Preparing the Patch and Starting the Seeds

This year I will be growing 4 pumpkins: two at my house and two at the Bangor Community Garden. I planted the following seeds on 4/11/16:

2230 Wallace (2009 Wallace x 1916 Wallace)
1790.5 Wallace (1730 Wallace x 2009 Wallace)
961 Berard (1730.5 Werner x 2323.7 Meier)
758 Berard (1756 Lancaster x 2323.7 Meier)

I planted the seeds in 6-inch peat pots and put the peat pots in used salad containers (leave the lids on until the seeds germinate). I have them sitting on a heated germination mat with a smaller windowsill heating mat wrapped around the sides to keep them warm. I added mycorrhizae to the soil to encourage vigorous root development, and I also mixed some kelp meal and diluted humic acid into the soil.

Starting the seeds on 4/11/16

Starting the seeds on 4/11/16

I planted some blue hubbard squash about 2 weeks ago, and the seedlings are currently under the grow lights. I learned in my Master Gardener class that the hubbard squashes are the best trap crop for cucumber beetles.  A trap crop is a plant that is used to attract pests to divert them from the crop you are trying to protect. Cucumber beetles love to destroy pumpkins, but they love blue hubbard squash even more. Last year I had a big problem with cucumber beetles, so I’m hoping that this in combination with hand-picking and row covers will keep my pumpkins nice and healthy (I will continue to stay all organic this year)! I have 6 squash plants, 3 for each patch, and I’ll be putting them in smart pots so I can move them around throughout the season if needed. I hope this helps prevent cucumber beetle damage on my pumpkins and also avoid soil compaction from daily picking of the beetles.

Blue hubbard squash

Blue hubbard squash

I got my soil tested, and all I need is some sulfur to decrease the pH and amend the soil. My organic matter was VERY high (15.6%), and I was “above optimum” for most of my nutrients. I also did an add-on test called the “Soil microbial biomass test”. I learned about this in my Master Gardener class, and it measures the amount of CO2 released by microbes in the soil. Mine came back as 233ppm, which equates to very high biomass. I attribute this to lots of cow manure, extensive use of compost tea last year, applications of mycorrhizae, and avoidance of pesticides.

My soil test results

I placed clear plastic on my planting sites to begin warming the soil, and I will add soil heating cables to my one site that is the most promising (the one that has the most sunlight and access to an outlet!). If you have a chance to leave the clear plastic over your soil for 4-6 weeks, this “solarization” will kill any weed seeds in your soil (although it can also encourage weed growth if it doesn’t get hot enough to kill those seeds). You might think black plastic will get the soil hotter, but black plastic just gets the plastic hot. Clear plastic lets all the light through and then traps it like a greenhouse, therefore getting the soil warmer. There is a benefit in using black plastic in that it will kill any weeds underneath it since it won’t let any light in.

Warming up the soil with clear plastic at the Bangor Community Garden. Our patch is much bigger than last year which will allow us to grow two pumpkins, but we still need to add organic matter to build up the soil.

Warming up the soil with clear plastic at the Bangor Community Garden. Our patch is much bigger than last year which will allow us to grow two pumpkins, but we still need to add organic matter to build up the soil.

I used winter rye as a cover crop this year in my patch at home. The winter rye is able to convert nitrogen in the air into usable nitrogen in the soil. This is important because nitrogen leaches out of the soil over the winter and spring. My nitrogen level in my soil test was low because of this leaching and also because the test doesn’t test for every form of nitrogen (ex- nitrite). I will eventually hand-till the winter rye into the soil, and this will act as my “green manure” and one source of nitrogen for the pumpkin. The reason I am not doing a deep till is because I don’t want to bother the earthworms or destroy any hyphae networks that the mycorrhizae have established. Tilling also introduces oxygen into the soil which can “burn up” all your organic matter. If you do work your soil at all, make sure to wait until it is dry enough. You can tell if the soil is ready by doing the “squeeze test”: grab a handful of soil and squeeze it. If it clumps into a ball it is still too wet, but if it crumbles out of your hand it is okay to till.

This is my pumpkin patch at home. I just spread sulfur on it to lower the pH (per my soil test’s recommendations). I also have clear plastic placed down to warm up the soil, and compaction boards to prevent me from compacting the soil when I walk through my patch. The winter rye didn’t grow as much as I hoped, so next year I will plant more and plant it earlier in the fall.

This is my pumpkin patch at home. I just spread sulfur on it to lower the pH (per my soil test’s recommendations). I also have clear plastic placed down to warm up the soil, and compaction boards to prevent me from compacting the soil when I walk through my patch. The winter rye didn’t grow as much as I hoped, so next year I will plant more and plant it earlier in the fall.

My friend Byron at the Bangor Community Garden really wants to grow some long gourds, so we are going to build a trellis within the next month. I was able to get some seeds from my friend Elroy, so thank you Elroy!