Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
For some reason I am mystified by growing very large things. I think it started when I was a child.I remember one summer my oldest brother grew a Carolina Cross Watermelon that must have been at least 75 lbs. We took it to a big family reunion that occurred that same summer. I remember cousins, aunts and uncles walking around it, making remarks about it grandeur. My brother, Don, took special care of his plants and worked to keep them healthy and growing. It seemed like some sort of secret science how my brother made compost tea by draining liquid off of manure (and who knows what else) he would soak in an old galvanized wash tub. He would also irrigate his melons by filling up old 2-liter soda bottles with water and turning them upside down in the dirt near the base of the plant. I don't know how he came up with all these tricks. Maybe he read about them, or maybe it was something that Mom or Dad told him about. I just knew that he really enjoyed growing those large watermelons and eating them as well!
My mom was always encouraging us to garden and grow things on our own. We always had areas of the garden we could claim for our own and she would even let us order special seeds if we wanted to try something new. Pumpkins soon became a favorite of mine. I also loved the large cushaw and banana squash that we would grow. I wanted so badly to grow a giant pumpkin. I grew some Big Max pumpkins and even read “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingels Wilder to find out how to milk-feed a pumpkin. I never did figure out how to do that successfully, but I did grow a lot of fairly big pumpkins. I think my favorites ended up being the “real” Connecticut Field pumpkins. They are a hardy “start green, ripen to orange” type pumpkin that sets on lots of quick growing pumpkins that grow into nice jack-o-lantern sized fruits.
Fast forward about twenty-five years and I still love growing giant things! A few of years ago I made the acquaintance of a couple that actually grow giant fruits for contests. I was amazed and shocked by the enormity of what they grew. If you didn't know it, there is a large community of giant fruit growers out there. They have skills and tricks to ensure these plants thrive and grow perfect enormous fruit. These growers start them indoors as early as possible to maximize the entire growing season, and use specially hybridized seeds that are perfected to grow large fruits with beneficial properties. It is all very intriguing. I was thrilled when they shared some special pumpkin and cantaloupe seeds with me. I used two of the pumpkin seeds and cantaloupe seeds that summer and grew several pumpkins that ranged from 50 lbs to 200 lbs. This is nothing compared to the 800-900 lbs giants that the contest growers produce, but it was good enough for me. I also grew several 30 lb cantaloupes. Honestly, I am not interested in growing an 800 lb pumpkin. A pumpkin this large should be grown on a pallet so it can actually be moved, and imagine if it started rotting; it would be like having to bury a dead cow!
As economical justification I could offer that any giant pumpkin makes good pig food. The first year I grew them I had trouble with pollination. The explosive growth of these pumpkins is such that they would be basketball sized before they would die from non-pollination. All of these were happily eaten by the pigs. Giant melons, including the cantaloupe and watermelons, taste really well and easily feed a crowd. I have found that keeping these plants fertilized as any other plant works fine for growing large if not giant fruit. If well mulched, melons or pumpkin will need extra watering only through the driest of summer conditions.
As the summer starts kicking in I am thinking of giants that I will be growing. My mom has gotten the spirit, too, and purchased a couple of Carolina Cross Watermelon plants for the boys to try out this year. Maybe we'll see a replay of their uncle's watermelon growing success. I hope they have fun trying.
Interested in growing giants for contest? There are a lot of websites that cover everything from the perfect way to start giant pumpkin seeds, to how to grow, fertilize and take care of (practically babysit) these enormous growers.
photo credit: giant pumpkin seedlings (top)
One of the large pumpkins I grew in 2009 (bottom)