Giant pumpkin seeds planted inside-It has begun!

JC and MAX

This year I’m planting 4 seeds for me and 2 for my giant pumpkin/squash class later this month. I planted them in 4″ peat pots and they are on a heat mat set at 80°F  under grow lights until they germinate. Here is the 2013 lineup:

895 Grande 08 – 1016 Daletas x 1385 Jutras-this seed became the 2011 NM State Record
1011 Hoffman 10 – 1446.5 Werner 06 x 1180.5 Pukos 07
1111 Sawtelle 08 – 1556 Werner x sibb
1308 Todd 10 – 50 Todd x 901 Hunt- 2010 CO State Record
Three of these seeds are from Colorado and one seed from Wyoming.

So let me explain what each name means for those of you interested in giant pumpkin growing as each seed name gives important information.

Let’s take the 895 Grande 08. This seed came from an 895 LB pumpkin and the grower’s last name is Grande and was grown in 2008. The rest of the information is the genealogy of the 895 Grande that I’ve provided. So 1016 Daletas was the mother plant and was a 1016 LB pumpkin and the grower was Daletas and no year given. The father plant (pollinator) was 1385 Jutras. So this pumpkin weighed 1385 LBS and the grower was Jutras with no year given.The reason you should go back and look at the parents is you can see that the 895 came from some huge pumpkins.

The 895 Grande produced my NM Giant Pumpkin State Record of 448 LBS back in 2011. Last year I grew the 448 Cabossel 11 (nicknamed MAX) but didn’t break my previous record so I’m going back to the parent 895 Grande to try again. My record gotten broken last year. The current record is 530 LBS  so I’ll try to regain the State Record this year! Notice I’m also growing seeds from much bigger pumpkins as well but with our short growing it is very hard as I lose about a month of time other growers get. Wish me luck!

PS: More on the dreaded squash vine borer

I just posted about the squash vine borer and a gardening friend, Gene, mentioned that his squash is smaller than in the video in a comment in the earlier post on squash vine borers. I forgot to mention that while the squash is small before they blossom, I keep them covered with row cover which keeps both the SVB and the squash bugs out but once the plants are bigger and blossoms, we have to take the row cover off for the bees to be able to pollinate them-that’s when we should use the foil.

Fall Garden Projects-First up-putting the pumpkin patch to rest

Horse manure on top of pumpkin patch

I’ve been really busy this fall around the garden since the Pumpkin Bash. It seems like I never have time to do any projects when the garden is going so I try and get some of the projects done in the fall before the dead of winter. Last week cleaned out the pumpkin patch and then I rented that Bobcat where I spread out about 4 yards of horse manure on top of it. I really needed to dig it in or it would blow away before spring.

giant rototiller-16 hp

So yesterday I rented a giant rototiller (16 hp) and plowed in the 4 yards of manure, 50 lbs dried molasses (it smells so sweet), 50 lbs mushroom compost (are we cooking here?), and 50 lbs of gypsum (for calcium-makes strong bones, I mean strong plants!) in the pumpkin patch.

final pumpkin patch done

Now it looks so beautiful and is ALMOST ready for next spring! I still have to dig in some leaves (in the holes where I will be planting the pumpkin plants next spring) and a little (I mean very little) composted chicken manure to start the decomposition process so they can decompose over the winter and become leaf mold or should I say leaf gold by spring. This will be the third year for this pumpkin patch and boy what a difference three years makes when you add amendments each year. It’s starting to look good and the rototiller just cut through it fluffing it up together. I don’t like to rototill very much because of how hard it is on the soil microbes but felt that I needed to do it for now since this dirt was so void of any organic material and hard as a rock. I think after this year I’ll won’t have to do it again. I will add more mychorrizial next spring to help replenish the soil microbes.

Weigh-Off time is upon us!

The crew-from left Spooner, Ed, Per, Ira, me, Javier, Daniel, and Beto-THE KONG BOYS!

The weigh-off is almost upon us. Tomorrow the pumpkin/greenie squashes will be cut at 8 am and loaded in the truck on pallets. How do I get all this weight in the bed of a truck? 8 strong men! These guys are the best and nicest guys around and I REALLY appreciate their help. I couldn’t do it without them. Here are last year’s crew with my giant pumpkin, ‘Kong’ at 421 lbs. This year’s giant pumpkin, MAD MAX is 463 lbs and the ‘Greenie’ squash, Jabba the Hut is 347 lbs.!  Hope the guys have been working out! More pics tomorrow of the loading of the giants!

How to tell when to pollinate a female giant pumpkin blossom

Another gardener friend, Mac asked me a great question about the female flower and the timing of the pollination so I thought I’d give you all some more info.

When you spot a female pumpkin blossom that you want to hand pollinate later, you need to watch it daily as it grows.  The optimal position of a female flower will be on the main vine and at least 10 feet out or longer although I did pollinate one this year at 8 feet out for insurance in case no others ‘took’. I will also pollinate every female flower on the secondary vines that grow out from the main vine on the sides. This is all for insurance in case something happens to the best one. Later, after I feel confident which one of these pumpkins is growing the fastest, I will cull all but the first and second fastest growers. So each plant I care about, will have 2 giant pumpkins growing on them. The first and a backup.

Here is a female blossom NOT READY. The blossom is still very green although getting larger.

Here is a female blossom that will be ready to open the next morning. So how do I know when the female blossom will open? I watch the female blossoms closely (they are the ones with the baby pumpkin attached to the base of the flower. I always look for the blossom to get big (still closed) and then the day before, the blossom will get the slightest hint of yellow green on the tip. That’s when I know it will open the next morning. Works everytime. I cover the female flower the night before after the color change and get out in the patch early the next morning.

We have 4 hours from the time the blossom opens which is always first thing in the morning. This is usually between 6am -10am. So I cover the female flower the night before with a piece of row cover and get out in the patch early before the beez take all the pollen from the male flowers. Many times I cover three male flowers that will be ready the next day as well  (they haven’t opened up but look like they will the next day) so I have lots of pollen on them. The beez get out early too and will take it all of their pollen if not covered.  The pollen is food for the bees. It is protein for them. Beez will go after the nectar and the pollen on these plants. I’m sure the beez are attracted to the big blossoms and wonderfully sweet smell the blossoms emit. Someone should make a perfume out of this smell-it is wonderful. What would that be? Parfum de fleurs de citrouille (scent of pumpkin flowers)!! If I know I’m pollinating, I will get up early. Generally between 6-8 am is when I pollinate them but I have forgotten sometimes and ran out at 10 am to pollinate.

Then after pollination be sure to close up the female with a twistie tie or piece of string for 24 hours as shown here. After 24 hours, you can let the flower open up cause it will either be successful or not and you won’t know till after at least day 10 (that is the benchmark) if it was successful. The female flower shrivels up and drops off (like an umbilical cord) and the baby pumpkin will get larger and larger. If the pollination didn’t take it could be because of several reasons. One reason is because it was too hot the day of pollination (over 90°F). This might cause some pumpkins to abort later. The second reason is because we didn’t get enough pollen on the stigma part of the female blossom. Either way, you’ll see the pumpkin start to grow and then suddenly stop. It looses it shininess, getting duller and softer and usually spots show up as it decays which is a self abortion.  If this happens, cut it off. That is why we pollinate more than we need because sometimes the plant self aborts its babies if something is wrong-kind of like a miscarriage for us.

How to pollinate a giant pumpkin

Here are pictures on how I hand pollinate a giant pumpkin…

Here I’m getting ready to pollinate a giant pumpkin. I’ve gathered several male flowers that are  by my shoe. I have one in my hand ready. I try to use several male flowers to make sure I get enough pollen on the female flower. Notice the female flower just below my hand that is open and ready to be pollinated.

Here is a closeup of the male flower. The ants can be accidental pollinators too.

Here is a closeup of the female flower. When she opens up first thing in the morning, she is ready to receive pollen.

Here I’m peeling off the flower petals from one of the male flowers. I peel off the petals so only the stamen is left. That way it can get to the female stigma.

Here is the male flower with all the petals off.  Notice the pollen on the stamen and around the base.

Now I take the male stamen that is loaded with pollen and use it like a paintbrush to paint the pollen all over the female stigma. then I repeat with the extra male flowers.

Then I tie and close up the female flower so it can’t accidentally get pollinated by the beez. It will stay closed up for one day and then I will untie it as the female blossom will only acept the male pollen for about a 4 hour period. If you want to know who are the parent pumpkins, this is the way to control the assurance of the genetics. We try to get bigger and better pumpkins each year which is why we hand pollinate.

First Giant Pumpkin

The first giant pumpkin is still growing nicely. Hopefully it won’t abort. We are at day 16 of its life. It is now bigger that a basketball. If it does abort, it will be soon. Hope not. It is bright, shiny and it’s skin is soft. The yellow color is standard with all giant pumpkins. It will turn more orange or salmon color later.  It is currently at 38″ in circumference putting on about 2″ a day.  We measure around the fattest part of the pumpkin for the circumference measurement. I am not using the OTT method until I know it doesn’t abort. The OTT method will include not only the circumference but the length and width too.

I better get some sand underneath it soon while I still can pick it up. I put fine sand underneath it so a small rock won’t pierce it and water can drain around it so it’s not sitting in mud. Ha! No mud around these parts!

Pumpkin Sex

Yesterday I pollinated the 895 Grande female pumpkin flower (scroll back to see what it looked like on July 4th and how much it has grown) with an older male flower from the same plant and I took a fresh male flower from the ‘greenie’ which won’t affect the looks of this pumpkin but may produce green pumpkins from it’s seeds. I just don’t have any opened male flowers from the pumpkins so I had to use the ‘greenie’flower. Notice how much bigger the female flower is now.

So this is how it works. To see more lude photos go to last year post here but basically here’s the dirt on GIANT PUMPKIN MATING HABITS!

All pumpkins produce both male and female flowers and normally the bees do the pollinating landing on the male flowers, picking up the pollen from the male flower and visits the female flower and drops off the pollen on the female flower being attracted by the wonderfully sweet smell of the female flower. BUT with pumpkin growers, we need to know which two pumpkins ‘hook up’ so we don’t get an accidental pollination with a winter squash or another pumpkin we don’t want it to mix it up with. We want to get the biggest pumpkin we can so we keep track of those sort of things. So we hand pollinate. Yesterday I took a male flower and took off the petals and ‘paint’ the pollen all over the female flower stigma with the male stamen. Some of the pollen must go down the female stigma flower for pollination to be complete. If I didn’t get enough pollen on it, it will either not take or abort later. After I pollinated the flower, I used a twistie tie to close it for 24 hours so no bees can accidentally pollinate it. I hope it ‘takes’ but it may not as it was very hot yesterday and quite often it won’t take if the temperature gets too high (over 90°F). There are many baby flowers now so it is going to get interesting very soon!

Giant Pumpkin patch growing

Here are some pictures of the giant pumpkin patch taken on July 4th. There are also 1 greenie squash and 2 giant marrows in the patch so I think it’s gonna get crowded in there. I hope I have a sea of green by August!

Here is the overall view of the pumpkin patch from the road.

I have the low tunnels propped up so I can work on the giant squashes. Kind of like opening a car hood! I took off the row covers for pictures.

The giant pumpkin plants are doing well-they are just coming out of their low tunnels. Here is the 895 Grande plant with the low tunnel off.

Some of those big leaves are 18″ across. I just love this pumpkin plant. It’s sister seed took the NM State record last year. The leaves are much bigger than the 1048 Grande.

Here is the 1048 Grande. It’s leaves are smaller but they say leaf size has nothing to do with pumpkin size. Is that like the shoe size argument?!

I saw my first female flowers on the 895 Grande pumpkin plant on the end of the main vine. Isn’t it beautiful! The only issue is it is only 7 feet out from the stump. I should wait to pollinate until it reaches at least 10 feet out but may not. We do that to allow the plant to develop more leaves behind the future pumpkin-more leaves-more food. Lot’s of times we pollinate many pumpkins and then cull the smaller ones so I think I will do that.  Notice the oval shape of the possible baby pumpkin.

The only problem is the male flowers that are there are also very small and they usually bloom before the girls even show up. The boys are always the first to arrive at the pumpkin blossom party and usually the girls show up later. It’s ok because my first pollinated pumpkin flower last year was July 27 so perhaps I will be ahead of that date which is important because it will give me more days to put on more pumpkin weight.

Here is the greenie-The greenie looks just like any giant pumpkin plant but the fruit will be green. It is doing well. I saw a really small female flower with the potential baby green fruit. The seed came from 2007 so I was surprised it even germinated The plant looks fantastic. Just goes to show that you can’t always listen to the folks that say get rid of your seeds after 2 years old.

Here is the 78 marrow-kinda bushy. Very different than the other marrow in the patch.

This is the other giant marrow that came from my last year’s plant. I’m very suspicious of this one as it doesn’t look quite like the other marrow above which I know is pure in strain. Mine was pollinated by the bees and so it could of crossed with one of the winter squashes last year. It will be interesting to see what the fruits look like on this one later on!

I also saw one squash bug (which ended up under my shoe) and some eggs on the underside of 3 leaves. I just took off all those leaves that had the eggs on them and put it in a bucket of soapy water-goodbye eggs. I will plant some onion sets in their wells to help deter them and I will probably have to keep the pumpkin plants covered with row cover. I will be on the lookout from here on out.

Giant pumpkin care today

chop sticks help push the giant pumpkin vine down

If you were crazy enough try to grow giant pumpkins this year, here is some advice from this obsessive giant pumpkin grower!

To grow a giant pumpkin, you must BABY them. They need a lot of CARE. It’s like RAISING A VERY LARGE CHILD or more like JABBA THE HUT. You don’t go out and just throw some seeds in the ground and expect to grow a record pumpkin. You wouldn’t be able to go out and become a world boxing champ without training, lots of proper food and working up for it and so it is with giant pumpkins. A person asked me last year at the GPC (Great Pumpkin Commonwealth) weigh-off in Colorado Springs, Co how do I grow them? I asked him if he planted some and he said, “Yes, but they didn’t do anything”. So I asked him if he amended the soil, had them on a fertilizer program, used organic fungicides for diseases, did any preventative insect control or hand pollinated them just for starters. He said, “No, I didn’t do any of that. I just put the seeds in the ground”. I told him that’s probably why he wasn’t successful. Then he asked me, “What do you feed these big pumpkins?” For which I responded looking at his kid, “Small children”! Then he grabbed his child and ran off! The point being you must be some kind of nut to want to grow these behemoths!

Today I fertilized the pumpkin plants, greenie and marrows with Seaweed and Fish emulsion and added Super Thrive since I took off the shade cloth and they have to adjust again.  Mind you they still have a low tunnel over them and another layer of row cover directly on them but I am now weaning them off so much protection since they have gone through their first adjustment well and I see new growth. I also started them on ‘Companion’, an organic fungicide, which helps ward off  fungal diseases. All these things go in a bucket of water so it’s easy to apply. They are still taking 1/2 gallon of water a day. I also put chop sticks over the stem (see photo), making an ‘x’ with them, gently pushing the vine down towards the ground. Push the sticks with the plant  a little farther towards the ground every few days until the plant is lying on the ground. If you let them stay tall, they could snap off in the wind so I must train them to lay low! This pumpkin plant in the picture comes from the same one that last year grew the 2010 NM State Record. I also have it’s cousin plant (who comes from a bigger pumpkin), but this plant is already much bigger than it’s cousin. I love this seed!

Planting Giant Pumpkins-In ground- June 1!

Giant pumpkin inside low tunnel

On Wednesday  I transplanted the giant pumpkins in Bri’s Pumpkin Patch here at the property.

Bri, my horsey, is no longer with me. Last year I used her 2000 sq foot corral as the giant pumpkin patch and I got a New Mexico State Record-421 lbs for Giant Pumpkin last year. I think she is watching over them! I miss her terribly.

Here’s how I plant the pumpkin transplants that I started in the house.

1. First I dig out an area about 4 feet around and 1-2 feet deep where their root system will grow. This year I added generous amounts of compost, 1/2 cup of mycorrhizal, 1 cup humate, and 1 cup of worm castings and mixed it into the area. (I did not add any fertilizers as my soil test I had done in Spring said I was high in nitrogen, potassium, and potash, which is your basic fertilizer ingredients. (This is weird because the pumpkins usually use up all available nutrients by the end of the season. The only thing I did last fall was put some chicken manure on top of the ‘holes’. I didn’t even dig it in but I think the nutrients leached into the soil from the winter snows and increased the levels.)

2. Then I dig a small hole where I place the pumpkins and I add another handful of worm castings and 1/2 cup more of mycorrhizal (it’s dry granule stuff) and mix them together. This way the castings and mycorrhizal will be right in the immediate root zone in the beginning and the bigger amended area will be accessible as the root system grows.

3. I carefully peeled off the peat pot including the bottom so not to disturb the roots but if the pumpkin is root bound, I must carefully squeeze the roots to loosen them up so they can grow outwards. This year I didn’t have to do that. I placed the pumpkins in the bottom of the hole opposite the first true leaf so it grows in the direction I want and put the amended soil back around the root ball. I make a well around the plant so I can add water right to the root zone.

4. In a 5 gallon bucket, I added 1 tsp/1 gallon of water of liquid seaweed and about 3 drops of Super Thrive/1 gallon of water which helps immensely with transplant shock. Super Thrive is super expensive and super good. It has lots of the B vitamin complex in it which helps with stress-just like for us! I first watered the well 2x to make sure all the soil was soaked around the plant, then I added the liquid seaweed/thrive in water to the well.

5. I put the Seaweed and Thrive with the water in each day for about 5 days, then afterwards I normally give them water with fish emulsion once a week but for now since my nitrogen is high I will wait awhile. I do water every day with about a 1/2 gal of water right now.

6. I don’t put fertilizers in the water every time I water, normally just once a week. I will also add other things to the water once a week but will discuss that as I go along in the season. I still have to do a drip system for the pumpkins and will hand water them until I get it up and running.

7. I cover the transplant with a small piece of row cover to help it in it’s transition with the intense sun and wind and keep rabbits away. I tack it down with rocks.

8. On Thursday I put the low tunnels I previously made over the already covered pumpkins to protect them from the heat and wind even more.  Low tunnels are like high tunnels but only go over the plants. You can’t walk inside them-they are low!  They will stay on till the plants grow out of them at the end.  So far they are looking good. The soil is nice and warm at 70°F.

9. Saturday (today) I put the shade covering over the low tunnels as the sun is sooo intense right now. I can take it off once they adjust to the outside elements.

Giant Vegetables Coming SOON!

Me with a giant marrow growing in 2010

So someone asked me, ‘Hey Jannine, how come we haven’t heard about your giant vegetables yet?” Well, I’ve sort of been preoccupied with getting the tomatoes in the ground lately but all the giant vegetables are still in the house all cozy under my gro lights just waiting to go out. We still have some cold nights ahead in the next few nights so I want to wait a little more. Also all my peppers and eggplants are still inside as well as they HATE being cold more than tomatoes do. One cold night can stunt a pepper plant all season so I suggest you protect them with something the next few nights if yours are already out.

But back to the giants-I have 2 giant pumpkins, one giant ‘greenie’ squash, 2 giant marrows (think supersized zucchini), 1 giant pear gourd, 2 long gourds and 6 giant tomatoes. I’m shooting for next week to get them out. Don’t worry, I’ll be talking alot about giant vegetable how-to’s once they get going. Here is what I still have to do for the GIANTS:

I still have to do a final mixing of my soil and add some amendments in the giant vegetable patch I have.

I still have to get out my low tunnels for the giant pumpkins and greenie to go under to protect them from our intense sun and cold nights.

I still have to build a super tall arbor for the long gourds which can get as tall as 109+ inches. But I can still get them in the ground and build the arbor around them. If you build it, they will come!

I still have to create the drip system for a new giant tomato bed.

I still have to do a drip system for the GIANT VEGETABLE PATCH

I don’t know where the giant pear gourd is going yet! I think Bri’s GIANT VEGETABLE PATCH (named after my beautiful horse Bri who is no longer with us) is going to be really full this season!

GIANT PUMPKIN/WINTER SQUASH-How to Tell Which Direction a Vining Squash Will Grow

Have you ever planted winter squash and it grew in a direction you didn’t want? Here is a good tip for how to tell which direction a vining winter squash (versus a bush variety) will grow. I will use my giant pumpkin as an example but any winter squash that is a vining squash will act the same.

Let’s say you plant some vining winter squash next to a wall or on the edge of a garden bed and you need it grow away from the wall not into it or into your squash bed not out of it (good luck on that one!) When the plant puts out the first two leaves as I have described in previous posts, these are called the cotyledon leaves (baby leaves) and don’t look like any of the other leaves it will grow afterward. All leaves after the cotyledon leaves are called true leaves.

put mark on side of pot opposite of first true leaf

Sooo pay attention to that FIRST TRUE LEAF.  The plant will GROW IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION FROM THE FIRST TRUE LEAF. If I’m growing them inside for a head start, it is easy to mark the container as you will not remember which one was the first leaf (trust me!) when the second one appears. I just take a marker and mark the opposite side of the pot so I know when I transplant it into the ground which direction I orientate it. If I grow directly into the soil, after the first true leaf appears, I gently dig up a big amount around it and gently lift it and the dirt so as not to disturb the new roots and rotate it in the direction I want it to grow. For those who are growing their winter or summer squash seed in the ground, it is too early. Wait till May 15th (our first frost free date) to plant directly into the ground when the soil and weather are hopefully warmer.

Giant Pumpkin Cotyledon Leaves Compared to Tomato Cotyldon Leaves

Here’s a comparison of the giant pumpkin cotyledon leaves (the first 2 leaves to pop out) along with it’s first true leaf compared to a tomato cotyledon leaves along with it’s first true leaf. Notice the size difference! Giant pumpkin cotyledon leaves are the biggest baby leaves I’ve ever seen.

cotyledon leaves on giant pumpkin and tomato

Giant Pumpkins and Greenie are up!

Giant pumpkins and greenie are up! The giant marrow is the small one popping up

The giant pumpkins and greenie squash germinated and are looking GOOOD! I planted the seeds on April 7. The first one up was the greenie on April 12, then the pumpkins followed by April 14. The cotyledon leaves (very first leaves to appear or baby leaves) are huge. My all star lineup so far is:

Giant Pumpkins: 1046 Grande 10, and another  895 Grande 08  (which became my New Mexico State Record for giant pumpkin last year)

Giant greenie squash: 903 Noel 07

They are in 4 inch peat pots on a plant heating mat in a light box and I just see the beginning of the first true leaf on the pumpkins and greenie. Looking good so far! Grow naguas, grow!