With a little planning, some care and patience, anyone can grow a very large pumpkin.
Giant gourds may be used to make lots of pumpkin pie or an awesome jack-o-lantern, but most people enter them in fall fairs or use them in pumpkin regattas, where pumpkins are used as boats in races.
A good pumpkin requires good seed, good soil and some good luck. Pumpkins consume a lot of nutrients so the soil will need to be amended with well-rotted manure and/or compost. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8.
Start by sowing the seeds indoors in mid-May and make sure that the soil temperature remains fairly warm while germinating. Mist the soil to prevent it from drying out.
Once the first true leaves appear, the seedlings can be transplanted. True leaves are the ones that come out after the first two leaves that appear from the seed. It is a good idea to put the seedlings in a cold frame for a few days before transplanting into the garden. The cold frame allows the tiny plants to adjust to the outdoor temperatures while offering protection from the harsher elements.
Growing the Pumpkin
A pumpkin requires about 20 square feet of garden space for optimal growth. A fence around the area will protect the young plants from the wind.
It is important to assist with the pollination process when the first female flowers appear in eight to ten weeks. These flowers have a small pumpkin at the base. To pollinate, remove the petals from a newly opened male flower in the early morning and gently swab the female flower’s stigma with the pollen-laden stamen of the male flower.
Once the pumpkin is set, ideally before July 10, ensure the stem is perpendicular to the vine. If not, carefully coax the stem over a period of a week until it is at right angles to the vine.
The growing pumpkin can also be carefully rotated but only if the vine is not twisted. This becomes more difficult as the gourd grows larger but it can promote more even overall growth and prevent a flat side on the pumpkin.
Pruning Pumpkin Vines
Another crucial step is pruning. The main vine should be pruned when it is ten to twelve feet beyond the set pumpkin. Side shoots should be no longer than eight feet. To prune, simply cut off the tips and bury the ends to reduce water loss.
When the pumpkins have strong vines and are about the size of a basketball, select one or two and get rid of the rest. Young pumpkins that are round and tall grow the largest.
Water and Food
A growing pumpkin needs one to two inches of rainfall each week. Use a tuna tin to monitor rainfall and make up any shortfall. A lack of water will seriously stunt the gourd’s growth.
Apply water-soluble fertilizer regularly but do not over-fertilize. Seedlings need a 15-30-15 mixture, set pumpkins like a balanced mixture of 20-20-20 and a 15-11-29 mixture is required by late July for the best growth.
Harvest the Bounty
Growing a very big pumpkin does take some time and effort. The pollination process requires help and pruning is key. Care is also needed to ensure the growing plant gets adequate food, water and space. With this help, anyone can harvest a huge pumpkin in the fall.