How to Try and Grow a Giant Pumpkin

Reader Contribution by John Hoepfner

During the winter of 2009/10 I dreamed of growing the “Big Pumpkin.” I’ve read The Back Yard Giants, by Susan Warren three times. My anticipation grew by each second/minute/hour/week and month. I even came up with a plan as to how I was going to grow my large pumpkin. The plan was this: I would grow a totally organic pumpkin. The variety of pumpkin would be an “Atlantic Dill.” I would purchase one package of Atlantic Dill seeds and I would use one seed. Yes, one seed! The plan was called “The Sink or Swim Giant Pumpkin,” and the starting date was April 28th 2010.

The day came. I opened the package of seeds and picked the largest seed. I then found my seed warmer pad, put it on my desk and plugged it in. Remember, pumpkin seeds need bottom heat or they will not germinate. I put a small piece of tissue paper on a small saucer and placed the seed on the paper and applied a small amount of warm water for the seed to soak in for six hours. This process enables the hard coat of the seed to become softer and germinate more quickly. Remember, when growing giant pumpkins, every second/min/hour counts. The quicker germination occurs the sooner your giant pumpkin is on the way. The sooner we can get the seedling growing in the ground, the better.

While waiting I mixed up a small amount of organic potting soil and placed it in a small peat pot – 3 inches by 3 inches, with a small hole in bottom. After six hours I placed the seed pointy side down into the soil in the peat pot. The seed placement of pointy side down will enable the cotyledons to grow straight up and send the new roots straight down, so your new little giant pumpkin will grow faster and taller. Then I filled one of my handy-dandy plastic berry containers with an organic seed starter mix, and placed the peat pot with the pumpkin seed into the middle of the container. I set the container on a small saucer and applied a small mixture of organic liquid fertilizer. The holes in the bottom of the container would enable moisture to wick up to the seed and help it to germinate and begin life. Plus this process helps prevent root rot. If root rot sets in, your pumpkin seedling will die and that will be the end of your Giant Pumpkin and the prize money.

With that done, I now, felt like I was on my way  My seed was planted and I was on my way to the prize money. We are having fun! The seed germinated on the 30th of April – wow! I again fed it a small amount of liquid organic fertilizer. The first true leaf appeared on the 5th of May. The day of transplanting was May 10th.

I had built a small raised bed, dug it down 3 feet and filled it with compost material and two year old cow manure. I built a small hoop house and covered my giant pumpkin at night with plastic. But with the warm weather, I did not have to cover it many nights. Note: Be careful with the plastic covers. If left on too long, the sun may scorch your small plants and that will be the end of your giant pumpkin(s), and your get rich quick scheme. By June 18th, the main vine was 5 feet long with many small male flowers. But no female flowers! On June 21 I noticed a female ovary at the tip of the main vine. I was really on my way. I was excited because in the world of growing giant pumpkins, a flower has to be pollinated by the 4th of July. This is a rule to live and die by! This would give me 14 days for the female ovary to grow and flower. No problem, I thought.

At this same time my plant had two lateral vines. Good. More leaves. On June 23rd, the main vine was 6 feet in length. I also noticed another female ovary but plucked it off because even though it was located further out on the main vine it had no chance to grow and be pollinated by the 4th of July. On June 30th, the ovary I had selected, the first female flower opened but I had no male flowers opened. I contacted another pumpkin grower and was able to get some pollen – saved the day! I then pollinated my female flower and placed a covering over it to protect it from bees that might be carrying foreign pollen. Then I waited. It takes a minimum of 10 days for an ovary to set; otherwise, the plant will not produce fruit. But mine did set and we were on our way, again. Also, during all this time I fertilized my baby plant twice a week with an organic water-soluble fertilizer. My plant now had about 80 leaves. I would like to have had 100, but no such luck. The chances of prize money were dwindling. However, my giant pumpkin was growing, and I was happy and having fun.

On June 6th, humidity and rain started. During the course of the summer, it rained approximately 23 inches. In my area we usually get 33 inches in a year. The rains and winds were vicious. It seemed like I was covering my pumpkin once every week to protect the leaves. On July 21st, a hail storm came out of no-where, but I was able to cover the plant in the nick of time. Throughout the whole summer I believe we had 30 to 40 percent photosynthesis. Not good.

Then on August 15th, my pumpkin was struck by corn borers. I tried some home remedies, but the weather and the invaders fought me and won. In the end, my giant pumpkin weighed in at 38.4 pounds. Not a prize winner, but I had a lot of fun growing her.