Thursday, November 10

Building a Pumpkin Arbor

Pumpkin Arbor (July 2010)

My side garden before trellis was finished
I love pumpkins. They are just a beautiful fruit, can be used in many ways and are edible. The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene.

Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats. They also roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them.

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.

Pumpkins are cucurbits, the fruit of a herbaceous annual plant of the gourd family that thrives in hot, dry conditions and includes squash, melons, watermelons and cucumbers.

This year I decided to construct an arbor for
pumpkins and gourd vines to climb over.  (Photo above right is before arbor was finished)

I first saw an arbor similar to the one I had in mind while visiting a farm market outside Chillicothe, Ohio last fall.

Then while visiting my daughter in Texas this April, I saw a rounder shaped arbor in a garden in Fort Worth, Texas.
I've had arbors of one sort or another in my garden for years, but mostly over gates and covered with flowering vines.

My pumpkin arbor is in my vegetable/ herb garden. The back part of my house is shaped like a "T" with my patio, pergola, hot tub, fire pit, etc. on one side (and the entrance to the 3 seasons room and kitchen) and the vegetable / herb garden is on the other side of the "T" The vegetable garden goes around the corner of the house by about 10 to 12 feet.

There is a gate with a wood arbor facing the street. I built this pumpkin arbor from that gate and back 8 feet. You can see the gate and wood arbor from the street, along with the vines, but can't see the fencing or metal posts.
Putting the vegetable garden in this spot near the far side of the house, leaves my back yard free for flower beds and just enjoying.

Constructing the Arbor:
First I used a tape measure to hold up and bend in the shape I wanted the arbor to be, to get the length I needed to purchase the fencing. Since the metal fencing I purchased was 4 foot high,
I decided I would use two pieces wide and make the arbor "tunnel" 8 foot long. The fence (cattle or pasture type fencing) comes in a roll, so I had to be unroll and unbend it to cut. I decided to use 6 metal posts (if this works, next year will be a stronger frame), 2 on each end and two in the middle for support. My husband helped me pound 6 - 8ft long metal stakes into the ground with a sledge hammer.

My pumpkin arbor mid season and working quite well!

I placed the first piece of fence against and on the outside of 2 end posts and the two middle posts and wired in place. (The wiring took the longest to do; I wanted to make sure it was well fastened and that no wire ends were sticking out to poke me later).

I placed the first piece of fence against and on the outside of 2 end posts and the two middle posts and wired in place. (The wiring took the longest to do; I wanted to make sure it was well fastened and that no wire ends were sticking out to poke me later).

I overlapped the second piece of fence on the first piece and made sure it was against the middle and that it was lined up with the second set of end posts, then I wired into place. I have raised beds on each side of the arbor. The pumpkins plants I started indoors so they would be ready for planting. I planted them very close to the fence, and checked every couple of days to train them to climb onto the arbor.

The pumpkin arbor in late summer / early September 
The vines have now completely covered the arbor!
Over the years I have planted the pumpkin vines and let them cover the ground. I have always had a problem with pests such as cucumber beetles and squash bugs eating the leaves and (last year was the worst ever) my vines had a powdery mildew on their leaves. By end of that season I only had two small pumpkins. (Powdery mildew is a fungal disease)

I tried treating my pumpkins but with no luck. And I wasn't the only one with pumpkin growing problems.
Last's year's harvest of pumpkins was terrible for everyone. There was even a pumpkin shortage! By harvest time late last summer 2009, after three growing seasons with too much rain and not enough sun, there was just not enough pumpkins. Well before Thanksgiving of 2009, companies had dispatched their last shipments, causing a second year of shortages, with 2009 being the worst. Most major brands grown and processed ran out!
Trying to head off another shortage, Libby's, a subsidiary of Nestle responsible for 87 percent of the canned pumpkin sold from September to December, has added crop acreage this year. Spokesperson for Libby's, O'Hearn said she expects the company's canned pumpkin to return in September, "as long as Mother Nature is cooperative."

This year my pumpkin vines are doing great, there are many pumpkins, all are growing big, and I have yet to see the powdery mildew like last year. My son helped to hand pollinate the blossums by hand, which helps produce more pumpkins.

Tips for Growing Pumpkins
Here are a few tips to get you started on growing your own pumpkins next year:

1. Pumpkin is very tender. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween from late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern sites.

2. Vine pumpkins require a minimum of 50 to 100 square feet per hill. Plant seeds one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill). Allow 5 to 6 feet between hills, spaced in rows 10 to 15 feet apart. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants. (Because I used the arbor, I did not need as much ground space, so planted 5 to six plants on each side of the arbor, which seems to be working very well)

3. Pumpkin plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Pumpkins tolerate short periods of hot, dry weather pretty well. And remember; Bees are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins and may be killed by insecticides.

4. You can expect your pumpkins to be ready to harvest anything between 12 to 20 weeks after sowing, depending on the variety. Be sure to pick them before the first frost arrives.

I store my pumpkins in the coolest location in my basement until cooler fall weather.

A family favorite pumpkin dessert my daughter Jami makes every Thanksgiving:

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

1 1/2 cups of ginger snap crumbs
3 Tbls melted butter
3 - 8oz pkgs of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C. sugar
3 large eggs
1 ¾ C. Libby’s pumpkin pie mix
2 teas vanilla
1/2 C. heavy whipping cream
1 ½ teas pumpkin pie spice


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with baking rack on lowest level.

Mix cookie crumbs, melted butter and sugar together with a fork in medium bowl until crumbs hold together. Press crumb mixture firmly into the bottom and 1 to 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch round tinplate or steel (not nonstick) pie pan. Bake 6 to 8 minutes until crust is set. Cool and set aside.

Beat cream cheese in bowl on high speed with hand mixer until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. There should be no lumps.
Add additional sugar (if desired), pumpkin pie mix, whipping cream and pumpkin pie spice. Blend well. With mixer still on medium speed, add eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, add cornstarch until just blended. Pour batter into prepared pie crust.

Bake until edges are cooked and center jiggles slightly when side of pan is tapped, about 50 to 60 minutes. Do not overcook or cheesecake will crack.

Cool completely on cooling rack, about 2 hours, Cover with Saran Wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Cheesecake will keep in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Keep chilled until serving.


Pumpkins are one of my favorite things to grow, display and eat!


Other Posts:

How to Grow Garlic

Quick Garden Stakes

Easy Seed Storage Container


Tami said...

I saw your picture on Flickr and had to rush over. I've read just this year about growing pumpkins/squash on a trellis but I've always seen recommendations to support the growing fruit somehow. Almost like building a little hammock under each fruit. Do you anticipate doing this or do you believe the vines will be strong enough to support the fruit? I grew pumpkins in TN and always had a problem with powdery mildew or blossom end rot. This year in WA it has been much too cold (and wet in the beginning of the season) to get much of anything growing. I'm definitely keeping this idea in mind for next year.

Elizabeth said...

Tami: It is amazing how strong and thick the vines have become to support their pumpkins! I have a pumpkin from this arbor 3 times bigger than any I have grown on the ground. This was a first attempt for me at a pumpkin arbor, so improvements will go into next's years before planting. For instance, I was going to install bent supports, maybe out of pipe, but did not get around to it. The fence could have been a heavier gauge also, but I don't think it would bend in the arch as well.
The arbor is holding up very well, with only a slight bow in an area where a larger pumpkin is resting.
I have three pumpkins so far from the arbor stored and staying cool in my basement and about six to eight more still growing, with no problems with the vines. I also have installed "slings" made from cloth, under and around the larger pumpkins to help support them.


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Anonymous said...

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Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

I'm not real sure I understand but here goes. With Blog Spot you have set templates you can use, and layouts, etc. so you do not really need to know how to write or use code and HTML. But, if you want to change the layout and look of your blog to make it one of a kind, you can add code, your own photo background, lots of things. It's a pretty easy format to use. And if you have a teenagers or 20 something person in your house, they will know how to change codes, believe me.

Anonymous said...

I have found that for the most recent or current information you have to visit website and blogs. I found this site and am glad I did. This is a cool idea and I'm going to try it next gardening season. How did you come up with the pumpkin arbor idea if I may ask? Love it. Steven

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Steven: It is a modified version of a steep pipe arbor for growing gourds we see every year at a farm market close to Chillicothe, Ohio. I am revamping the arbor to make it a little sturdier because if the pumpkins growing huge they need more support. Keeping them off the gound also did away with the pumpkin mildew problem I've had a time or two. Let me know how you're arbor turns out and any suggestion on improvements!