In season: Pumpkin power

By Amanda Etty

This decorative autumn staple also packs a nutritional punch

It’s the time of year when pumpkins are plentiful, so take advantage and add more of this nutrient-dense gourd to your diet.

How to buy a good pumpkin
Look for weighty specimens (pumpkins lose moisture and mass as they age) with hard rinds and no soft areas. Sugar pumpkins are best for cooking (and eating!), since they’re less stringy and more flavourful.

The health benefits:

Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Known for its immune-boosting powers, it’s essential for eye health and has been said to prevent coronary heart disease as well.

Potassium: Significant amounts of potassium found in pumpkins help maintain blood pressure, kidney function and bone health.

Fibre: Linked to a lower risk of heart disease, fibre is also essential for good digestive health.

Eating the seeds: Pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) also deliver many nutrients, including bone-strengthening magnesium. On top of that, the seeds contain cholesterol-lowering phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and may help prevent heart disease.

The plumpest pumpkins
Last year, the world’s third largest pumpkin hailed from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, weighing a gargantuan 821.5 kg. The heaviest came from Greene, Rhode Island. The top three are shipped to New York City to be carved by master carvers and displayed at the New York Botanical Garden.

Three growing tips:

Grow in full sun
Plant vines on small hills enriched with compost and/or composted manure; space indeterminate vine varieties four metres apart and semi-bush types on 2.5 metre centres.

Plant in warm soil
Soil temperature must be at least 22°C for seeds to germinate; in colder regions, start transplants indoors. Most pumpkins require about 100 days from seeding to harvest.

Water deeply and regularly
Pumpkins are always thirsty. Where squash vine borer is prevalent, make a loose, 15-centimetre-tall collar for the base of stems with aluminium foil (or nylon stockings).

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