Growing Gourdzilla Champion Pumpkins

Seen at a local nursery
Seen at a local nursery, Valley View Farms

The Growing

Growing titanic orbs or gourds is a competitive cut throat sport. Less than 20 years ago, the heaviest (official) pumpkin weighed a mere 403 pounds. Now in 2016 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 without a lot of help.

From Dill's Farm with permission
From Dill’s Farm with permission

But thousands of hopeful growers are hauling their giant squashes into farm and county fairs in search of that coveted blue ribbon for the heaviest pumpkin. Some of the mammoth pumpkins weigh as much as a compact car! The current world-record pumpkin weighed in at 2,323 lb and was grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland in 2014, authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) in Ludwigsburg, listed on Guinness World Records.

A blue ribbon winner from Dill's Atlantic Giant with peremission
A blue ribbon winner from Dill’s Atlantic Giant with permission

Champion pumpkin growers have their own methods and secrets that they guard closely in hopes of breaking the record books one more time. Because now big cash prizes are attached to those blue ribbons.

Imagine moving something this size!
Imagine moving something this size!

Start Right-Good Genetics

The most important step in growing a champion is getting the right seeds and these aren’t available at just any seed packet display. High pedigree hybrid seeds are necessary which are bought and sold between serious growers, and can cost from $10 to $100 or more per seed. Dill’s Atlantic Giant is the granddaddy of most giant pumpkins, which is  available from Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia. Dills’ Farm is the home and farm of the late Howard Dill, developer of the “Dill’s Atlantic Giant”, the World’s Largest Pumpkin Variety. Three hundred to 500-pound specimens are routinely grown with this variety, but there is a lot of TLC that goes into the making of a champion.

Dills' Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta!
Dills’ Farm even has a Pumpkin Regatta! With permission from Dill’s Farm

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.”

Pumpkin in field at Dill's Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission
Pumpkin in field at Dill’s Farm in Nova Scotia, used with permission

Obtaining the proper seeds is truly the “secret” to growing huge pumpkins and are available at specialty companies and growers such as Dill’s Farm, and on Ebay.

Squash blossom being pollinated by a bee
Pumpkin blossom being pollinated by a bee

Work, Work, and More Work to Produce a Champion

This is an endeavor that starts not in the spring, but in the fall preceding planting your pumpkin. Ground preparation with lots of organic material tilled under begins when the leaves start to turn. Full sun with a minimum of 400 square feet is essential and forget about taking a vacation while the pumpkins are growing, because the plant requires constant tending. This is not simple thing. 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!

There are all types of pumpkins
There are all types of pumpkins

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 the day the pumpkin develops a fatal split, he has to wait until next year to start all over again.

A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms
A whale of a pumpkin seen at Valley View Farms

It’s Expensive

You can sink a lot of money into this highly competitive sport – 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. However, 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?

I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500
I saw this giant pumpkin, weight unknown, at Terrain for $500

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 at Pumpkin Treats.

Angry Pumpkin
Angry Pumpkin
I will stick to decorating pumpkins
I will stick to decorating pumpkins

 

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