How to choose your pumpkin for growing and eating

Four young adults stand in a field, behind a wheelbarrow filled with pumpkins. Three are holding a pumpkin in front of their faces, while one (a young black woman with short blonde hair) playfully sticks her tongue out and holds her pumpkin slightly away from her face.
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How to choose your pumpkin for growing and eating

What's the difference between pumpkins and squash? Which varieties are tastiest? Are pumpkins hard to grow? We spoke to expert pumpkin grower Matthew Oliver, RHS horticulturist, to squash the rumours and get top pumpkin growing (and eating) tips.

Fun fact, Matt currently holds the records for giant squash and giant pumpkin grown outdoors in the UK! Check out what he has to say.

These tips are part of something bigger. At Hubbub, we want to see a world where everyone makes choices that are good for the environment. Check out what we do and how your actions add up.

1) A little pumpkin trivia

Why do you love pumpkins?

Pumpkins are exciting because they are the largest fruits on the planet! There’s no other fruit that gets bigger than a pumpkin. So they are the king of the fruit and veg world.

How many different kinds of pumpkins are there?

There are thousands of pumpkin cultivars across the world. Each continent has their own. There’s potentially an endless amount because they cross-hybridise really easily. They're all bred from a set range of different species, of which there's four or five.

2) Carving

What is your go-to pumpkin for Halloween carving?

The best kind of pumpkin for Halloween carving is what's known as a field pumpkin. They're characterised by having a very hard, dark green hooked stem, which you can use as a handle. And they're the ones which are very easy to grow at home, but which we normally end up buying.

3) Eating

And what pumpkin would you be eating? Is there a difference?

Ah yes. This is where we get into the difference between what is a pumpkin and what is a squash. In the world of horticulture, the only difference is the name. As the old phrase goes, a pumpkin is round and orange, a squash is good for eating. So basically a squash is anything that's not orange, but botanically they're exactly the same.

On the whole, when we're looking for something good to eat, we're looking at squash varieties. The classic to grow in this country is the light steel, grey-blue coloured ones known as Crown Prince. They're regarded as the best for eating quality in the UK. Onion shaped pumpkins/squash are also great, there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Or there's the warty French variety called 'Galeux d'Eysines' which is perfect for pumpkin pie as the wartier they get, the sweeter they are. Kabocha squash are also delicious and manageable in the kitchen.

4) Growing

Pumpkins are really easy to grow. All you need is a sunny, warm position, a nice fertile soil and then a good water once a week. I find them exciting because they grow so quickly. There aren't many other fruits that grow as quick as these! Plus you can grow something completely different from what’s in the shops and have a really individual Halloween pumpkin. You'll get a better appreciation for the taste if you grow them yourself, so remember to #EatYourPumpkin.

I think the best ones for people to grow at home are the small fruited varieties, because the plants stay smaller and don't take up so much space. You get a lot more fruit per plant, they're a lot easier to handle in the kitchen and generate less waste too.

You can cut the top off, scoop out the seeds and stuff your pumpkin with breadcrumbs, cheese and more fillings. Put the lid back on, stick it in the oven and roast it. It'll be a perfect individual portion size.

Varieties include: ‘Buffy Ball’, ‘Jack Be Little’ or the ‘Hooligan’.

We normally start sowing the seed about May time. And then harvest in September or October. So we're set in four to five months. It's a very quick growing crop.

Start in early to mid-May, ideally on a windowsill or in a green house if you have one. Sow the seed with the pointy end down because that's where the root comes from. They need warmth to germinate, so warm and moist are the best conditions. They'll germinate very quickly, within three to five days. 

Two or three weeks later, around late May to early June, plant the sprouts out into the garden. Then all you've got to do is keep them well watered and in a nice sunny position. That's pretty much all they need.

It’s better to go and buy a pack of pumpkin seeds because they cross-pollinate really easily. They're really promiscuous plants so if you save a seed from a pumpkin you've bought or grown, it won't necessarily turn out as you expect...

Getting dressed up this halloween?

Check out how to make a DIY costume that won't spook the planet.

Pumpkeen for more?

Now you've got your pumpkin sorted, check out the #EatYourPumpkin campaign. Learn how to decorate and eat your pumpkin this Halloween.