It's Pumpkin Season!

Hooray, it’s pumpkin season! Wait… What I meant to say was: Hooray, it’s “shovel the snow out of your garden since it won’t melt fast enough” season. :-).

I had to shovel the snow out of my pumpkin patch so I could set up my hoop house and transplant my seedlings.

This year I plan on blogging more about my giant pumpkins. You can read about last year’s adventure here to get more information on the process of growing a giant pumpkin from start to finish. I decided to plant my seeds earlier this year to try and get a head start on the season. There are risks to planting early, however. Since giant pumpkins grow so fast, you need to get them outside a week or two after planting the seed. If you plant in the middle of April like I did, it means you have over a month where you risk exposing your seedling to a deadly frost. Being the obsessed giant pumpkin grower that I am, I had solutions for this which I will explain later.

When I planted my seeds, I started by filing the edges of the seeds to allow for better water penetration and to make it easier for the plant to burst out of the thick seed capsule. I also surrounded my pots with germination mats and a heater since they like it to be 80-85 degrees to germinate. Below is a photo of this set-up. You can also see the family trees of my pumpkins in this photo. Genetics play a huge part in growing a giant pumpkin, and I was lucky enough to get a good batch of seeds from MePGO (Maine Pumpkin Grower’s Association).

Keeping my seeds warm with a heater and germination mat to help them germinate

My new seedlings emerged about 4-5 days after planting the seeds. I had to manually (and GENTLY) break open the seed capsule all the way since it was so thick and tough.

Giant pumpkin seedlings

In just two days, my best seed already had roots emerging from the pot! I use 6-inch “cow pots,” which are similar to peat pots. The great thing about these pots is that you can put the pot directly into the soil which reduces transplant shock. The pot will eventually decompose into the ground.

Giant pumpkin roots coming out of the peat pot in just a few days

Oftentimes I tend to be one step behind the game, despite spending all winter trying to prepare for pumpkin season. Although my seedlings were growing well, my garden was not yet ready for transplanting, so I had a bit of a delay. When we had the time, Dale and I collected two truckloads of cow manure (which I should have done last fall) to till into the garden.

Unfortunately we didn’t have a tiller, but we were able to borrow one from a friend. Like I said, there’s always something that causes me to be a step behind!

Loading up our truck with cow manure. Tractors are great!

You will hear Dale’s name a lot in this blog. Dale has many roles. He is my boyfriend, personal assistant, work horse, and all-around teammate. Dale thinks it’s silly to grow a giant vegetable that isn’t even edible, but he is so supportive of everything because he knows how happy it makes me. Plus, it is crazy fun watching a giant pumpkin grow!

After getting my garden tilled, we set up a hoop house. They are super easy to make and are pretty cheap. All I do is use some PVC pipe to create an arch, and then I place some clear plastic over it. I use clips to keep it closed if it’s cold out, but I can also raise up the plastic sheeting if it gets too hot. Since it’s still early in the season, I equipped my main hoop house with soil warming cables and a heater that turns on automatically if it gets below a certain temperature.

One night I was very sick with a fever and accidentally turned the heater on its highest setting and pointed it directly at my most promising seedling. The next day, my seedling was singed and dead. I was so upset, but luckily I had a backup to take its place. Now I keep the heater on its lowest setting and point it away from the pumpkin.

My setup inside the hoop house with a heater

I woke up one day to snow, and boy was I happy I had my heating system in place! Pumpkin wasn’t even phased by it!

My seedling stayed nice and warm despite the snow

Like I said before, the pumpkin above is my #1 pumpkin. I will be calling it the 1400 Lopresti from here on out. The name refers to the seed it came from. 1400 represents the number of pounds it was, and Lopresti is the last name of the person who grew it. I will be growing three giant pumpkins this year: two in my backyard and one in the Bangor Community Garden. Even when I was growing just one pumpkin, I would spend an hour a day caring for it, so having three pumpkins means I will devote more of my time to one instead of the others. It will be nice to have back-ups this year because there are many things that can kill off giant pumpkins like insects, rodents, deer, hail storms, frost, etc. Sometimes the pumpkin grows so fast that it “explodes,” which is another unexpected event that could ruin a grower’s season.

This is the 1400 Lopresti, my #1 plant for the year.

The first true leaf on my seedling is starting to get bigger

As the 1400 Lopresti continued to grow, I started noticing some concerning things. The first was that the edges of the first true leaf were getting spots on them. It almost looked like dried mud, as if water splashed it up onto the leaf, but there was some underlying damage as well.

Weird white stuff along the edges of my leaf. It almost looks like dried up dirt that had splashed up when I was watering it.

The other concerning finding was that the second leaf had damage all around the borders, which tells me it may not grow much. I can see other leaves starting to emerge, so I think the pumpkin will make it through. All I can do is watch and wait at this point.

Injured edge of the next leaf coming up. I'm wondering if it is from the hoop house being too hot and singing the young leaf.

Although giant pumpkins are very hungry creatures, I avoid fertilizing at this point because the seedling is still sensitive to too many nutrients. It’s getting plenty with the manure anyway at this point.

I have a second pumpkin at my house, the 1421 Gaboury. I planted her a week after the 1400 Lopresti, but she is looking strong and doing great. I had an incident where I kept the greenhouse closed on a warm day and almost killed her from overheating. She was wilting and limp, but after removing the plastic sheeting and watering her, she perked right back up. Phew!

Giant pumpkin seedling planted in manure at the Bangor Community Garden.

Pumpkin #3 is the 1695 Gaboury. This is actually the biggest seed I have. This pumpkin won the Damariscotta weigh-off last year and beat my pumpkin by over 1000 pounds! Even though this seed came from the biggest pumpkin, it doesn’t mean it will produces the biggest offspring. What I do at the start of the season is pick my best prospects, plant them, and then see which seedlings grow the best. My 1695 Gaboury didn’t grow as fast as my other seedlings which is why I didn’t make it my #1 pumpkin that I would devote most of my time and energy towards. However, I bet it will still produce a giant!

The 1695 Gaboury also developed some damage. This damage was symmetrical, and we’re thinking there was some physical damage when the leaf was smaller that hindered its growth. It is growing better now, so as usual we will continue to watch and wait.

Another leaf with singed edges. I'm not sure what else could cause this.

Today Dale and I transplanted the 1695 Gaboury into the Bangor Community Garden. We are very grateful that the Master Gardeners are supporting us in our pumpkin adventures. As the plants continue to grow, I plan on making some laminated signs that will explain more about the pumpkin and provide weight updates throughout the season. I think the other gardeners will love following the progress of the 1695 Gaboury, and I imagine many will be willing to help water her as well. Our hope is to collect the seeds at the end of the season and donate them to the Master Gardeners as a thank you.

Posing with our seedling and hoop house at the Bangor Community Garden.

That is all for now. I will do my best to keep you updated as the pumpkins continue to grow.