2016 Pumpkin Season Recap

Now that things have settled down, I figured I’d post an update on the end of my growing season and talk about my plans for next year.

To start, I had no luck at all with the long gourds. Elroy Morgan gave me a bunch of his long gourd seeds, but I couldn’t get a single one to germinate! Elroy said he had some trouble as well, so I don’t feel quite as incompetent now! I look forward to giving this another shot next year.

 Giant pumpkin and watermelon at the Bangor Community Garden

None of the pumpkins at the Bangor Community Garden made it. All of them had a chunk bit out of them by some animal, and every pumpkin rotted. This was a bummer because I put a lot of time into that garden and didn’t have much success. I did have success with our “giant” watermelon though! I actually didn’t expect much from this plant because we didn’t get a pollination until September. By the time the weigh-off came around, we had a watermelon about the size of one you would find in a supermarket. Considering Maine is not the ideal place to grow a watermelon, I’d say that was a success! For next year, I plan on keeping the plant inside longer in the spring since the vines don’t grow as fast as the pumpkins do, and I think the benefit of growing somewhere warm will outweigh the negative of not transplanting it earlier. I will also keep the plant under the row cover for longer since it didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat and actually did better underneath the row cover, even in the middle of the summer.

 Me with my state record giant watermelon!

My watermelon ended up weighing 18.5 pounds. It turns out this was the first watermelon to ever be weighed at a GPC-sanctioned event in Maine, so it is officially the state record giant watermelon! The watermelon had a ton of seeds in it, but I don’t think many of them are viable, probably because they didn’t have enough time to develop with the late pollination.

My pumpkins at home did pretty well, but not nearly as good as last year. I had a rough spring, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Although the winter was mild and I wasn’t shoveling snow out of my patch like I had to last year, the spring was actually colder than expected. I kept my seedlings protected under a hoop house, and both were heated at night. Their second week outside was rough because I left for a week-long canoe trip, and the person I had watching my pumpkins didn’t do as good of a job as I had hoped. The seedlings were in pretty rough shape when I got back, I think due to the cold and not having the hoop houses covered when needed. I was hoping I’d get them back on track, but they really never started picking up speed at all. I did not change anything I did at night, but I think maybe I was too eager too uncover them during the day because I was more nervous about them roasting in the sun than getting stunted in the cold.

The slow start this spring set me back for the rest of the year. I was torn on whether I should pollinate in the first week of July like I always do or wait for the female pumpkin to be further down the main vine. I opted to pollinate early. I pollinated the 1790.5 Wallace on July 1 (6 lobes, 8 feet down the main vine) and the 758 Berard on July 6 (5 lobes, ~8 feet down the main vine). The 1790.5 Wallace aborted, so I pollinated it again on July 15, 14 feet down the main vine. The rest of the season was frustrating for me. I spent hours a day burying vines and killing bugs, and my pumpkins just never picked up speed. Midway through the summer we were dog sitting, and the dog ran right through the entire 1790.5 plant. Soon after, all the leaves in that path started dying, and they just kept slowly dying throughout the rest of the year. The weather was warm and sunny almost every day, and I had an endless water supply despite the drought. We didn’t even get any hail storms!

 The 984.5 Whitty

The 984.5 Whitty

One thing I did different this year was plant winter rye. Instead of tilling it in in the spring, I just let it grow all summer and kept pulling it out as the pumpkin plants got bigger. This was time consuming, but the winter rye pulls up really easy compared to weeds! The winter rye was 5 feet tall and thick/woody, so I laid it down in between the rows of secondary vines to keep the soil moist underneath, prevent weed growth, and also act as a walkway that would prevent the soil from being compacted as much.

 The 920 Whitty

The 920 Whitty

All in all, my pumpkins did okay. I did not break my personal best of 1185 pounds, but my average weight overall was higher than last year. One pumpkin was 920 pounds (the one pollinated on July 4, about 8 feet down the main vine, in a shadier area of the patch), and my other pumpkin was 984.5 pounds (pollinated July 14, 14 feet down the main vine). The 920 went a smidge light, and the 984.5 went 14% heavy! I was a bit disappointed with my pumpkins because I honestly thought I wouldn’t have a problem getting them over 1000 pounds. My 1185 got decimated by a hail storm last year and still made it to 1185 pounds, so I figured with the good weather this year I’d have no problem.

When I pulled my plants up in the fall, I noticed that many of the vines were wet and rotting/decomposing. The stump of my 984.5 was 1/3 rotted. I’m wondering if this was from laying the winter rye down as a mulch, although I made sure not to over water. I think next year I’m just going to till the winter rye in in the spring and not waste my time pulling it up all summer.

These are some changes I plan on making next year:

  1. I’m going to till the winter rye in in the spring
  2. I’m going to learn how to use the rototiller so I don’t have to be dependent on Dale for it and risk running behind.
  3. I’m going to get some expert help on my soil sample and make sure I’m doing everything right.
  4. I might experiment by planting a few seeds even earlier than my normal start time of April 10. I read the Facebook page of Mathias Willemijns who grew the 2624.6-pounder in Belgium, and he pollinated his pumpkin on June 11, based on my math of his DAP info. He has the advantage of having a greenhouse, but we’ll still see what we can do!
  5. I’m going to spend all winter reading/studying Ron Wallace’s journal on bigpumpkins.com to see what else I can do to get a winner!
  6. I’m going to do something Ron Wallace does in the winter: I’m going to plant surplus seeds that I have and spend a few weeks in the winter observing which ones grow the most vigorously. I will use this as a guideline for some seeds I should plant in the spring.
  7. I’m going to transplant two seedlings per site in the spring. I read about the big guys doing this every year, but I’ve never done it myself because I didn’t have the seed collection I do now, and I didn’t want to waste all my seeds. I’m ready to make sacrifices now and cull the weaker plants.
  8. I learned from Charlie Lopresti that mycorrhizae don’t thrive in soils with high phosphorus and that we might just be wasting our time and money by using mycorrhizae. Although I believe this, I don’t know if I can NOT use it! It just seems wrong! However, what I might do is switch from Xtreme Gardening Mykos to Ron Wallace’s WOW Mycorrhizal Inoculant. I don’t mind supporting him, and he clearly knows what he’s doing!

I know one thing: I’m not suffering from lack of effort. I work my butt off every year and put the rest of my life aside for my pumpkins. I think the trick is to make myself more efficient and put my time towards things that matter the most.

This fall I got soil samples of both my pumpkin patches. The samples from my backyard look pretty good, and I was even lucky enough to talk with Charlie Lopresti about the results from my best patch, the one I grew the 984.5 in. One suggestion he made was to look into the ratios of nutrients, not just the concentration of them. My Ca:Mg was not the desirable 10:1 so I am going to look more into this and consider doing some the suggestions that Charlie gave me. I feel very lucky to have the help and resources that I do!

 High organic matter in soil test

This was the first time I did a soil sample at the Bangor Community Garden, and I’m glad I did. The pH was only 5.2, and almost all of my macro nutrients were low. Some of my micronutrients were quite high, but after doing more research I learned it’s because they are more soluble at a low pH. Now I’m starting to think my problems in the Bangor Community Garden were more than just rodents! I was lucky to get a donation of 6 yards of compost from Hawk Ridge Compost Facility this fall, and I also had help spreading it during the garden’s fall clean-up day! I will be amending the soil as recommended by the University of Maine, and I’m going to do a repeat soil test in the spring. I’m truly banging myself on the head for not doing a soil sample sooner. This was a newly tilled and expanded patch, and I should have known better.

 Low pH and macronutrients in soil test

I think that’s all for updates. I’m going to spend all winter getting ready for next season, and I feel good things coming my way soon! I’m ready to get in the ranks of the big boys, and I know my time is coming soon!