Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. As recently as 16 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2015 the one ton mark has been surpassed. That is a lot of pumpkin, not to mention how do you move one that size?? With a fork lift and pickup truck at the very least, so this is not something that any home grower can do. Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time.
Start Right-Good Genetics
The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at any nursery. Refining the genetic makeup for years, dedicated and obsessed growers have developed more superior strains than are available at the local nursery on their seed packet displays. Atlantic Giant is a variety that is available from Botanical Interests but if you search the web you can find all kinds.
According to Dill’s Giant Pumpkin website,
“DILL’S ATLANTIC GIANT is the grand-daddy of all giant pumpkins. The present day record, for this variety is an amazing 2009 lbs (913 kg) and it is common for the variety to produce 400- 500 pound (180-230 kg) fruit consistently. Used mainly for fall fairs and International pumpkin competitions that are becoming increasingly more popular around the world. Also perfect for huge jack o’lanterns and fall displays! Fruit colours, vary from yellow to orange and the skin is slightly rough. Days to maturity-130.”
Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers, and on Ebay.
Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion
Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins in the fall. Full sun with a minimum of 400 square feet is required and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins are growing, because the plant requires constant tending. Among the tasks confronting a serious grower is daily pruning, removing excess pumpkins, pollinating, rotating the gourd, watering, fertilizing, setting up a temporary cold frame over tender plants, soaking and filing the seeds for better germination, applying fungicides and pesticides, and the list goes on and on. Not for the typical sunny day gardener!
Splitsville, Oh No!
The pumpkin can gain 20 to 40 pounds a day during high summer. And that puts stress on the stem and the biggest calamity of all, splits! Once a fissure or rupture has occurred, the grower might as well hang it up and hope that he has another vine to fall back on. Literally, the grower devotes a whole year of his/her life to this endeavor and one day if the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.
You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive endeavor – from foliar nutrients, specialized sprinklers, beneficial soil inoculants, miniature cold frames, and other tools to help you grow that record breaker. And once you have a mammoth sitting in your garden, then you have to harvest it and it isn’t just a matter of cutting the stem and bringing the pumpkin into the house. There is a company that markets giant pumpkin lifting rings or slings for “lifting the gold” that can run up to $400. This is not a cheap hobby. But on the other hand, to buy a ready made giant can set you back at least $500(see below). My best guess on weight for this is around 900- 1000 pounds. I wonder if they deliver?
Final Reward-Winning a Blue Ribbon
But if you are successful at fighting back the weeds, insects, and splits that can attack at any point, you can enter at one of the many pumpkin contests around the country and take home a prize of thousands of dollars. Considering the many problems and uncertainties that can strike without warning (think hail storm!), I think I will settle for carving or decorating pumpkins. See my post on embellishing pumpkins this at Pumpkin Treats.