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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!