The Great Pumpkin 2014

Now that it’s the end of the season, I’d like to take this opportunity to share my great pumpkin story with you. So let’s start from the beginning:

I bought my seed from the Dill Farm. Howard Dill is one of the biggest names in the giant pumpkin community, and he is the name behind the Dill’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin. I bought two Atlantic Giant seeds from their website. The two seeds were from a 1,000+ pound pumpkin, and they cost $12. Wow, who pays $6 each for pumpkin seeds!?

On April 26, I planted my first seed. There was still a risk of frost outside, so I had to time it so that it would get a 2 week head start inside, and by the time it was ready to be transplanted, it would be warmer out. I had a rough time getting my seeds to germinate last year, so I was nervous this seed would end up being a waste of $6. Well, just my luck, it didn’t germinate. It turned out my house was too cold and the soil was too moist, causing my seed to rot.

Rotted giant pumpkin seed

 Luckily I had one seed left. I was nervous this one wouldn’t germinate either and I’d be out of luck for growing a giant pumpkin this year. I made sure to do everything right this time. First, I filed the edges of the seed to allow moisture to penetrate better and make it easier for the seed to open up. I filed it down just until it started to change to a darker color.

Filing down the edges of my giant pumpkin seed

 Then, I planted the seed in a peat pot, making sure to keep it wrapped up warm in a heating pad. I watered it conservatively and crossed my fingers. Sure enough, the seed sprouted about 5 days later. Over the next few weeks, I kept it under a grow lamp and made sure it had enough water and warmth.

Surrounding my giant pumpkin seedlings with heating mats and keeping them under grow lights

While my seedling was nice and warm inside, I prepared the soil by adding some cow manure from a friend’s farm. The cows decided to come and investigate since they thought I had food in the buckets!

Collecting manure out in the cow field. I had some cows visit me because they thought I had food in the buckets for them!
Buckets of manure

Dale and I had an adventure getting the manure. It ended in his truck getting stuck in lots of mud manure!

Truck stuck in mud and manure

Two weeks after germination (May 11), I transplanted my seed outside. I built a little hoop house to keep it warm and encourage it to grow. I started fertilizing it as well. I alternated between Miracle Gro 20-20-20 and fish/seaweed fertilizer, and I did each of those applications once a week.

Got my hoop house set up for my giant pumpkin seedlings!

It took about a month for the vine to get 7 feet long. At this point, I tried keeping the plant warm and well watered. I also did my best to keep the bugs away since they can destroy the plant pretty easily. One of my biggest enemies is the cucumber beetle, as seen below:

Cucumber beetles on giant pumpkin leaf

Another garden invader is the squash bug. I try to squish their eggs before they hatch and take over.

Squash bug eggs on the underside of a giant pumpkin leaf

As the vine grew, I buried the vines. Normally, a root grows down at every spot there is a leaf. If you bury the vine, a second root will grow from the top of the vine (where it is covered), and curl downwards into the ground. This is very important since it allows the pumpkin to get as much water as it can.

Before burying:

Before burying giant pumpkin vines

After burying the vines:

After burying giant pumpkin vines

By the end of June, I was anticipating the most important day: pollination. Ideally, you want this to be done the first week or so of July. In order to do it, you need a female pumpkin to pop up on the vine and then wait for the flower to open up. My pumpkin plant was awesome, and I was able to pollinate it on July 2.

This is a female flower. You know it’s a female because it has a baby pumpkin at the base.

Giant pumpkin female flower opened up and ready for pollination

A male flower has a longer stalk, and there is no baby pumpkin at the base of it:

Giant pumpkin male flowers have a longer stalk and no baby pumpkin at the base

To pollinate, I peel the petals off the male flowers, and use them like a paint brush in the female flower.

I removed the petals from the male flowers so I can expose their anther which contains the pollen
Painting pollen onto the lobes of the female flower with the anther from the male flower.

Now we water, fertilize, and watch the pumpkin take off! In three weeks, my pumpkin was already up to 100 pounds!

July 9:

Baby giant pumpkin shortly after pollination. The fruit has set, and it's already bigger than the tennis ball. This is the time to put foam, sand, or mill fabric underneath it since it's still light enough for you to lift up.

July 15:

July 21. 56 pounds:

July 30. 178 pounds:

August 6. 270 pounds:

This girl is in love with her giant pumpkin.

August 20. 430 pounds:

Crow pose on a giant pumpkin! Who doesn't love yoga in the garden!?

September 3. 510 pounds! Loving the vibrant orange color.

Giant zucchini on a giant pumpkin

September 21. An early frost killed off all my leaves :(.

An early frost killed all the leaves of my giant pumpkin

As October came around, it was time to enter my pumpkin in a weigh-off competition. I estimated it to be 550 pounds.

I was so excited when my pumpkin weighed in at 661 pounds. It wasn’t even close to the winning pumpkin (1695 pounds), but I was so happy.

Scale for weighing giant pumpkin

My 661 pound pumpkin landed me a sixth place ribbon in the Damariscotta weigh-off!

I got a ribbon from the GPC (great pumpkin commonwealth)!

However, my “giant” pumpkin looked like a runt when they placed it next to the winning pumpkin (on the left).

My pumpkin looks like a baby compared to those giants! One day that will be me.

All-in-all, I had a very successful growing season. Can’t wait for next year!