Awaiting picking in time for Halloween, pumpkins lurk in a patch at Treworgy's Family Orchards in Levant. Credit: Brian Swartz / BDN

This story was originally published in October 2020.

As Halloween approaches, carvers of all sorts are drawn to pumpkin patches and grocery store bins to pick a perfect pumpkin to carve. Even if you didn’t get around to it this year, you may have a latent dream of growing your own pumpkins to carve.

The short growing season makes it a little challenging and certain varieties will grow better than others, but growing your own pumpkins to carve is possible for home gardeners to do in Maine.

The first thing you will want to do is pick a pumpkin with a short growing season. Judy Florenz, volunteer with the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest, chair of the program committee and one of the directors of the festival, recommended varieties like Howden, Cargo or Racer from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

“I like to find ones that have a maturity date that’s under 100 [days],” Florenz said. “Howden, that’s 115 days — that, for Maine, is kind of pushing it. Depending on where people live, I would really take that into consideration.”

Matt Pellerin, agricultural director of Treworgy Orchards in Levant, recommended looking for hybrid pumpkins to ensure the quality.

“They have pumpkin breeding programs that focus on growing better, thicker stems, larger fruit, more consistent fruit quality,” Pellerin said. “Conquest is one that I like a lot. They’ll put on more fruit per plant [and are] also disease resistant. They have good consistency of handles, ribbing, orange color and really good fruit size.”

To cope with Maine’s short growing season, you may also start your pumpkin seeds indoors next spring to give you a slight head start. However, do not start pumpkin seeds too far in advance of planting them, or else they will grow too big to properly transplant.

“They grow so quickly and they’re big,” Florenz said. “I’ll keep them until they germinate [and] get their first set of true leaves — maybe it’s a two week headstart. When you’re pushing against the frost in the fall, the two weeks makes a big difference.”

Another tip to successfully growing pumpkins is to have a well-tilled and properly fertilized garden that is watered frequently. Home gardeners may also consider covering their personal pumpkin patch in black plastic to warm the soil and promote growth while simultaneously controlling weeds.

“Pumpkin patches are notoriously weedy,” Pellerin said. “Maine is cooler than most pumpkin growing states and that black plastic really helps growing pumpkins here.”

Don’t worry if you didn’t get a chance to grow pumpkins this year, though. The crop, according to growers, was exceptionally good.

“A lot of people had trouble with the drought but pumpkins actually really like dry weather because the leaves don’t [get] fungus on them,” Pellerin said. “[The] fruit quality [this year] is really good.”