How to have pumpkins for pie by fall

Grow your own pumpkins and bake them too

Can anything beat homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dessert? Not if the pie is made from homegrown pumpkins. Growing and baking your pies from scratch is a fine family project, and if the rich pumpkin flavor doesn't surpass any pie you ever tasted, your sense of accomplishment will.

June is the time to start growing your pumpkins from seeds. Check catalogs and seed packets for varieties recommended for pies.

Last year, we grew several kinds in Sunset's test garden, then sent the harvest to our test kitchen, where cooks used the puréed pumpkin flesh in scratch pies. In the tasting that followed, 'Cinderella' won top honors and 'Small Sugar' came in a close second. Both varieties have a rich, sweet pumpkin flavor and flesh that bakes well into a firm but creamy filling.


'Cinderella' (also sold as 'Rouge Vif d'Etampes') and 'Small Sugar' are available from Nichols Garden Nursery (866/408-4851 or and Territorial Seed Co. (541/942-9547 or


Choose a site in full sun. After the danger of frost is past and the soil is warm, create mounds of soil about 6 inches high, 1 foot in diameter, and 6 to 8 feet apart (remember, one pumpkin vine can eventually occupy up to 500 square feet of space). Sow seeds 1 inch deep, planting five or six per hill.

After the seeds sprout, thin to the two strongest seedlings. As they grow, steer new shoots in the direction you want them to crawl.

When you water, try not to splash the leaves, since this encourages mildew. Feed plants regularly with a balanced granular fertilizer or liquid plant food.

Protect the shell. As the pumpkins mature, slip a sheet of plastic foam, a piece of plywood, or a shingle under each fruit. This will keep the pumpkin's shell from touching the ground and developing rot.

Pumpkins mature three to four months after planting. When the shell has hardened and has a strong, even yellow color, harvest is close. In cold areas, after the first frost kills the leaves, cut the fruit from the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem. Elsewhere, harvest after the leaves and vines turn brown and brittle.

Store pumpkins in a cool, dry place until you are ready to prepare them for pie.