You start to see them popping up everywhere from late September through early November, those gigantic rotund orange squash-like things that would make a fine coach for Cinderella if only we could find horses willing to pull it. Yes, it’s the giant pumpkins once again and once again we have to wonder how any one ever moves them from place to place, let along grows one. But still, as gardeners we silently vow to grow at least one our self, next season.
This is next season? Do you have your giant pumpkin seeds? To grow a true whopper you will need seeds with the right potential. There are a number of varieties that generate huge fruit but the current world record and the choicer of many exhibition gardeners is Dill’s Atlantic Giant, which has shattered the 1650 lb. mark! It is widely available on seed websites, including Gurney’s, Park’s and Henry Field’s.
To grow, start several transplants in large pots, perhaps 2 seeds per pot. Use lightly fertilized potting soil. Keep moist but not soaked, place the pot in sunlight. A temp around 80 degrees is great. Do not “cook” the pots!
Thin to the strongest seedlings, one per pot only once they emerge.
Meanwhile, prepare the ground. Find an area that receives full sunlight. You do not need to dig deep because pumpkins do not root deeply, but you do need to dig wide. It is best to dig up a five foot circle to a depth of one foot, working in a lot of compost, a little rotted horse manure and a half cup of general purpose fertilizer.
Top the circle with a mound, up to a foot deep, of good topsoil, sifted compost and a bag of potting soil with light fertilizer added.
Mounds should be no closer to one another than 15 feet.
Transplant one plant per mound. Orient the existing vine toward the sun. Treat the transplants gently; when trying to grow a giant, stress is to be avoided as much as possible.
Watch for flowers to emerge. If flowers emerge before the plant has developed a 10’ to 12’ stem, pinch off any flower that has a tiny pumpkin attached, as soon as you spot it, and leave the flowers which do not have small pumpkins attached in place. Once the vine is 10’ or more in length let the next small pumpkin to appear develop, pinch off any others that form afterwards.
All the plants energy needs to be focused on one pumpkin and one pumpkin only.
Weed scrupulously and carefully so as not to disturb the pumpkin plant in any way.
Do not allow the pumpkin to experience drought. When the soil begins to appear dry, water the plant well.
Apply a fish emulsion spray every three weeks.
Watch for squash bugs, and for their eggs. These are tiny orange eggs the size of pin heads in clusters of a dozen or so, on the undersides of the leaves. Hand pick the insects, and gently remove and destroy the egg clusters. Do not use insecticides, squash bugs swim in the stuff and anything strong enough to kill them will stress the pumpkin plant.
Some successful exhibition pumpkin gardeners like to place Styrofoam supports under the pumpkins while they can still be easily lifted. This can help prevent rot from soil contact.
Essentially that is all you can do; that and hope for ideal growing conditions. You may not be successful the very first time, growing giant vegetables is hard work and luck, after all, is involved. But what if you do succeed? You have braggin’ rights and maybe a blue medal to your credit. And a lot of pumpkin pies as well!