Here we are, about 6 weeks after planting:
About a week after the two baby leaves appear, the first “true” leaf, sporting jagged edges, starts to grow from the center of the young sprout, providing a glimpse of the plant to come. After three true leaves are established, the pumpkin plant moves into wild and crazy leaf and root development that lasts about eight weeks. At its peak, the vine can grow as much as 6″ a day.
Ten weeks after planting, the first flowers suddenly appear between leaves and tendrils. Each flower blooms for only one day. They start to unfurl just before dawn, and during a four hour period, they open into luxurious velvet bowls. By mid-day, they are on a slow course of folding in on themselves; and by dusk, they are sealed forever.
Every pumpkin plant has two kinds of flowers — male and female. Both are golden yellow, suggesting the color of the fruit to come. On the surface, males and females look quite similar. However, with a little observation you can begin to tell them apart. The male flowers, which appear first, sit on long thin stems and are more plentiful than females. The females sit closer to the vine and rest like queens on fuzzy round thrones — baby pumpkins in waiting.
In pumpkin land, the bees are the matchmakers, gathering pollen from the center of the males and depositing it inside the female flower while glutting themselves on sweet nectar. The bees are so busy with their gathering and guzzling, they are oblivious to onlookers and very unlikely to sting. So, if you are inclined, arise early in the morning, get out your binoculars and have a close look. It is like watching the California gold rush: greedy miners discovering the motherlode. Between watching bee visits, take a deep breath, and the delicate fragrance of the flower will add a new reward to your careful peeking.
Some avid growers (and seed “manufacturers”) imitate the bees and pollinate the pumpkins manually in order to control and develop certain traits. The process is quite simple: use a small artist’s brush to gather pollen from the males; carefully carry it to a chosen female and deposit the pollen by “painting” the center of her flower. To keep out all other would-be pollinators, place a small paper bag over the female flower and secure it with a rubber band. Not nearly as exciting as watching the bees, but interesting in a scientific sort of way.