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How to grow a healthy pumpkin plant

By Grace Chomba

John Gichuki on his pumpkin farm in Nyeri County. KIbata Kihu, Standard

Pumpkin fruits, leaves and flowers are used as vegetables while the seeds can be roasted and consumed later as snacks. The fruits contain 1 per cent protein and 8 per cent carbohydrates while the seeds contain 23 per cent and 21 per cent respectively and 50 per cent oil. The fruits can be used for medicinal purposes, preparing desserts and soup.

The most common pumpkin variety in Kenya is butternut, a very nutritious fruit usually cooked for babies at weaning stages. Well, it is also used for baking purposes. It has a smooth yellow-orange flesh. Some farmers also plant certain varieties of Cucurbita moschata, C. maxima, and C. mixta for pumpkin and butternuts.

Planting

They should be planted as seeds, with a spacing of 2 by 2 meters for the trailing types and bushy types should be 60 to 120 cm spacing in rows and 1 to 2 meters apart.

They thrive in soils that have well-decomposed manure and compost, well-drained with a pH of 5.5 to 7. Excessive humidity should be avoided but butternuts mainly should be intercropped or grown under fruit trees since they need shades.

Disease and pest control

Pumpkins and butternuts are affected by similar pests. Aphids can be controlled by the use of reflective mulching especially covering the ground with aluminium foil repels the pest attacks and delays virus infections.

Whiteflies are controlled by parasitic wasps and also use of reflective mulching and spraying using neem products which have been reported to inhibit growth and development of immature stages and to reduce the egg-laying whiteflies.

Fruit flies can also be controlled by crop rotation, wrapping fruits with newspaper or paper bags to prevent the pests from laying eggs on the fruits. Spraying using pyrethrum solution after the bees have returned to the hives. Frequent spraying after the flowering has begun and still neem application can reduce the attacks.

Epilachna beetle can be contained by weekly spraying neem products and crop rotation.

Anthracnose is a very destructive disease that can be controlled by the use of certified disease-free seeds, treat your seeds in hot water for 20 minutes and crop rotation.

Gummy stem blight and black rot a disease that causes circular to irregular spots on the leaves contained by crop rotation, proper sanitation and accurate monitoring of leaves to check early infections and spray in time.

Fusarium wilt causes root rot and corky decay of the stem that leads to wilting and death. It can be controlled by raising and maintaining soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0, practising crop rotation, ensuring the crops are not grown in water stagnant plot, avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizers, destruction of affected plants and deep tillage to ensure crop residues decompose completely.

Other diseases can be controlled by the use of resistant crop varieties, crop rotations, use of Sulphur based organic fungicides for powdery mildew infection, deep tillage, spraying copper for choanephora fruit rot, avoid wetting the leaves during irrigation.

Harvesting

This is done after 90 to 120 days depending on the variety after planting. They can be harvested once or in several rounds. Measure it every day to ensure that the crop is still growing and before picking ensure the skin has achieved full colour and it is hard. Cut off the stem at the vine and leave it as long as possible. Remember a pumpkin with a broken or missing stem loses value in the market.

Storage

First, wash the fruit in a chlorine solution to destroy bacteria which may cause the fruit to rot and let it dry. Ensure your storage space is cool, dry and dark if possible. Avoid hot, humid places and cement floor since they tend to rot. They are best stored on a board or piece of cardboard.?

 

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