The first 9-10 days of the giant pumpkin plant's development requires special attention to insure a good start of a properly grown seedling. An understanding, by the grower, of the development and growth of the pumpkin seedling (and the entire plant & fruit) is necessary in an effort to eliminate any variables and set goals. This is most often gained by experience as in the case of the consistent competitor, although a first time grower can conquer these "variables" and show very well.
SEED SELECTION - it is imperative to select a variety with the genetic potential capable of producing a specimen sizeable for the competition you wish to enter. My suggestion for "World Class" competition is the Atlantic Giant. Select only full, mature, viable seed.
TARGETING SEED PLANTING - to set a seed planting date, one must review the plant's stages of growth, day length and the date of the competition (harvest). An understanding of local weather patterns may also be an influential factor for determining when to plant the seed or better to say, when to mature the seedling to the three (3) leaf stage for transplanting. Let's say there are three stages of the plants development to consider when targeting the seed planting date:
To capsulate the all this targeting by example, we will say that the target date for competition is October 12. Count back 70-80+ days to the fruit set date of July 24 to August 3. Then count back 60-70 days to the planting date of May 15-25 and 9-10 back to the seed planting date (May 5-10). In reverse - 9-10 days to 3 leaf, +60-70 days to fruit set and +70-80 days to harvest (total days seed to harvest 130-150). Too often growers start too early!
PLANTING MEDIUM - it is most advantageous to use a light medium. The
giant pumpking seed is one of the largest of the vegetable seeds, as it it is the larget
vegetable plant fruit. The seed hasmuch organic matter and will take a great amount of
moisturetherefore have the potential to damp off (rot). This single factor is the reason
for much seed failure when planting giant pumpkin seed. Use a mix similar to this:
1/3 peat moss (add fungicide to mix)
A 9-10 day old seedling has few nutrient requirements but a small amount a water soluable fertilizer won't hurt.
PEAT POT - use 4 inch peat pots. Plant the peat pot and all when planting the seedling (this reduces root damage). Poke holes in the peat pot in several places at or near the bottom if no hole. The pot will hold an excessive amount of moisture if this not done. Fill the peat pot with the dry soil mix. Keep settling to a minimum.
FUNGICIDE - seed and potting mixture treatment are very important. This procedure will help control damping off, but alone without proper room temperature. moisture, and bottom heat, etc. may not be effective. Dampen the seed, then apply dry powder fungicide. Coat to the point of good coverage. When adding to the potting soil mix follow recommendations on the label; or just add a small amount.
PLANTING THE SEED - moisten the pot and medium. Initial moisture is essential to the seed, therefore moisten well the first time. The pot itself will take on much moisture (it's actually peat - sponge), this time it should be saturated. From then on let the moisture decrease, not to show through the peat pot after watering. Plant the seed 1/2 inch below the surface with the rooting end down, crown end up.
BOTTOM HEAT - is necessary for 4-5 days to give the seed enough heat to germinate. When the main root is 1 inch long STOP BOTTOM HEATING (it will destroy roots greater than 1 inch long). Suggest you use a plastic plant flat without holes. Jugs of warm water may be the most economical way to add heat. Remember to water individual pots and keep proper moisture.
ROOM TEMPERATURE - a temperature of 75-85 degrees F. is necessary. Most ideal being 85 degrees. Please understand a higher temperature has more moisture holding capacity.
VENTILATION - air movement is necessary to help control fungus growth and supply fresh air components to the seedling. Keep in mind that the ideal conditions for seedling growth are are also ideal for fungus growth.
LIGHTING - use "artificial lighting". Flourescent tubes 2-3 inches above the potting mixture surface and maintained at 2-3 inches above seedling stage will result in a sturdy not spindly (light starved) plant. It is not necessary to use a "Grow Lite", as a regular "Cool White" flourescent tube is just fine. Full light (24 hr.) will provide the seedling with the quantity of light required. The quality of the light is maintained by the closeness of the bulb to the plant. Continue to check regularly. Be careful not to over water.
PLANTING THE SEEDLING - It is not necessary to temper or acclimate the seedling over a period of time. It is important to plant on or near the target date, when the seedling is at the early 3 leaf stage. Planting should be under a hot-tent or miniature greenhouse.
SOILS. The soil should be well-drained. The optimum pH is 6.0 to 6.5.
Take a soil test to determine pH and fertilizer requirements. Do not use fields that have
had other vine crops (melons, cucumbers, etc.) during the past 2 years.
FERTILIZER. Follow suggestions from soil test report. Otherwise, broadcast 1000 pounds of 5-10-10 per acre before planting (10 pints per 100 feet of row). Sidedress at 3 and 6 wk after seeding with 20 to 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen and 60 to 100 pounds per acre of potassium (1 pint 13-0-44 per 100 ft of row). Processing types may require more potassium for good dry matter production. Place sidedress fertilizer 6 to 8 inches from the plants on both sides of the row.
Pumpkins for processing should be seeded in spring as soon as the soil temperature at 4-inch depth has reached 60 to 65 F. Pumpkins for ornamental purposes may be seeded as late as June to early July in the lower piedmont and eastern N.C. The later planted pumpkins will be more subject to increased diseases and insects than an earlier planted crop. However, regardless of planting date, both require insecticide and fungicide applications. Spacing varies with variety and vine size.
ROW SPACING IN FEET
Variety Between Rows Within row Bush or short vine 3-5 feet 2-3 feet Small fruited/large vine 6-8 feet 3-5 feet Large fruited/large vine 6-8 feet 3-5 feet
Plant 2 to 3 seeds per hill and thin to one plant per hill. For large commercial acreage, seed 4 seeds per ft of row and thin. Use per acre rates of 2 to 3 lb of seed for large vine types and 3 to 4 lb of seed for bush types.
SMALL (2-8 lb)
MEDIUM (8-12 lb)
Jackpot (compact vine)
LARGE (12-20 lb)
EXTRA LARGE (20+ lb)
Pink Banana Jumbo
NAKED SEED PUMPKINS
Trick or Treat
Butternut Burgess Strain (butternut)
Gold Nugget (compact vine)
Table Queen (acorn)
Tay Belle (acorn)
Vegetable Spaghetti (spaghetti)
Waltham Butternut (butternut)
WEED CONTROL. Apply a preemergence herbicide immediately after seeding
or use a stall bed system. Caution! Some varieties (i.e., Boston Marrow) are more
sensitive to some herbicides and may be injured. Practice shallow cultivation. Pumpkins
have many important feeder roots near the surface and roots grow to about the same spread
INSECT CONTROL. Common insects of pumpkins are: seed corn maggot, spotted and striped cucumber beetle, squash vine borer, pickleworm (after mid July), and squash bugs (mountains only).
DISEASE CONTROL. The most common diseases for pumpkins are bacterial
wilt (spread by cucumber beetles), powdery mildew, downy mildew and anthracnose.
Fungigation is application of fungicides through the irrigation system. This may be the
best way to get fungicides applied without damage to foliage.
POLLINATION. Pumpkins are insect-pollinated, and require bees for pollination. Inadequate pollination results in poor fruit shape and excessive blossom drop. At least one strong colony of bees per 2 acres is recommended.
HARVESTING AND CURING. Pumpkins should be harvested only after the shell has completely hardened. Care should be taken not to damage or break off the stem. Stemless pumpkins have a lower value as jack-o-lanterns and make it easier for rotting organisms to gain entrance. Pumpkins should never be stacked more than 2 to 4 deep, depending on their size. Also, all trucks and trailers should be well padded. When pumpkins are harvested a long time before sale they should be washed or dipped in a 10% Chlorox solution (1 part Chlorox to 9 parts water) and stored in a dry cool place to reduce the chance of postharvest rots. Storage in the open sun causes excessive spoilage.
YIELD. Good yields of smaller varieties are 5 to 7 tons per acre or
2000 to 4000 fruit. The large types (fresh market) may yield up to 10 to 30 tons per acre
or 1000 to 2000 fruit. The yield of seed of the hullless or naked seeded types should
range from 800 to 1500 lb per acre.
GROWING LARGE PUMPKINS. There is always much interest in growing BIG pumpkins for exhibition. To do this, select one of the large varieties mentioned earlier. Prepare a seedbed (50 to 60 ft per plant) by deeply incorporating into the soil 4 to 6 bushels of manure or compost and 1 to 2 lb of 8-8-8 per hill. Mix well. Plant 3 to 5 seeds per hill and thin to a single plant. Apply 1/2 to 1 cup of nitrogen fertilizer near the perimeter of the vine every 2 to 3 weeks beginning 3 weeks after seeding. Keep plants watered and allow only one fruit to develop on each plant.
If you ask 10 competitive pumpkin growers how to grow a giant pumpkin,
you're likely to get 10 different answers. It seems everyone has his or her own way of
coaxing the most weight out of these giants. But there is a thread of consistency that
runs throughout all the instructions, and adhering to three basic tenets will get you well
on the way to a world record. Above all else, you need good seed, good soil and good luck.
Good seed. If you want to grow a world-record pumpkin, you can forget about every variety of pumpkin out there except Howard Dill's patented Atlantic Giant. Since 1979, no other pumpkin variety has been a world champion. Good soil Pumpkins are large consumers of all the major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), as well as many minor nutrients like calcium and magnesium and other trace elements. The key for big growth is soil well amended with organic matter. In the fall or early spring, add two to five yards per plant of compost and rotted manures. Cow and horse manures are best. Use chicken manure sparingly and only in the fall. Cover crops of winter rye, plowed down in the spring, are fabulous. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8.
Good luck. If you can grow a good vegetable garden, you have the skill to grow a world-record pumpkin. I've seen newcomers grow 500-pound pumpkins their first year with good seed, some rudimentary help from an experienced grower and a lot of luck. With the right preparation and strategy now and in the spring (see the text on page 40 for tips on planning your assault on the world record), next year you might just be a contender for the world championship!
Growing giant pumpkins can be a fascinating experience. Before you can master the art of growing a giant, however, you must be familiar with the basic principles of growing pumpkins.
Fertilizer and Lime
Always apply lime and fertilizers based on soil test recommendations. Providing adequate nutrients throughout the growing season will insure healthy, vigorous vines, not to mention large pumpkins. Granular fertilizers should be applied as a broadcast application over the soil surface and incorporated into the soil 4 to 6 inches deep a few days ahead of setting out your transplants. Giant pumpkin vines require approximately 2 pounds nitrogen (N), 3 pounds phosphorous (P2O2) and 6 pounds potash (K2O) per 1,000 square feet of growing space. The addition of organic matter (manure, etc.) to the garden is important to establish good soil tilth.
A foliar feeding program should be started after pollination and fruit set have occurred. There are several foliar fertilizers available. Follow label directions and continue application throughout the growing season.
Planting and Space Requirements
Growing giant pumpkins requires an early start. Seeds should be sown individually and started indoors in 12-inch peat pots about the end of April. A well balanced potting medium is recommended. Plants are ready for transplanting when the first true leaf is fully expanded. This is usually 10 to 14 days after seeding. Transplants can be protected from late spring frost using a floating row cover.
Growing space in the garden is important. Each plant should be allowed approximately 2,500 square feet. This area may sound quite large, but it is essential for vine growth. Pumpkins prefer long hours of sunlight, so select your garden site accordingly. Avoid shaded areas and select an area with good surface and internal drainage.
Pumpkins are shallow rooted, so water slowly with at least one inch of water per week if rainfall is not adequate. More water may be required during hot, windy summer days. Water during morning or early afternoon hours so foliage dries by evening. This helps prevent the spread of leaf diseases.
Trickle irrigation is best, but soaker hoses also work well. Overhead sprinklers are effective; however, wet foliage increases the chance of disease, especially mildew.
If planting is done in a well-prepared bed, weeds will seldom be a problem and can be controlled by hand-weeding or hoeing. Continue to remove weeds until the vines cover the ground. At this time, the dense foliage will shade out most weeds.
Plastic mulches are very effective for controlling weeds. Plastic mulches also warm the soil, and can maintain good soil moisture levels. The plastic can be installed when the soil is in good planting condition, any time from a few days to 2 to 3 weeks before planting. If you do not use plastic, pumpkins will benefit from organic mulches applied in the summer after the soil has warmed.
When summer mulching materials are used, such as straw, additional nitrogen is recommended. Mix one tablespoon of ammonium sulfate, calcium nitrate, or nitrate of soda per one bushel of mulch. Apply once or twice during the early growing season. A complete fertilizer that is high in nitrogen may be substituted for any of the above. Apply the fertilizer when the mulch is moist.
Herbicides are also available for weed control. However, only a trained and licensed applicator should apply these materials.
Windbreaks are necessary to protect young plants that are not fully rooted. Windbreaks should be positioned on plants most susceptible to southwest winds until late June when side-runners are 3 to 4 feet long. The use of a snow fence and burlap can make an excellent windbreak. Covering the vines at each node with soil will help anchor vines down and promote secondary root development.
Insects and Diseases
The planting site of your plants should be rotated each year to reduce the incidence of insect and disease pressure. Without a regular spray program for insects and diseases, your success rate for producing a giant pumpkin can be significantly reduced. An insect and disease control program must be initiated at transplanting. Insects are the primary vectors for transmitting viruses. Once a viral infection has occurred, there is no way to stop it. There are several pesticides recommended for insect and disease control. Check with your local Extension agent for current rates and compounds. The licensed pesticide applicator will have more options regarding insecticides and fungicides available to them.
Although hand pollination is the preferred method to fruit setting, natural pollination by bees will work well. Hand pollination allows for a more controlled genetic cross. Do not begin pollinating until the plant has approximately 200 leaves. Initially it is recommended to allow only 4 to 6 pumpkins per plant. Once pumpkins reach volleyball size, trim back to one pumpkin. The more you reduce the competition for nutrients, the greater your success rate will be for achieving a giant size pumpkin.
Because of the size and fast growth of these pumpkins, training vines and root pruning is important. This will prevent stem breakage and splitting. While the pumpkin is basketball size, curve the vine 80 to 90 degrees away from the fruit. About 3 feet out from the fruit, curve the vine back in the general direction it was headed. Clip roots 3 feet out on the vine. This will allow the vine to easily move upward as the pumpkin grows. Pumpkins long in shape tend to push the vine forward, resulting in a kink. If this happens, slide the pumpkin back about 4 to 5 inches - this is usually necessary when the pumpkin is about 300 pounds. Pumpkins round in shape are difficult to rotate without damaging the stem.
To protect the pumpkin from direct sunlight, construct a shade out of burlap or other lightweight material. This will prevent premature hardening of the outer skin and will allow the pumpkin to reach its full genetic potential in terms of physical size.
Be sure to select plant varieties that have the genetics to attain large size. Check seed catalogs and garden centers for possible giant pumpkin seed cultivars.
Pumpkins should be harvested when they have a deep, solid color and the rind is hard. The vines are usually dying back at this time. Cover during a light frost and avoid leaving pumpkins out during a hard freeze to prevent softening.
Assuming you are starting in September, you need to start right away so you will have plenty of partially decomposed compost for next year. That's right "partially decomposed." The reason being if it was completely broken down its nutrients would be lost to leaching long before the next growing season was complete. You do not need anything elaborate to start your compost pile. A piece of fence wire made into a circle will do just fine. In your pile put every piece of organic matter you can find. Some good sources are: grass clippings, all plant matter from your garden, maple leaves and fallen fruit of all kinds. Care should be given to the type of leaves used. Some leaves contain a growth inhibitor that will actually reduce your pumpkin's growth. Others may be very acidic like oak leaves and take too long to break down. Maple leaves are a good choice if you have them in your area. If maple leaves are unavailable check with your local University Extension Service for another type of leaf that could be used. Layer your ingredients with grass clippings to supply a natural source of nitrogen to aid in decomposition. A layer of manure will also be a big boost but avoid any mixed with sawdust, if possible. Sawdust consumes much of the nitrogen as it breaks down. Another very important ingredient is red wiggler worms. They will eat plant matter as soon as it starts to cool, unlike earthworms that will only eat compost that is almost completely broken down. Red wigglers are a reddish brown small to medium sized worm. Many bait stores carry them in the summer when regular earthworms are scarce. You can also buy them from garden supply houses. Place them near the bottom in your new compost pile when it is cool enough to touch. You do not need to turn your compost because the worms will eat their way right up through it. Place bags of leaves all around your compost pile before the weather becomes too cold, to keep it active well into the winter season.
Preparing Your Planting Spot Next Season:
Prepare your garden soil as usual by adjusting the PH and over all nutrient levels. This is important because this soil will have to feed the pumpkin plant until the roots reach the compost. Prepare your garden soil then mark out a spot four feet by five feet. Your pumpkin mound will be located here. Along side each of the five foot sides, mark a spot three feet by five feet. Then remove the top soil in both areas to a depth of one foot, (if you have it), and pile it on the pumpkin mound area. If you do not have one foot of top soil remove what is available down to the sub-soil. Then remove and discard enough sub-soil until you have a one foot deep hole. Pile the soil up on the mound and let it slide down all four edges to form slanted sides. When all soil is piled up in the mound area flatten the top into a rectangle that's smaller than the base of the pile. Smooth out the sides so they have enough slope to stay together and absorb the warm sunlight. Then place a board on one of the slopes so you can kneel and reach the top of the mound without compacting the soil. In the top of the mound dig another rectangle four to six inches deep by mounding the soil removed around the edges of the hole. Compact the sides slightly to prevent them from falling apart. Later this hole is where you will plant your seeds about two inches from the edges. You are now ready to add your compost. Loosen the soil or sub-soil at the bottom of your three by five holes. Then start adding layers of your compost from last fall's pile. Cover each layer, (about six inches), with a layer of leaves, (about one inch), from one of the leaf bags you placed around your compost pile. On top of that add a one inch layer of manure. Continue until you have one and a half foot of compost overflowing the hole. This will settle down during the summer. Check for red wigglers in the compost as you go and add some more if needed. You will find that over time they will multiply like crazy and you will never have to buy any again. To aid in early season growth you can add some porous black plastic around the outside of the mound to help in absorbing sunlight. Make sure you do not go any farther down than the top of the compost to avoid blocking root growth. You are now ready to plant your seeds. Plant several, then thin to the best looking one when they start to send out a runner. As the pumpkin plant develops the roots will search out the compost that is being broken down by the red wigglers. They turn compost into food that the plant can readily use. This will supply a steady flow of nutrients throughout the season. Watch for a nitrogen deficiency, a condition that is more prevalent in a rainy season. This can be monitored by checking the terminal growth on the vines. This should be done on a warm sunny day late in the afternoon. A cloudy or cold day (below 80 degrees) can give you a false reading. The leaves should be a rich green color. If they are not for several days in a row, a nitrogen fix should be considered. Put one of the following on the compost and in the mound hole "VERY SPARINGLY." Manure tea, or Urea (45-0-0) will work very well. If you use Urea, water it in and be careful not to get the granules on the plant or it will burn it. Check the leaves again in a couple of days to see if the color is back. Your efforts will help produce a strong steady growth that should persist throughout the growing season. At the end of the season check and see if the root system grew into your compost. Make note of the success and/or failures and make the appropriate changes for next season.
Closing Thoughts and Precautions:
With any new process or seed variety you try in garden never rely on that one new thing. Try compost feeding on one of your plants next year to see how it works for you and gain the experience with this new method. This also applies to your seed stock as well. Always use several different seed stocks of Atlantic Giant Pumpkin. If the seed does not have the genetics needed to produce a big one, all your hard work will not produce a monster.
Pumpkins, gourds and other cucurbit fruits with hard skins and firm starchy rinds may rot while still on the vine, after harvest, and in storage. In North Carolina these rots are typically caused by fungi such as Fusarium, Alternia, Pythium and the anthracnose, Colletotrichum, and gummy stem blight, Mycosphaerella fungi. On occasion, other fungi and soft rot bacteria may cause rots, especially during hot, wet weather. Infection of fruit usually starts in injuries on young or mature fruit. In the fall, growers often inquire about methods to control these rots. The following suggestions and comments come to mind to minimize rots.
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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002