Pumpkins (and winter squash), although they ultimately become sizable, tough-looking plants, are somewhat delicate in their early days. They are not frost-hardy, so should not be set in the garden until after the danger of the last spring frost has passed — mid- to late May for most of our area. They are long-season crops, requiring all the warm and hot, frost-free days they can get to mature a good crop in Maine. They’re susceptible to a couple of difficult insect pests. And they don’t really like to be transplanted, but benefit from a head start indoors.

My pumpkin pies start with seed of “Long Pie” pumpkins from Fedco (fedcoseeds.com; out of stock at the moment, but other pie pumpkins are available). In early to mid-May, I sow a few seeds each in 4-inch pots filled with a quality, organic seed starting mix. If all three seeds germinate, I cut two at the base of the stem with scissors, leaving one plant per pot. The pumpkins grow in these pots indoors, in a sunny south window, for about three weeks, then they’re transplanted to the garden into a soil that has been well amended with compost and well prepared (aerated by loosening it with a garden fork).

Transplanting is a delicate process, because pumpkin roots do not like to be disturbed. I turn the pot upside down and gently tap the bottom of the pot until the young plant and its soil and rootball come out, then set the roots in a prepared hole dug in the garden, being as careful as possible to keep the root mass and soil mix intact. Then I pull soil into the planting hole to fill it, and water the transplant in with dilute fish emulsion.

The next step is critical: protecting the transplants with row covers. I drape Agribon row covers over low (about 1-foot-high) tunnels made from concrete reinforcing wire, but you could also make hoops from electrical conduit, fiberglass rods, or 6- to 9-gauge wire. This row cover not only adds a little warmth and frost protection to the planting area, but protects the plants from the dreaded cucumber beetle as well. Cucumber beetles can decimate young transplants.

Once the pumpkins begin to flower, the row covers come off to allow bees access to the flowers for pollination. The first few flowers on a pumpkin vine will usually be male flowers and will fall off shortly, but the remaining flowers, female flowers with tiny pumpkins visible nearly from the start, will stay on the plants if they get pollinated.

Once they’re off to a good start, pumpkins are pretty self-sufficient for the rest of the summer. Keep the soil moist, keep the weeds down with mulch (pumpkins thrive on black plastic mulch), and, if squash bugs appear, go out in the morning to hand-pick them. Put a few boards around the pumpkin patch; the bugs will congregate under the boards at night, and in the morning you can turn the boards over and collect them.

When pumpkins are ripe — when the rind can’t be punctured easily with a thumbnail — harvest them with about an inch of stem remaining, keep them in a warm spot for about 10 days to heal any wounds and further toughen the rind, then store them in a 50- to 55-degree spot until you’re ready to use them.

I like to take the pumpkins out of storage one or two at a time, set them, whole, in a large pot of water, and boil them on the wood stove until a knife easily pierces the flesh. Then I remove them from the water, let them cool, cut them in half, scrape out the seeds, and then scrape out the flesh, using about 2 cups of it for a pie and freezing the rest. I put the 2 cups of flesh in a blender with the rest of the pumpkin pie ingredients (usually using a recipe in the “Joy of Cooking”), blend until the mixture is smooth and uniform, and pour that into a prepared crust.

Here’s the easiest one-crust recipe in the world: Mix 1 cup of flour with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add just a tad over 1/4 cup of oil (I like Henry’s sunflower oil, produced by Henry Perkins in Albion) and a tad over 1/8 cup of water to the flour and salt, and mix them until they’re slightly sticky. Then roll out the dough.