By Julia Cirbo, Master Gardener and Carl Wilson, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, horticulture, Denver County
While adults may be caught up in the competition of growing record breaking large pumpkins, a "small" revolution is underway.
Scaled particularly well for a child's world, the newer small pumpkins have adult "cute" and culinary appeal as well.
Five of the smallest deserve mention. `Baby Bear' (Park, Johnny's Seeds) tested particularly well in variety trials at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Bright orange, smooth and moderately ribbed, this youngster measures in at 6 inches across and 4 inches high. In addition to decoration, its flesh is good for pies and its seeds toast up nicely for healthy kids' snacks.
`Munchkins' (from Shepherd's) well deserves this name for their 3-inch mature size. This miniature pumpkin develops hard, ridged shells and a deep orange color. Fine for decorative uses, it also features a sweet flesh that makes excellent individual sized baked shells for pumpkin pudding, stuffing or even cranberry sauce.
White pumpkins recently have been bred for truer whites. `Baby Boo' (Burpee, Park, Shepherd's) is a pure white mini that's sure to remind children of ghosts. It shares several characteristics with "Munchkins" - 3 inch size, a relatively short (80 day) growing period and yields of about 9 pumpkins per plant. They're good for decorating and cooked as a side dish.
`Jack Be Little' (Johnny's, Territorial, Burpee) is a 3-inch orange pumpkin that reaches just 2 inches high. It's good for arrangements and will last for up to a year if dried and cured. You also can use it as you would a winter squash.
A miniature carving pumpkin for tiny tots is `Spooktacular' (Shepherd's). It develops the perfectly round, classic jack-o'-lantern shape but measures only 6 inches in diameter and weighs in at just 3 to 4 pounds. Small enough to put a carved Halloween face on windowsills, it also makes excellent pies and tarts.
Pumpkins are warm season vegetables that should be planted in late May, earlier if soil has been warmed with solar heat captured by plastic mulch or growing tunnels. Plant 5 or 6 seeds in a soil mound of the same inch height, thinning to the strongest two or three seedlings after two weeks. Allow 4 to 6 feet for the vines to spread. Or miniature pumpkins are especially well-suited to growing vertically on poles or wire trellises.
Pumpkins are challenging but not impossible to transplant. Don't grow them for more than 3 or 4 weeks before setting out. The small pumpkins mentioned require an 80 to 100 day growing season.
Harvest before or just after the first frost leaving at least a 2-inch "handle" or stem on the fruit. Don't allow pumpkins to sit in the garden where handles will bleach or and fruit sunscald in Colorado's intense sun. Store in a cool, dry place and bring out for Halloween. You may come to believe that bigger isn't always better, at least when it comes to pumpkins!
Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010