One of the most popular ‘pumpkins’ of the autumn season is the Dickinson pumpkin. We all know pumpkins are the mainstay of the autumn season, as they give flavor to everything from lattes to pies. This may make you wonder what is so different about the Dickinson variety specifically? I did the research and am happy to tell you all about this hearty and hardy plant.
What is a Dickinson Pumpkin?
A Dickinson pumpkin - a member of the Cucurbita moschata family - is not a pumpkin at all, but actually a pumpkin-like squash. It usually grows between 10 and 30 lbs, but with the right conditions can get much larger. It has tan-orange skin, and deeply sweet, dark orange flesh. This flesh is a favorite for pumpkin pie filling and is commonly used in commercial products.
Dickinson pumpkins are a wonderful addition to any garden. Keep reading for more details about this amazing plant and how to cultivate and use it.
History of the Dickinson Pumpkin
Cucurbita moschata is made up of several types of squash and pumpkins, most notably the butternut squash and cheese pumpkins. It was originally from Central and Northern South America from where it's made its way to North America over time.
In 1835, a cultivar of the plant was developed by Elijah Dickinson, and soon came to become one of the most valuable heirloom ‘pumpkin’ varieties available. It is believed to be derived from the Kentucky Field Pumpkin, also known as Large Cheese Pumpkin.
The Dickinson pumpkin is a medium to large pumpkin-shaped squash with tan skin and oblong shape, which differentiates it from traditional pumpkins.
How to Grow Dickinson pumpkins
When you decide to grow Dickinson pumpkins, you need to take their origins into considerations. Since they originated in the Americas close to the equator, they naturally prefer long growing season with hot and humid temperatures and plenty of water. They do not like the cold, and will not do well north of Zone 5.
Pumpkins and squash grow on widely spreading vines. They can be trellised, but the large fruit will need additional support in the form of slings to keep the fruit from snapping of the vines. This is the best method if you don’t have a large growing area.
Step by Step Instructions to Grow Dickinson Pumpkins
Dickinson Pumpkins, as with most squash and pumpkins, thrive in hot temperatures, so it is ideal to wait to plant until the temperature is at least 75 degrees on average.
Step #1 Preparing the location
When looking for a location to plant Dickinson pumpkins, choose an area with plenty of full sun, and good, rich well-drained soil.
Mix a lot of compost into the soil before you plant. Pumpkins, as well as all squash, are heavy feeders, so they need soil with plenty of nutrition. This is one of the reasons that the traditional planting trios of the “Three Sisters” work so well.
Made up of corn, squash or pumpkins, and runner beans, the corn provides a natural trellis for the beans, and the beans replace the nitrogen in the soil which provides nutrition for the squash.
Step #2 Planting
Create mounds of soil at least 24 inches in diameter and plant 3-4 seeds about 1 inch deep into the center of the mound. It is easiest to sow directly in the soil, as these types of plants do not take long to germinate.
The vines need a lot of space, so if you are not trellising them, you need to leave at leave 50 feet between hills. Mounds help the soil warm quickly and assist with drainage.
Step #3 Caring for your Dickinson Pumpkins as they grow
You should see sprouts in 7 to 10 days, which will rapidly evolve into multi-leaved vines. Thin to 2-3 plants.
Dickinson pumpkins typically take 100 days to produce mature fruit from the time the plants emerge. Be sure to keep the plants well- watered as they need the moisture and the heat to grow to maximum size.
Mulching will help keep the soil moist as well as keep down weeds.
Watch for the vines to bloom. They will get large yellow flowers on them. These can be battered, fried and eaten if you are so inclined, but you will not have pumpkins if you do that!
Once fertilized the plants will develop tiny squash. If you are growing on the ground instead of a trellis, you will need to put down a newspaper or something similar under the growing fruit to keep it from touching the bare ground. The moisture from the ground can case spots, or even cause the fruit to rot early.
Step #4 Harvesting
Let the fruit grow until the vines start to die off. This is the sign that the squash is ready to be harvested. This will take place roughly around 100 days from the day that seed sprout.
For more information on growing Dickinson Pumpkins and pumpkins in general, check out the following websites:
Pest and Disease Control
Dickinson pumpkins are known for being very resistant to both common pests and disease, Especially the squash vine borer. If you do see pests, like squash bugs or aphids, you can pick them off manually and throw them into a can of water to kill them.
You can use insecticidal soap, in the most diluted form available as it can damage squash leaves. Another option for vine borers is the application of neem oil extract (Amazon link). Pesticide should be applied in the evening when flowers are closed so as not to impact pollinators.
Uses for Dickinson Pumpkins
Dickinson pumpkins are winter squash and as such can be stored in a cool, dark, dry location for up to 5 months. In colonial times, people used to store pumpkins and squash under their beds, as they were likely to freeze in other types of storage. Today, a dry basement or cellar would work just fine.
Dickinson squash are known for their firm, sweet flesh and are ideal for pumpkin-based recipes. You can use it to make pumpkin bread, pumpkin brittle (from the seeds), pumpkin soup or the ever beloved pumpkin pie. You can even can your own pumpkin pie filling for use on a cold late fall day when you are craving a sweet and savory goodie.
Check out these delicious recipes to try out for yourself:
You can also use them for decorative purposes, but their oblong shape often does not stand well on its own, and its thick flesh is not ideal for carving jack-o-lanterns.
Dickinson pumpkins really are a fantastic addition to the home garden, especially if you love baking in the fall as much as I do! Who doesn't love a giant pumpkin-walnut muffin with cream cheese on a crisp autumn morning? That muffin is the ultimate payoff for planting these prolific squash!
The Dickinson Pumpkin Gallery
Let's look at a few more pictures of these unique plants.
Check out the Oblong Shape
The oblong shape of the Dickinson pumpkin differentiates it from traditional pumpkins. While it can be used in decorating, its odd shape does not make it ideal for standing on its end.
As you can see the Dickinson pumpkin is not the traditional orange pumpkin shade, as is it actually a squash. It has a smooth tan rind and is better for cooking than for decorating.
Plant a Few, Gather Many!
Pumpkins and squash plants can produce a tremendous yield with proper care, as you can see in this picture. This is wonderful news for lovers of all things pumpkin-spiced or folks with a farmer market stand. For the rest of us, one or two hills will probably suffice. Keep this in mind when planning your home garden.
Where To Buy Dickinson Pumpkin seeds?
If you want to try your hand at growing Dickinson Pumpkins, your search starts and ends here!
This pack of 15 seeds is all that the small home gardener needs to get started! These seeds are the real deal The are heirloom seeds, that are not genetically modified, so you know that you are growing authentic Dickinson pumpkins!
Another great purchasing option is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They offer free shipping on all orders in North America! They've also helped us out with photos for this post - thanks, guys!
For the Love of All Thing Pumpkin
While not an actual pumpkin, the Dickinson pumpkin is the flavor foundation that fuels our autumnal pumpkin addictions. It is THE fruit to grow if you want to relish the delightful taste of pumpkin-y goodness all winter long. Nurture your squash and be prepared to preserve a multitude of pumpkin, and still be able to share with friends and family!
Or simply check out our pumpkin & squash portal page right here.