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Odds are, you’re already familiar with Howden pumpkins. They are the classic “Halloween” pumpkin most likely to be carved into jack-o-lanterns and displayed on porches. While very common in the autumn, Howden pumpkins are unique in their own right. Read on to learn how to grow and use this fall favorite.
What is a Howden Pumpkin?
You’ve surely seen Howden pumpkins, but just how did Howdens come to be?
Also known as the “Connecticut field pumpkin,” this medium to large size pumpkin was developed from seed that originated in Connecticut. In the early 1960s, John Howden of Sheffield, Massachusettes carefully cultivated the seed to produce numerous and uniform fruits. The result is the popular pumpkin we know and love today.
Howden pumpkins are a member of the Cucurbita pepo family and are an heirloom variety dating back to pre-Columbian times. “The New England pie pumpkin,” or “small sugar pumpkin,” is a subtype of the Howden pumpkin that is better suited for cooking.
Howden pumpkins are usually round with a deep orange hue, making them perfect for Jack-o-lanterns. A smooth skin, symmetrical proportions, and a thick handle all lend to the traditional “Halloween” look of the Howden pumpkin. They produce high yields of 15-25 pound pumpkins that are as easy to carve as they are pleasant to look at.
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, but a Howden pumpkin is generally round and symmetrical or slightly oblong and egg-shaped. In this image, it’s easy to spot the Howden pumpkins because they look like the traditional fall pumpkin you’re used to seeing.
Growing Howden Pumpkins
Pumpkins can be expensive, particularly an heirloom variety such as the Howden pumpkin. This leads many to the decision to grow their own. Fortunately, they are fairly easy to grow in much of the northeastern United States. They don’t tolerate cold well and will do best in more humid conditions.
Like most pumpkins, Howden pumpkins prefer heat so you should aim to plant when temperatures have warmed the soil to at least 65 degrees.
Howden “How-To” Step by Step
Step #1 Prepare
The ability to grow your own Howden pumpkins depends on how much room you have in your backyard. So the first thing you must do is assess your planting location. The Howden variety is a traditional vining pumpkin and needs ample room to grow (anywhere from 50 to 100 feet).
Choose a spacious area that gets plenty of full sun with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Make sure the soil’s pH is close to 6.5 because, like most pumpkins and squash, Howden pumpkins grow best at this level.
Prior to planting, mix either homemade or store-bought compost or aged manure into the soil. Howden pumpkins, like all squash, are greedy feeders and need lots of nutrient-dense soil to grow.
Howden pumpkin plants can be started indoors and later transferred to an outdoor location.
Step #2 Plant
Although pumpkin plants can be started in containers, they tend to do best when planted directly into the soil. Prepare mounds of soil 50 to 100 square feet per hill and space hills 5-6 feet apart. Plant 4-5 seeds one inch deep in each hill with 10-15 feet of distance between mounds.
Howden pumpkins are a vining pumpkin and need plenty of room to sprawl. Because they are a smaller variety of pumpkin, they can be trellised if you’re short on space. Expect anywhere from 2-5 pumpkins per plant, so plan accordingly.
Step #3 Care
Howden pumpkins need regular watering and feeding to grow vines and produce robust fruit. Be sure to water at a rate of 1 to ½ inches each week and don’t let the soil dry out. Once the young plants have established, choose a feed high in phosphorus and feed at regular intervals.
Weed frequently to deter pests and add mulch to help hold in moisture.
The presence of yellow blooms is a tell-tale sign that a tiny pumpkin will soon be on its way.
Keep an eye out for yellow blooms. They should appear about 10 weeks after planting and a week after that, you should start seeing the first pumpkins appear. From there, it takes a Howden pumpkin about 45-55 days to reach maturity, or, “jack-o-lantern size.”
As Howden pumpkins grow, you can turn them to encourage a more symmetrical shape. Setting developing fruits on plastic tarps, old tiles, or scraps of wood will help prevent rot from developing.
Harvest time is the most exciting part about growing Howden pumpkins.
Step #4 Harvest
Howden pumpkins are ready to pick when they are deep orange in coloring and the surrounding stems and vines have dried up and turned brown.
When used for decorating purposes, remember that the stem is what gives a Howden pumpkin its character. Be sure to use a sharp knife when cutting the stem and always carry by the base to avoid breaking the stalk.
A Howden pumpkin ready for harvest.
How to Use Howden Pumpkins
While all pumpkins are edible, some are better than others for baking and flavoring our favorite fall treats.
Pumpkins generally fall under two categories-pie pumpkins and field pumpkins. Not surprisingly, pie pumpkins are best suited for eating. The latter is better for decorating or carving into jack-o-lanterns. So you can still cook with a Howden pumpkin...it just might not taste as good as some other varieties.
There’s a far better use for these orange beauties. These large, ornamental pumpkins make exceptional jack-o-lanterns.
But they’re not just for Halloween and carving them isn’t the only decorating option. With their fairly smooth surface and consistently round symmetrical shape, they can easily be painted and adorned with crafting materials. Or, consider leaving them bare as their natural, deep orange coloring will make these pumpkins pop in any autumnal display.
An oblong Howden pumpkin stands stately amongst neighboring vines.
Where to Buy Seeds
If you're looking to grow your own Howden pumpkin, you can easily order seeds online. Here are some examples.
If you’re in the market for an organic option, you can’t go wrong with these seeds. Marde Ross & Company has been a licensed California nursery since 1985 and know how important having quality Howden pumpkin seeds are for an enviable jack-o-lantern!
Another organic option, these seeds are Non-Gmo and grown here in the USA! With approximately 30 seeds per packet, these Howden pumpkin seeds are a great value!
Isla’s Garden guarantees 85% germination rates so you’re sure to get your money’s worth with these seeds. They’re a premium heirloom variety that promises the perfect pumpkin!
This Autumn, “Fall” for the Classic Howden Pumpkin
The Howden pumpkin is an autumn tradition for good reason. It’s the pleasantly round, classic orange pumpkin we associate with the falling leaves and Halloween jack-o-lanterns. Follow these tips for growing stunning Howden pumpkins and impress your friends and family with a dazzling autumn display.