Plagues of pests and prolific pumpkins

The last few months have been pretty manic down at the RHS Garden Hyde Hall Vegetable Garden, sponsored by Witan Investment Trust, with seed sowing, planting out, weeding, watering, feeding, staking, pruning, netting and harvesting...

...and all this needing to be done at the same time! The mild winter has made for a difficult year in terms of pests and diseases with slugs, snails and leatherjackets more prevalent than ever before, nibbling young shoots and roots. The usual enemies are still around, including pigeons eating young pea shoots, cabbage white butterflies attacking brassicas, pheasants eating strawberries and blackbirds gorging themselves on the all the cane fruit.

Pumpkin moundsHowever, all of these have been just minor irritations in comparison to the rabbits that have made Hyde Hall their home this year, who have gradually eaten their way through most things that I have planted out. Runner, climbing and dwarf French beans seem to be top of the menu at the moment!

One group of plants that have been left alone by the pests are the cucurbits. This year I have grown sixty nine different cultivars of pumpkin, squash and gourds which are growing like crazy on the pumpkin mounds. The mounds are made entirely of garden compost and this provides a rich, fertile, free draining environment that the plants love. Combined with the south facing aspect that gives intense sunshine all day, a weekly foliar feed of maxicrop and plenty of water from the leaky hose irrigation and the perfect growing conditions are provided.

PumpkinPlenty of fruit has developed already, including some that will hopefully become monsters including ‘Atlantic Giant’, ‘Patons Twin Giant’ and ‘Big Max’. ‘Freaky Tom’ (a classic orange pumpkin but covered in warts!), ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’, ‘Snowman’ and ‘Nuts’ are amongst a big selection of cultivars we have never grown before so it will be interesting to see how these perform and should add a new twist to our ever popular pumpkin display that we put together around Halloween.

Gourd pergola at RHS Garden Hyde HallThe ornamental gourds are already reaching the top of the gourd pergola, with cultivars such as ‘Snake’, ‘Speckled Swan’, ‘Russian Doll’ and ‘Birdhouse’ all making excellent growth for this time of year. By mid-August visitors should be able to walk through a tunnel of gourds with fruit forming around their heads.

This could be one of our best pumpkin growing years ever if the hot weather and bright sunshine that we have been enjoying here is Essex continues for the rest of the summer. As long as the rabbits don’t develop a taste for them that is…

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