manure before planting, additional feeding is unnecessary on heavy, fertile soil. On sandy or light soil, regular liquid feed will help boost production.
Plants under glass should be hand pollinated. The female flowers are distinguished by the swelling below the bloom. Male flowers have a prominent central core, bearing yellow pollen. The male flower is first to appear and the female flowers will follow. To hand pollinate, remove the petals from a male flower; push the core into the centre of the female flower. For a high success rate, use a different male for each female flower.
Harvesting: Harvest August through October. Around 95 days.
Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid colour and the rind is hard. Harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts. Fruits subjected to a hard frost will not keep, so harvest should be completed before cold weather.
Store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween.
Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing "handles." Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have prickles on their stems.
Store only those fruit that are free of cuts, wounds, and insect or disease damage. Immediately after harvest, the fruit should undergo a ripening or curing process to harden the shell. A curing period of about two weeks at 24 to 30°C (75 to 85°F) with good circulation is desirable. Storage should then be at 10 to 20°C (50 to 70°F).
References to pumpkins date back many centuries. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for "large melon" which is "pepon." "Pepon" was nasalised by the French into "pompon." The English changed "pompon" to "Pumpion." Shakespeare referred to the "pumpion" in his Merry Wives of Windsor. American colonists changed "pumpion" into "pumpkin." The "pumpkin" is referred to in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater and Cinderella.
The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.
Pumpkin carving, it is perhaps the biggest tradition of Halloween. But it's not the first vegetable to be carved.
Long before pumpkin carving became popular, Celtic people in Ireland were carving turnips and lighting them with embers, to ward off evil spirits. This Celtic custom was the historical root of pumpkin carving.
Pumpkins are native to America and in those days, pumpkins were not found in Ireland.
As Irish immigrants travelled to America and took their traditions with them, they discovered pumpkins and quickly discovered that hollow, softer pumpkins, were much easier to carve.
Carving turnips dates back many hundreds of years, to ancient Celtic customs and traditions. This was commonly done on All Hollow's Eve, of which Halloween takes much of it's origin. Carving turnips never quite caught on in America.....thanks to pumpkins.
- Additional Information
Common Name Winter Squash, Halloween Pumpkin. Family Cucurbitaceae Genus Cucurbita Species maxima Cultivar Jack O'Lantern Hardiness Half Hardy Annual Flowers Large bright yellow flowers. Natural Flower Time Summer Spread Ideally give plants 1.2m square (4ft square)