Saturday, June 24, 2017

Last of the Pumpkin Pollinations

Today I did my last pollination of the year.   This one was on the 1685 Scherber plant.  I hope this one takes, because the other pumpkin on the plant is growing really slow, so I'm hoping this one takes off a little better.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Latest Pics from the Pumpkin Patch

Here are pics from the patch.   The 1685 plant is in much, much better shape than the 747 plant, but it doesn't want to seem to grow pumpkins very fast right now.  On Saturday a female will be opening on that plant and I hope to find better growth with that pumpkin.  The 747 looks like a bomb went off in the center of it.  Growth rate on its pumpkin isn't great either, but it seems to be ramping up much better. Night time lows have finally gotten into the 50s this week so I hope in 10 days or so to see some good growth going on.

1685 Scherber

1685 Scherber

747 Johnson

747 Johnson

Potassium for the Pumpkins

This evening I did a foliar and ground application of NPK Bloom (3-12-12), yucca, humic acid and seaweed.  The pumpkins won't ramp up in growth for another week, but I want to make sure the plant has what it needs to keep them growing.  Also did some organic insecticide on the plants this evening as well.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pumpkin Growth

Day 10 for both pumpkins and growth has been very slow on both pumpkins.   Day 10 measurements don't really mean anything, but of course you would rather see bigger rather than smaller.  The 747 is champ of the patch right now, but I've had measurements that were 10 inches bigger in the past on the same number of growing days.  With the wind damage sustained and cold nights, I guess it isn't a surprise.   This next week will be the first night where the lows will be in the 50s.  That is a good thing.  Below 54 degrees and the plants don't grow so there have been hours each night that nothing is going on in my patch since they have been planted outdoors.  

I remember the Wyoming growers were always way behind in the early season, but seemed to catch up some until September.  I'm hoping that is the case for me here.  When it starts getting over 92 degrees the plants also tend to shut down, so my cooler daytime temperatures will help me some during the heat of the summer.  Temps in Salt Lake are supposed to be over 100 this week, but I probably won't get over 95, so that is maybe where I can make up some ground.  Simple fact is, however, that growing in Midway is not ideal and with the damage to the plants I have I'll be lucky if I get anything close to 1,000 pounds this year.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beneficial Bacteria & Fungi for Greater Pumpkin Growth

Last night I put down a healthy dose of Biotamax and NPK's Grow to apply beneficial bacteria and fungi for the pumpkin plant roots.   These were sprayed across the pumpkin patch and under the leaf canopy.   As I mentioned previously, I've also been putting down NPK Grow at each leaf node as I'm burying the vines.   This beneficial bateria and fungi will help to feed and protect the plants from pathogens in the soil.  Not only that, but some will give growth promoting hormones to the plants for healthier and larger root systems.

In one teaspoon of soil there is more microbes than all of the people on the earth.  Most plants couldn't live with them.  By giving more of the "good guys" to the soil it can help block out the bad guys and make the pumpkin plants thrive.  Happy plants often means bigger pumpkins, so these applications will help the plant as the season goes on.

Later in the season, I'll apply cane molasses to the soil to continue help build the beneficial bacteria in the soil.  Plants tend to get stingy later in the season giving back to the bacteria and fungi nutrients that they need.  By adding the can molasses in August it will give a food source to build the microbes in the soil and keep them feeding the plant.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spoon Feeding Giant Pumpkin Plants for Maximum Growth

A reader sent in this good question:

"What is meant by spoon feeding? Love your blog."

Thanks for the question.  Basically it mean giving small quantities of nutrients more frequently, rather than a big dose of fertilizer at once.   In the pre-season I'll till into the soil the amount of recommended nutrients that the soil test shows.  That may be pounds of fertilizer across the entire patch.  During the season, when the plants are in the ground, I'll give much smaller quantities so as the plant is using up the nutrients, I'm replacing them so the plant never has to go without.  That way you aren't dumping a bunch of fertilizer on the plant which can cause spikes and problems.

With my sandy loam soil I have to fertilize a little more frequently because nutrients like nitrogen can leach from the soil.   Nutrients like potassium, particularly when the pumpkin is growing quickly, can also get used up pretty quickly, so a constant, but small applications can maximize growth.

Yesterday evening I did a foliar and soil application of NPK Bloom (3-12-12) at 1.5 tsp mixed with Omina (11-0-0) at 1 tsp in 1 gallon of water).   I sprayed that on the leaves, under the leaves and a few feet beyond the side vines.   The pumpkin plants should be growing relatively quickly right now, so they are using up a descent amount of nitrogen.  They will continue to grow quickly for about another 3 weeks.   But with pumpkins on the vine I'm giving them a fairly balanced formula so that as we start to transition to fruit growth from vine growth it has what it needs to grow the pumpkin.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Getting the Plants Ready for Temperature Drop

After 4 days of heavy winds we now have a temperature drop to look forward to.  Tomorrows low is forecasted for only 36 degrees.  A little too close for comfort to freezing.  The plants are too big to cover and with the heavy winds that would be difficult.  So I sprayed the plants with seaweed, humic acid, yucca, silica and a little NPK Blossom and will pray for the best. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wind & Pollinating 1685 Pumpkin

This time of year typically is a happy time of the year.  Pollination time.  It means that all of the hard work can start paying off and you can literally see the fruits of your labors.  I have to admit, I'm pretty discouraged however.   Heavy winds have really been beating up my plants and it wasn't something I anticipated.  I knew I'd be dealing with temperature issues and I expected winds in the earlier part of the year when the plants where in their hoop houses, but not now and not this strong.

Currently the winds are about 25 mph with guests that are much stronger than that.  This week we've seen some winds that must have been 50+ mph to cause the damage they have caused.   The two hoop houses that are on the protected side of the house had their plastic tore apart.  You can only image what that does to a pumpkin plant only protected by a silt fence.  I re-buried the same vine on the 747 plant yesterday evening and then again this morning.  That doesn't help your rooting.
On the brighter side, I pollinated the 1685 plant today.  Like I mentioned before, I don't really want this one to be my keeper, but unless another female shows up in the next 6 days it may have to be.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pumpkin Pollination Time; I'm a Pumpkin Grower Again

Since I didn't grow last year, it has been some time since I was a giant pumpkin grower.  Today I had my first pollination.  The female flower showed up at 10 feet on the 747 Johnson plant.   This plant is my "better" looking plant of my two plants and has been a descent grower, so the stars aligned for this pollination.  

The female flower didn't overly orange up yesterday so I wasn't completely sure if it would open today.   I went to check for male flowers to pollinate with and could only fine one male flower that looked like it might open today and could only fine one (fortunately it only takes one) and I wasn't 100% sure it was going to be ready to open.  The male flowers on my 1685 plants aren't overly big.   Some plants I've had in the past have had monster flowers and it was obvious when they were going to open.   So I was a little nervous if I was going to have any pollen available.  Normally I cut the male flower off the evening before and put it is some water to keep the bees from getting at it and to keep it from getting wet from the irrigation, but this time I kept it on the vine and rubber banded it closed.

For the female, I put a little mesh sack over it the evening before and I kept the irrigation off in the morning so it doesn't get wet.   The female did open this morning and the male flower was ready to open so everything worked out.  The female was a four lobe, which is what I prefer and seemed pretty symmetrical. 

After pollinating, I put the mesh bag back on the female and then put a plastic sack over the flower and watered the plant.

This is the earliest pollination I've ever had.  I'd have to check, but I don't think I've ever pollinated before June 15th before, so we are somewhat a head of schedule.   106 days until picking time!

As you can see in the picture, I've got lawn chair over the pumpkin.  That helps keep it dry and cool.  I put the chair over the pumpkin a week before and typically I don't have troubles with pollinations taking, so I think that helps some.

You'll also notice I have sand below the pumpkin. As the pumpkin grows and lays down that gives a soft spot for the pumpkin to grow on and allows the pumpkin to easily slide as it grows.  It also helps drain water away quickly so the pumpkin doesn't rot out.

The 747 Johnson is 1985 Miller x 282 Scherber.   The 1985 Miller has grown a number of giant pumpkins including some monsters over 2,000 pounds.  Unfortunately my 1985 did not, but it was my own fault.  My 1985 plant was a fantastic looking plant, but an irrigation problem that went on for more than a week and wasn't caught nearly killed the plant.  The pumpkin stopped/nearly stopped growing.  I got the problem fixed but the damage was done.   Prior to the problems the pumpkin was cranking.  It never fully recovered by kept growing to be a mis-shapened little thing.   I got it to the scale and to my surprise it went 19% heavy.  Now I wonder what could have been.  That pumpkin was only just verily behind in measurements my personal best pumpkin from two years before and that pumpkin went 18% light.   You never know, but maybe it could have ended up over 1,500 pounds, but you never know.

The 282 Shcerber plant is a selfed clone of the plant that grew the world record 2009 pumpkin.  It is probably the greatest pumpkin ever because it broke the one ton barrier and most all of the top 10 biggest pumpkins that have ever been grown have come from this plant.

The pollinator that I used on the 747 plant this morning is the 1685 Scherber (800 McMullen x 2145 McMullen).  Remember how I said that almost all of the top 10 biggest pumpkins ever grown came from that 2009 pumpkin?    The other two came from the 2145 and that includes the current world record pumpkin.   The 800 McMullen is an under planted seed that is the reverse cross of the 2145 McMullen (AKA same parents).   So genetically the 1685 is very, very similar in its genetic lines to the 2145.  What I like about this cross is that the genetic lines for the 747 and 1685 are very different, so helpfully I'm bringing two great lines together to make something even better.

Pictured here is the 747 plant.  It would be a very nice looking plant, expect for the wind we have here in Midway has been beating it up something terrible.  Silt fences help, but the leaves are getting thrashed.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tilling in Cover Crop

Today I tilled in the winter rye grass that I had planted earlier this spring to create a "green manure" for the patch.   The cover crop helps get the biology in the soil, helps loosen the soil, helps suppress weeds and adds organic matter to the patch.  Once tilled into the soil the biology in the soil eats it up pretty quickly.  I like to till it about 2 weeks before the vines will be growing over the tilled area so it is fairly broken down by then.

I also did the 2nd half of the amendments in the soil.   I think not adding all of the amendments in the early spring is a good idea because a lot of it can leach out of the soil by this time of the year.   Particularly in sandy loam soil like I have.

The soil her dries out considerably fast.  After a good rain storm in Denver you had to wait at least 24 hours before it would be dried out enough to work it.  Here is maybe 6-8 hours.  I'll be watering much more hear and spoon feeding fertilizer to the plants more frequently here in Midway.

I tilled in granular seaweed, humic acid, nitrogen, phosphorous, alfalfa pellets, zinc, manganese, iron and boron into the patch today.  May have over done it a little, but again I think leaching is going to be an issue here so I'm hoping a little more is a good thing.  Most all of the amendments were outside of the root zone where I was tilling.

The 747 plant continues to be my "best" looking plant.   Nice grower, but it large leaves are getting it really beat up.  The wind was relatively bad this last week so there are a number of bent leaves and a lot of the leaves have small holes in them where they have flopped back in the wind.

The 1685 plant has been a stick to this point.  Side vines have only started to come on in the last couple of days.   It should start filling out soon.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Alfalfa for 26% Greater Root Mass for Giant Pumpkin Plants

Today I gave each of the plants 2 1/2 gallons of compost tea that had Actinovate and azos added to the brew along with a little cane molasses.   At the very, very end of the brew I also added a 2 1/2 caps full of liquid fish.  You don't want to add the fish to early or the smell can be kind of bad.

I poured the compost tea over the leaves and then poured it at where I would expect the outer bounds of the root system would be and then watered it in.  

The compost tea again had alfalfa pellets as part of the brew.  The triacontanol hormones in the alfalfa have been shown to help with root growth.  In studies, triacontanol was found to increase roots by as much as 26%.   These studies weren't done on pumpkin plants, but there is a wealth of study and it seems to work on most garden plants.  Many of the same studies show higher yields as well for plants treated with triacontanol (yields = higher pumpkin weights).

What I do is put the alfalfa pellets, compost and other amendments into a paint strainer bag and that all goes into a 5-gallon bucket of non-chlorinated water.  I then have a fish tank air pump that runs air through the water to aerate the water.   By aerating the water it creates an environment where beneficial bacteria and fungi can thrive and "bad" bacteria and fungi don't do well.   The alfalfa soaking in the water helps release the triacontanol into the water creating a super charged liquid ready to grow some giant pumpkins.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Insect Control for Giant Pumpkin Plants

I'm not an expert when it comes to insecticides.  In Denver we had little insect pressure in the patch.   However, it only takes one squash bug for your pumpkin plant to get yellow vine disease, so spraying appropriately can be important.  I would prefer something that is friendly to bees, but haven't found anything that will work for me yet, but if you have any advice, let me know.

Once every two weeks I'll be spraying bifenthrin and on opposite weeks I'll use Orgaocide.  This will help make sure I have full coverage.  

Plants Are Out of their Hoop Houses

I ended up waiting one more day, but I couldn't wait any longer and got the plants out of their hoop houses today.   The 747 was almost 2 feet beyond the hoop house and a side vine was hitting the side of the hoop house.

I buried vines on both plants today and then sprayed the entire patch with beneficial bacteria and myco.  After that I put up wind fences (a little windy this afternoon but nice temperatures) and watered the plants.  

I had a hard time deciding between the two 1685 plants.  In the end it was a 50/50 coin toss, because they were pretty similar, so I hope I chose the right one.

I really like the looks of the 747 plant.  It reminds me of the clone plant in a lot of ways.   Fairly aggressive grower, skinnier vines, but larger leaves like the 1985 plant had.   After that nitrogen, the main vine grew almost a foot yesterday.   A lot of vine burying to do in the next few weeks for that plant.

Both the 747 and the 1685 plant have a female flower that just showed up in the vine tip today.   I'll pollinate both, but I'd prefer not to keep that one on the 1685 plant.  It hasn't filled out much yet and I'd like to see it bigger.  The 747 plant has that female at almost 10 feet.    If something else shows up in the next four feet I'll pollinate it too, but very well might just keep this one at 10 feet.   That plant is growing fast enough right now that it should be in pretty good shape when that female opens up in 10-14 days.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Nitrogen for Vine Growth

One of the reason I started this giant pumpkin growing blog is so that I can look back on previous posts to make comparisons and remind me what I've done.  This season I start my pumpkin plants about 10 days earlier than usual.  Although that gave me some problems early, it looks like they are in good shape now.   I need to come up with better strategies for the early season, because of my environment, but it isn't how you start the race, but how you finish.  

I just went back two years ago and four years ago and took a look at the pictures of my plants on the same number of growing days using this blog.   I was surprised to see that my 747 plant is ahead of the plants from both of those years by a couple of days and the 1685 plant is on par with the plants from those years.   I figured I was probably just a little behind.

I suspect I'll be pollinating pumpkins sometime in the next two weeks, so right now I want to grow out this plant as much as I can.  The previous weeks were about root growth, now we transition to growing the plant big.

Today I have my plants their first real dose of nitrogen to help support the vine growth.  The plant is going to need a lot of nitrogen to support the vine growth over the next month, until the pumpkin starts taking off, so you need to make sure it has what it needs.  I gave my plants some blood meal (which is a good source of nitrate nitrogen and iron) and NPK Grow formula (7-4-5).   I am just spoon feeding them however.  About a 3/4 tablespoon of each poured down a drench.  During vine growth the plants need a little more nitrate nitrogen and the blood meal gives them what the need.  The ammonia sulfate in the NPK Grow formula is the easiest form of nitrogen for plants to take up, so it fairly immediately used by the plant.

I also gave the plants a little B-vitamins.  These put the plant on systemic alert and will help the plant when I take the hoop houses off of them in the coming days.

Coming days will finally be warming up in the low 80s, which will be good.  Nighttime lows will finally be in the 40s, which isn't ideal, but compared to what I've had I can get the plants out of the hoop houses without much fear of them freezing. 

The lows tonight are for around 39 degrees, but the 747 had outgrown its hoop house yesterday, so I added an extension on it.   Will be tilling this cover crop in starting this next week.  I'll slowly start tilling it as the plant grows out.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

When to Pollinate Pumpkins on Main Vine for Your Biggest Pumpkin Ever

A grower sent me a good question on when to pollinate the pumpkin in order to grow the biggest pumpkin this morning.  This was my reply:

Sounds like you have a good plant going.   The ideal is to set a fruit on the main vine after 10 feet.   If you look at the statistics, the biggest pumpkins are grown on the main vine at about 12-14 feet.   Having said that, I would pollinate any fruit starting at about 9 feet.   You just never know when a female is going to show up on the main vine and if the fruit will set.   You can start a couple on the main vine and go with the best one.    "Best" is relative however.  The first one set is always going to be bigger initially because it is older so compare the growth rate at the same number of days of growth and the position of the fruit on the vine and go with the best one.

For the first 20 days the pumpkins put very little pressure on the plant, because they don't grow very fast.  After about day 27 however they should start to take the plant over and vine growth will decrease rapidly.  So for the first 20 days you can keep 2 or three pumpkins on the vine.

Going back to at what length to keep the fruit, the most important piece is to have enough plant to power the fruit.   Sometimes, some plants like to grow the main vine initially but it takes a bit for the side vines to come on.   So you have a main vine that is growing super-fast and is 11 feet out but overall the plant does have a lot of leaves.   So ideally you want a plant that has a Christmas tree shape when you pollinate so when that pumpkin starts pulling all of the plants energy there are enough leaves to power the pumpkin.   

So if you have a plant that is just a main vine with short side vines and you pollinate at 10 feet and then again at maybe 13 feet and both of the pumpkins seem to be growing relatively well and have good positions on the vine, go with the later fruit set.  That will give the plant a little more time to fill out and be ready to power the pumpkin. 

It doesn't seem intuitive to take off the first fruit set with the bigger pumpkin early in the season, but when a pumpkin is putting on one or two pounds a day early it means nothing.   All of the real growth starts happening around day 27 when ideally it is ramping up towards 40 pounds a day, so sacrificing a little early pays big dividends later.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vine Burying for Giant Pumpkins

I took off the hoop house on my 747 Johnson pumpkin plant because I needed to re-position it to give the plant as much space as possible.  I'm getting near to the end of the hoop house but I really need to keep that plant in the hoop house until Monday.  Not sure if that is going to work our or not.   Lows in Midway will be in the high 30s over the next 4 days, so I don't want the plant to be outdoors.  

Pictured here is the 747 plant.  The plants always look big in the hoop house and small when you take them out.  I buried the main vine while it was out of the hoop house and put down some myco and beneficial bacteria at each leaf node.  By burying the fines, you'll get roots to come out of the top and bottom of the vine at the leaf nodes and by the end of the season you'll have a root system that is probably twice as large.   Those extra roots translate to a lot of extra pounds on the pumpkin by the end of the year.

I did a mixture of soil from the yard and old compost for burying the vines.   This compost is probably 1-2 years old and it looks more like dirt than compost.  I know it is same to put on the vines because the compost pile has no heat and there are weeds growing on it.   If the compost wasn't completely broken down the heat from the compost could burn the roots.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Updates from the Pumpkin Patch

I apologize to those who asked to see some picture updates of the pumpkin plants.  Been very busy lately.  On Saturday I worked eight hours in the yard (feeling it today) getting ready for sod that is finally arriving on Tuesday and I haven't had time for much of anything else.  I still need to get the sprinkler lines in for the pumpkin patch, so Memorial Day weekend that will be one of the main things I'll be working on.

Right now I have two nice plants and two crummy plants.  But that is why I double plant in each hoop house.  The good news is that I have one good plant in each hoop house, so I'll be pulling the less interesting plants this week.

My 747 is becoming a very nice plant and is an aggressive grower.   It is about 1 1/2 feet from the end of the hoop house already, which is causing me problems.   Morning lows are still pretty cool in Midway (we had snow 4 days ago) and I'd love to keep that plant in the hoop house until at least the 1st of June.   My plan is to re-position the hoop house so the plant is positioned corner to corner which will probably gain me an extra 6 inches or so.   I'll sure it will still outgrow the hoop house in a week however.

The 1685 is starting to shape up to a descent looking plant.  Not as aggressive as the 747, but looking pretty good lately.  It had a rougher time with the transition to the hoop house, but it is wired up now and read to go.

Today I gave the plants a fair amount of compost tea with a descent amount of alfalfa in it and a touch of  phosphorous seaweed.   In about a week I'll give the plants some blood meal to start pushing out the vines.  I'm hoping to have some fruit set on the plants by June 15th.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seaweed & Omina for Pumpkin Plants

The day before yesterday I gave the pumpkin plants some omina with a little b-vitamins.   Those amino acids will help with the uptake of calcium in the plant and gives the plants a little nitrogen.  Yesterday I gave the plants a healthy foliar application of kelp.  Kelp gives the plants growth hormones and a number of micro-nutrients.  My main objective was to help the plants survive the cold over the next few days.  Up on the mountain, maybe just 500 feet higher in altitude there was snow.   Temperatures were relatively cold, but lots of light bulbs in the hoop houses and covering the hoop houses didn't let it get below 45 degrees.  Not ideal growing temperatures, but it keeps the plants alive.

Tonight will be ever colder with a forecasted temperature of 24 degrees.   Hoping the power doesn't go out.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Frost Protection for Plants

This Wednesday in Midway, Utah we have a forecasted low of 24 degrees.  That isn't good for pumpkin plans (or most any other garden plant).   I have my plants in hoop houses, but they don't give much protection when the sun isn't out.   With no heat source the temperature inside a hoop house and outside of a hoop house after midnight will be about the same.

To keep my plants alive I'll be adding an extra light bulb to each hoop house, a 5 gallon jug of hot water, a blank and tarp over the hoop house and I'll give the plants aminos and seaweed the night before.   Aminos help with the uptake of calcium in the plant.  When a plant has extra calcium pectate between the cell walls instead of water, injury to the plant is minimized in cold temperatures. It is not uncommon for lettuce plants treated with amino acids to survive hard frosts.

Seaweed can strengthen cell walls and as a result help protect a plant from frost as well.

The following are my two best plants that will probably be my keepers.  Normally when plants are vining like this, I would  give them a little blood meal to help push the vines along, but since my plants where in pots so long, I'd like to have the plants root more, so I've held off on nitrogen so the plant will concentrate more on roots than salad.

747 Johnson

1685 Scherber

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Running of the Vines

These are my four plants.  Fortunately it looks like I have at least have one descent plant in each hoop house.  Vines are down on the ground for all the plants now.  I need to get the root system going.   Being in the pots as long as they were the root systems are probably half the size they would have been if they had been in the ground.   I'm not too worried about it at this point.  Two years ago we had the worst month of weather in May, ever in Colorado. Literally the plants saw about 5 hours of sun the entire month and it was very cool.  The plants were all lime green by the end of the month.  Lots of big pumpkins at the end of the season, because June had great weather and the rest of the year was normal.  In May, you need the plants to grow a big root system.  In June you need the plants to vine out and grow a lot of salad, so the plant is big enough to power the fruit in July.
747 Johnson

747 Johnson
1685 Scherber

1685 Scherber