Saturday, June 22, 2019

How to Build a Smart Greenhouse on the Cheap

This video is the culmination of about 4 years of research on the internet on how to build a smart greenhouse.    I share this information here so you don't have to spend all the time that I did  if you want to do so.  At the end of this video it talks about how to get an almost free greenhouse via a grant.

Watch on YouTube here.  I wish I knew where that stupid cricket was that you can hear in that video.  Pretty annoying.

About four years ago, when I knew we were moving to Midway, UT, I started researching how to setup a smart greenhouse for my giant pumpkin growing.  You've heard of smart homes, well, why not a smart greenhouse?   I knew the environment in Midway was going to tougher than Denver's.  We are at over 5,600 feet and the growing season is a whole month shorter than Denver's.  So I started researching how to deal with cool nights and hot days.  A greenhouse was the obvious solution and the new house in Midway has enough land for one.  But a greenhouse can't really control night time temperatures.  The thin plastic really provides no insulation.

So the first solution was to add 55 gallon water barrels painted black and filled with water.  Those black barrels absorb the sun's warmth during the day (85 degrees+ in the water) and then after sun down release that heat during the night.  So far, what I've found is that the greenhouse stays warmer then the outside air for a couple of hours, but not much more than that.

The next solution I came up with to help with the temperatures was a geo thermal system.  I dug out the pumpkin patch soil prior to moving into the house and put corrugated pipe winding back and forth through the whole patch about two feet down in the soil and then covered it.  On one corner of the greenhouse that soil pops up and is attached to an inline fan.  On the opposite corner that same pipe pops up and goes to the top of the greenhouse where it sucks the air in.  That hot air then warms the soil during the day, which can then be radiated into the greenhouse.  You have to be careful not to run it too long however, because I'm told you can burn up the roots.

The next solution was shared to me by Ralf Laub and was probably the 2nd best idea he gave me (the best idea saved me thousands of dollars and is shared at the end of the video).  Ralf lives in Vernal and has a very similar growing environment.  In his greenhouse he added one of those portable, camping hot water heaters for showers that he has connected to his irrigation.  That hot water heater warms the water and then is mixed with his regular irrigation water.   The combination of the warmed water and the exhaust from the hot water heater warms the greenhouse early in the morning just before sunrise.  These hot water heaters don't have enough volume (about 3-5 gallons per minute) to run an irrigation system, so that is why you have to mix two irrigation lines together.

For the heat of the day I put in indoor/outdoor fans (thanks mom for the Christmas present--best way to build a smart greenhouse on the cheap) that are controlled by an indoor/outdoor smart plug that can stand a little water.  This smart plug has an app that I can set multiple timers for and I can also manually turn on or off.  Earlier this spring I was in Canada.  I have a Acurite wireless temperature gauge that also has an app and will give me alert messages if the greenhouse gets to hot.  A couple of times I got alerts so I would go to my smart plug app and click the button for the fans and cooled things down fairly quickly.

Also for the heat of the day I added a fogger misting system in the roof of the greenhouse that uses Jain foggers.  It sprays a very fine mist into the air.  Just enough to cool but not so much that the moister stays on the leaves long, which is perfect).  It is controlled by a Rachio sprinkler controller that I love and controls all of the irrigation.   I got it and the state rebated something like $120 off for it because it can help save how much water you use on the lawn.  Rachio also has an app so I can manually run the water as I need from anywhere and set dozens of water schedules.  The downside to Rachio is it isn't cheap, but with the rebate it made it very worth it.

All of these devices have an API that allows you to write scripts (programming experience needed).  My plan is to write a script that automates intelligently the different pieces.  So for example, the fans will come on when it gets over 84 degrees, but turn off when it gets below 84.  But also, when the foggers turn on the fans will turn off for 1 minute and then turn back on.

Does all of this stuff work and is it worth the time and effort?  The honest answer to that is I think so, but time will tell.   Most of the stuff I talk about in the video has only been up and running for a week or less.  Circumstances and time have set me behind this year.  Originally I planned to have most all of this done back in April.  So I really lost the advantages of it to this point, so hopefully I can make up some of that lost time now.  I can tell you I've never had leaves look so good at this point of the season.

Is some of this stuff an unfair advantage?   Yes and no, but mostly no.  Even with all of this smart greenhouse stuff my growing environment isn't even close to someone that is growing in Ohio or Rhode Island outdoors.  Today is the 2nd day of summer and it was 37 degrees last night (greenhouse was just 6 degrees warmer with heat lamps and a space heater running, plus all of the rest of the stuff I mentioned).  Tonight is forecasted for 32 degrees (this isn't normal).   An average summer nighttime low in July for me is usually only 50-54 degrees.  I just looked at Ron Wallace's night time temperatures for July of least year and he is usually between 60-70 degrees at night.  His highs typically don't get much more than 90.   So I would take his environment over my greenhouse every time.  For me, the greenhouse is just a way to try to get things closer to normal.

I hope you enjoy the video.  I hope it saved you some time, got you some good ideas, helps you grow bigger and saves you some money.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Project Over 3 Years in the Making; Geo Thermal in the Pumpkin Patch

I figured I would have had a lot of this stuff done back in March, but such is life.   The good news:  geothermal is up and running.  I started researching about geothermal systems about 4 years ago when we were deciding to move.  Before we moved into the house I had the one patch dug out and put in corrugated pipe which was then covered.  Today I finally hooked up the inline fan to the pipe and ran it for the first time and it works.

Geothermal 2016 - X is about where the stump is now
At 11:30 today I turned it on for the first time and took the soil temperature with a probe the goes 4 inches down.  With two nights of 34 degrees in the forecast, I've been scrambling again to figure out how to keep the plants warm and if I could warm the soil so that radiant heat would help keep the plants from freezing (someone forgot to tell the weatherman that it is the first weekend of summer).   Eddy Z had warned me that he burnt up his roots with his geothermal system his first year, so I knew to not to do too much.  At the same time I wanted to give it a test to see how much I could warm the soil for the big freeze.  I've had the temps mostly around 84 degrees in the greenhouse most of the day, but let it get up to 94 degrees when I first turned the fan on.  

The pipe that goes underground goes up to the top of the greenhouse so the air that is pulled in is probably 4-7 degrees warmer than what my temperature gauge shows.   I put my hand at the exhaust end of the pipe to feel the air coming out after about 1/3 hour.  It was clearly cooler than the air in the greenhouse.  Eddy had told me that the soil warms a fair amount more at the intake end of the pipes and heats less at the other end, which makes sense, so I have the intake end at the stump end of the plant.

At 4:30 today I shut the fan down and took the soil temperature again at the same spot that I took the temperature earlier.  I was pleasantly surprised.   When I started the soil was 68 degrees.  When I stopped it 5 hours later it was 80 degrees.  Not bad.  That is actually more warming than I would have supposed.  This will be particularly nice in the early parts of future seasons when the soil is cold.

In other news, I'll be pollinating both plants tomorrow.  Both at about 14-15ish feet.  My thought is to cross the 2005 and 2255 together.   Then depending on what pollen is available to possibly sibb cross the 2255 or cross with the 282, but I haven't checked to see what males I have available.  More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Last Two Weeks

Okay, I'm a bit behind on my posts, but I've been busy.  I posted on Facebook that my growing has felt like I'm swimming up a waterfall, but things are better now.   This last Sunday it hit 27 degrees for the low, so somebody obviously didn't tell the weatherman that it is June.  The day before that we had strong, sustained winds for the entire day and all of the hoop houses had significant damage to the plastic, but the plants were protected enough to be fine.

The next day I took an extra hoop house and added it to the end to extend it and then used chairs to create a wing for the side vines that were out of the hoop house.   I had obsessively been watching the weather, so even 10 days before I knew the frost was coming.  I assumed eventually it would get updated to something like 40 degrees, but as the day grew closer the foretasted low went from 32 to 28  as it approached.  Officially at the house it was something like 27 degrees.  In June!

I know of more than one pumpkin grower and gardener that lost plants.  I feel sorry for them.  Hard to deal with these large plants and temperatures that low.  Using multiple tarps, heat lamps, blankets and light bulbs the plants stayed happy.  As for me, not quite as happy to be spending time trying to keep plants happy rather than trying to grow big pumpkins.

When the plants are in hoop houses it is hard to do a great job of watering.  I got the plants out yesterday finally and then gave them some heavy watering today after burying vines with humic acid, seaweed, mycos, azos and Actinovate.

I've been pretty good about doing EC testing this year and have been giving the plants a lot more fertilizer this year than I have in the past.  This sandy soil seems to really leach nutrients faster than I thought, so in particularly nitrogen has been going down at a rate of about 100% more than I've typically done in the past.  Today I gave both patches a pretty good dose of nitrogen with just a little phosphorous, potassium and iron.  I prefer spoon feeding with divided doses, but I hope to till the last of the cover crop this afternoon and I wanted to till it all in together.

The 2255 plant right now I would say is the champ of the patch.  Which is a little disappointing.  Not that the 2255 seed isn't good, but the 2005 plant is in the greenhouse, which should mean it is getting a little more TLC, but it is a little behind in growth.  The bigger issue is that 2005 plant doesn't like it when it gets even a little warm and folds when it gets over 85 degrees and I'm not sure why.  Both 2005s that I started were that way.   I'm increasing water on it to see if that makes it happier.

Both plants are around 13-14 foot in length right now I would guess and growing quickly.  Both also have a female flower in the vine tip so I would guess I'm 7-8 days out from pollinating right now.  Timing is good.  That will give about 100 days to the first weigh-off.   Usually around days 90 to 105 a pumpkin has stopped growing or just barely growing, so I should be able to get almost everything out of them if can get these pollinations to take.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Updates from the Pumpkin Patch

Yesterday and today are looking to be the best weather we've had in about 3 weeks.  Cool, cloudy and rainy has been the norm, with the daytime highs in only the low 50s for the most part.  NOT great growing weather.   I've done everything I can to try to mitigate that.  I don't think I've turned off the heat lamps in the last three weeks.   On rate occasion, the sun has popped out for an hour or so and I could get the temps into the high 70s or sometimes low 80s during those stretches, but typically it has been a battle.

Color on the 2005 is much better these days so the RAW Grow and nitrogen have been doing the trick.  Some but not a lot of side vine growth on that plant, but the main vine growth has been good.  I've had to create a hole for the main vine to grow through yesterday because it has outgrown the 8 foot long hoop house.  A female on the main vine tip on it.  This plant is a bit of wuss when it gets hot so it will need some babying.

The 2255 is maybe just 8 inches behind on main vine growth. It is at the very end of the hoop house.  Side vine growth is good.  Big leaves on this plant.   Nothing seems to bother this plant much.  It reacts the same in all weather conditions and temperatures.   It also has a female at the end of the vine tip.

Weather forecast starting Sunday looks like we might be in a more spring like weather pattern.   70s and 80s with a lower change of rain.  Yea!  Maybe we can start growing these things.  It has just felt like a battle most of May.   Comparing this years plants to last year (which had much better weather), I would guess I'm about 6 days behind on growth.  Which isn't bad considering.  I started the plants 3 days later than last year, so maybe 3-4 days behind when looking at the total number of days grown.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Grow Lights for Cold, Cloudy Weather

I've seen this before.  Back in 2013 Denver had its of its worst Mays that I can recall.  I believe there was three days that the sun cracked through the clouds at all that year.  By the end of the month my plants looked a little lime green.  I thought at the time that my season would be dismal.   It turned out that it couldn't be further from the truth.  I grew my biggest pumpkin that year and by the inches was way above state record territory.  Two other growers also had the inches to be state records as well and one turned out to be the new state record.  The lesson was that every growing day is an import day, but maybe May is not an overly import month.

The forecast for the next 10 days looks pretty bad.  Highs in the low 50s with cloudy/rainy weather.  The rain doesn't bother me at all and actually I'm for it.  Since the plants are in hoop houses/greenhouses they don't know when it rains and it is good for the rest of the patch.  The lack of warmth is a mild problem.  I have heat lamps in all of the hoop houses, so we can probably keep the plants at least at 70 degrees during the day and maybe warmer.

The lack of sun is a bigger problem. In the greenhouse I've hooked up two grow lights over the two plants.  This will give a little supplemental light to the plants and allow me to keep the plants covered for warmth a little longer in the morning.

Hoping June has much better weather.  It is an important month.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


I've been keeping the most important things going in the pumpkin patch, but it has been a struggle.  My dear mother-in-law passed away a little over two weeks ago, so the whole family headed to Canada for the funeral.  The timing wasn't great for pumpkin growing.  Two days before heading out I finally had a window to get the plants in the ground, but for that first week the plants tend to be pretty sensitive to the wind, temperature and bright sun, so I usually baby them for the first couple of weeks while they wire up.

A good friend volunteered to take care of the plants while I was gone.  He basically turned the heat lamps on and off and opened and closed the doors each day.  The 2255 plants fared rather nicely, but the 2005 plants struggled.  The two days I was home before heading out of town the 2005 plants did very nicely, so I thought we were safe, but looking back it was cloudy and cool.  The sun came out the 2nd day I was gone and some of the leaves burnt badly.  I think that was due to the fact the plants were in the pots a little too long, so the plant had gotten bigger than its roots could fully support.

All plants seem to be growing nicely, but the 2005 leaf color is a little light.  Yesterday I gave the plants some 7-4-5.   Today I gave the 2005 a little cane molasses in the water and then did a foliar spray of multi-mineral on all of the plants with just a very small touch of nitrogen added.

Weather for the next 7 days looks like rain, clouds and cool temperatures, so not ideal.     

Monday, May 6, 2019

Planted the Pumpkin Plants Finally (Kind of)

This morning was beautiful.  Clear blue skies.  No wind.  So I took advantage of it quickly and got the final setup done and got the the 2255 plants in the ground.  A little more than a week late, but better late than never.  

Cold night time lows (23 degrees twice this last week) and lots of strong wind has made it difficult to get much done.  Today wasn't much different.   Beautiful to start with but then the winds kicked up.  15-20 mph winds right now so I haven't got the 2005 plants in the ground yet.   I suspect things will calm down in the next two hours, so hopefully I can have everything planted by this evening.

In each planting hole I added Actinovate, azos, mykos, seaweed and some humic acid.  I then water the plants with some compost tea that had alfala, compost, BiotaMax, and a little molasses, seaweed and humic acid.

I kind of hate getting the plants planted three weeks after seed starting because you don't want the plant to get root bound, but also I find they don't transition to the outdoors as well when they get too large.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

CO2 in the Seed Starting Grow Closet & Hoop Houses

I've done some DIY C02 generators in the past, but I've always put them in the hoop houses.  I've never really known if they provided any real benefit, but I knew they did produce some gas, because if I pinched the straw I could feel the pressure building.

In you haven't read my interview with Eddy, view it here.  In it he details how he used CO2, was well as other things, to grow a 2255 pound pumpkin last year.  This year I decided to try something new.  I put my DIY CO2 generator and put it in my grow closet (standard closet with grow lights in it that I use to start my plants).  For the first time today, I put a CO2 sensor in my closet and was pleasantly suprised withe the results.  My ambient, outdoor CO2 after calibrating was 360ppm (awe, the fresh mountain air).  Typical would be around  400ppm.  In my grow closet right now it is 858ppm.  So that CO2 generator is doing its job with nearly double the CO2.   I'll be putting these same CO2 generators in the hoop houses.

Eddy says he targets around 900ppm.   Most professional growers will typically target 1000-1500ppm. 

How do you make a CO2 generator.  There are lots of great videos on youtube, but it is easy.  I just take a milk jug and drill a hole in the cap so a straw would snuggly put int he hole.  I then glued around the edge of the hole after inserting the straw.  Put some warm water, a cup of sugar and some yeast in the jug.  It will foam up sometimes, so don't put more than 1/3 of container full of the mixture.  It doesn't take long for that yeast to start breaking down those sugars and for CO2 to start generating.  Mix the container daily to help keep it going longer.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Getting the Plants Some Sun

Today is the first time I've got the pumpkin plants out into the sun.  Cool right now, but not a cloud in the sky and more importantly it isn't overly windy.  There has been lots of wind lately, which is typical for my area.

Not all of the seeds were started at the same time, so that is why you see different sized plants.  From top to bottom:  282 Scherber, 2255 Zaychkowsky, 2255 Zaychkowsky, 2005 Haist, 2005 Haist.

From top to bottom:  1478 Scherber, 1409 Miller and 2255 Zaychkowsky.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Soil Heating Cables in the Pumpkin Patch

This evening my son and I put in soil heating cables in to the pumpkin patch planting areas about 6-8 inches down in the soil.  These cables will be left in the soil the entire season and will help make sure the root zone is at least 70 degrees.  When the soil is warmer, to a certain limit, more biology will be active in the soil and will help feed the plants.  In the spring, in particular, the soils can be cold, and if you transplant into cold soil it can make for very unhappy plants. 

Right now I have the soil heating cables in and then clear plastic on top of the soil which will further help to heat the soil.  Prior to installing the heating cables I tested the temperature about 7 inches down.  It was 63 degrees.  Not bad, but in the next week I expect it to get up to at least 70 degrees which will keep the plants happy.

In the greenhouse I'm not adding the heating cables.  It will use the geothermal system, which I still need to get the fan hooked up to.  I checked that soil and it is 69.8 degrees right now in the planting areas.  I have clear plastic on the planting area it and when I get the greenhouse closed up I should easily get the soil to about 75 degrees in the next week.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We are Growing

All of my initial seeds germinated except for one of the 2255s.  So I started a second.  I had almost given up on it at about the 48 hour mark, but then it popped.  All of the seeds are now pushing plants up through the soil now except for the newly germinated 2255.

I kind of thought that 1409 Miller would be the hardest seed to germinate, but it has been one of the most aggressive.  I've had no luck with the 282 Scherber seeds so far that my son is supposed to grow.  The first two didn't germinate.  2nd two are just past 48 hours and haven't germinated either, so I may not have a 282 seed for him.  I have a 1478 and a 1146 seed, which are both a selfed 282 seed, so they will be my backups if plan A doesn't work.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Seed Starting Time!

Yea!  The first true day of the pumpkin growing season.  My son and I have started soaking our seeds.  We first started by sanding the edges of the seeds.  The, in some warm water, we added a touch of humic acid and a small drop of liquid seaweed.  Those two things will help the seeds germinate.

We are going to soak the seeds for about 4 1/2 hours and then transfer the seeds to lightly wet paper towels that we will put in zip lock bags.  That will then be placed in a closet with a thermostatically controlled space heater and a heated seedling mat. That should get the seeds to about 85 degrees.  About 80-90 degrees is the target range.  In about 22 to 30 hours the tap root will start coming out of the seed.  At that point I'll put the seeds in a pot that has a soilless growing mix (ProMix BX), mycos, azos, humic acid and Actinovate.  Those pots will be in the same closet with the space heater and has grow lights.

I'll take the plants out for sun from time to time, but the plants will stay in the grow closet for about two weeks.  At which time, I'll plant them in the patches.

My 2019 lineup (hopefully at the end of the season I'll read this post foundly):

2005 Haist (1867 Barron x 2003 Haist) - I like seed because the pumpkin this seed came from had a good shape and the 1867 Barron has grown some nice pumpkins consistently.   Also like all of the 2145 genetics in it.  The orange color is a bonus in my opinion.

The 2003 pollinator was beautiful for its size.  Very orange and shiny.  A little too ribby to be perfect, but I feel in love with that pumpkin and knew I had to grow a seed from it.  But then I discovered the 2005 and thought it had an even better cross.  The fact that it is also a seed from the 4th biggest pumpkin ever grown last year was also a nice bonus.

2005 Haist (seed pumpkin came from)
Pollinated with this one

2255 Zaychkowski (2145 McMullen x 1495 Stelts) - More great 2145 genetics in this seed.  I've known Eddy for a number of years and he has really taken his growing to a new level and has put together a great setup to do it.  But anytime a grower goes from a personal best of around 1,100 pounds and then nearly doubles that best with a one ton pumpkin you have to take notice.  And that pumpkin got damaged and probably had a fair amount of weight to put on the last three weeks.  I have a video post on this blog that shows Eddy's pumpkin

My son is growing the 282 Scherber.  He and I are doing a crazy little project together with it.  The 282 Scherber is clone of the 1725 Harp plant that grew the first one ton pumpkin.  That clone was selfed to produce the 282.  So genetically speaking it is the closest genetically to the world record 1725 plant you can find.  That 1725 plant was crossed with the 1409 Miller and the seeds from that pumpkin (2009 Wallace) produced a number of world record pumpkins and a large number of one ton pumpkins.  Most all of the biggest pumpkins today have 2009 Wallace in their lines.  The funny thing is that nobody ever did another 1725 Harp  x 1409 Miller cross.  It is past its prime now (I was going to do this cross 4 years ago), but if you look at the numbers, the 2009 seed isn't much behind the 2145 McMullen seed in terms of big progeny.   So we are hoping to get these somewhat older seeds to germinate and do that cross this season.

I've put on hold the Pumpkin MythBuster Series for now.  Might do one post tomorrow, but I'll restart it again in the next three weeks.  Need to concentrate on growing right now and the weather isn't being kind to get the last pieces in place.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Soil pH and Nitrates

I got the lab results back two days ago on my soil samples.  As any good grower will tell you, getting your soil tested is the starting point to growing a big pumpkin.   If you don't know what is in your soil then you don't know what to add and you need to keep everything in balance.   Yesterday I called Western Labs to talk with John Taberna.  I usually give him a call after getting my reports back to understand pieces of it better and he usually ends of adjusting some of his recommendations based on the questions I ask him.  He is the best soil scientist I know of.  He sometimes gives more detailed recommendations on what specific types of fertilizers to use when I talk to him on the phone than what is in the report and he usually will have recommendations on how and when to best apply them.

One thing I asked him about is why one patches nitrates where way higher than the other and why the nitrates where much higher than I've ever had before on any previous soil report.  I treat both of my patches the same and typically put down in the fall about the same amount of compost on each patch.  The answer was interesting, but should have been obvious.   The nitrates in the greenhouse soil were about 6 times higher than the outdoor patch.  I asked why?  The answer, after some discussion, was that the nitrates in the outdoor patch had leached out from all of the winter snow. 

I don't know what our total accumulation of snow was for the winter, but for the better part of the winter we had 3+ feet of snow in the yard.  That means we probably had at least 4" of precipitation or more that percolated through the soil, leaching out the nitrates from the soil.  The greenhouse soil was covered so it only saw a small percentage of water from the irrigation I gave it from time to time during the winter.  Nitrates don't stay in the soil very easily and can leach out.  John says the nitrates in the outdoor patch are still there, but farther down then the 5-8 inches I was getting my soil samples from.  After knowing that and seeing the amount of organic matter in the soil he adjusted down the amount of nitrogen to give the soil during the season.

The other part of the conversation that was interesting with John was about soil pH.  I think sometimes we as growers get too caught up on some aspects of different parts of growing when in fact is that it may not be as important as one might think.  

When looking at my soil pH which is at 7.6, John said, "That is right about where you want to be."  That surprised me.  He then mentioned that Steve Daletas and Ron Wallace have pH's that are about the same as mine.  A lot of what you read is about nutrient uptake for most plants is best around 6.5-7.0, so most growers do everything they can to raise or lower their pH to something in that zone.  For my soil that is nearly impossible because of the amount of lime in my soil and higher pH waster.  The fact is that it is true that 6.5 is ideal, but not in the way I thought and I have a better understanding of it now.

To some degree, the only thing that matters when it comes to the soil is what is in the rhizosphere  around the roots.   The rhizosphere is the area around the roots and that is where almost all of the magic takes places.  To put it simply, the root hairs excrete acids to get at the nutrients in the soil.  That acidification can decrease pH  by as much as 0.75 pH units.  So although the soil pH may be too high, the rhizosphere that is important might be just right. 

John mentioned that the acidification of the soil typically goes out about a quarter of an inch, but with myco that may be extended as much as a couple of inches.  The ideal soil pH is about 6.5, but that is in the rhizosphere and not the overall soil.   If you have a high pH soil, do you need to add sulfur to adjust the pH then?  Yes for a few different reasons.  But it may not be as critical as some growers make it sound.  There have been lots of big pumpkins grown in higher pH soils.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Pumpkin MythBusters: Can Azos Help Grow Bigger Pumpkins?

Sometimes scientists will go through all of the data from previously published studies from different journals (called a meta-analysis) to try to get an overall picture of results from the different studies.  In one such meta-analysis from 59 different articles on Azospriillum (Azos) they looked at the effects of Azos on wheat growth.  

When it comes to beneficial bacteria and fungi, I have 2nd hand knowledge (but from very reputable sources) that some of the mykos on the market is about is worthless as kitty litter.  I know the grower that sent samples into labs, contacted the distributors and in some cases the problems were corrected and in other cases they were not.  So when it comes to beneficial bacteria and fungi know the source and know the expiration date because sometimes what is on the label isn't accurate and in other cases what is in the bag is largely dead and not viable.

So back to the studies.

In looking at the value of Azos and its effect on wheat the conclusion was that "A mean increase of 8.9% in seed yield and 17.8% in above ground dry weight was found to result from inoculation of wheat with Azospirillum."  Now I know that pumpkin growers aren't growing wheat but you won't find 59 studies on Atlantic Giant pumpkins (more money in wheat) so you have to extrapolate.  But if I could get a pumpkin 8.9% bigger by using Azos I'd do it every time.

As I understand it Azos has an affinity for grasses, so the effects on cucurbits might not be the same.  I can't find any studies done on cucurbits, but I can give the observations from my own experience and a few other growers.  About the time that Azos became commonly available on the marketplace myself and three other growers applied azos to pumpkin seeds when they went into the pot.  All of the growers saw the same thing.  Faster and aggressive germination.  As near as I can recall I all saw the same thing.  Each of us lost one cot leaf because it was tore off as the seed popped from the seed shell.  It could have just been a coincidence, but it seemed to common for it to be just that.  Because of that, I put my Azos about half way down in the pot so it doesn't come in contact with the roots immediately.  

For is this myth busted?  I don't think so.  The data seems to suggest that Azos can possibly produce bigger pumpkins.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Pumpkin MythBusters: Do Bloom Boosters Work?

If you go into any garden center you'll find one or more bags of bloom boosters in the isles.  Any grower who sees those bags at big box stores and garden centers could easily conclude if you want more flowers on your pumpkin plant around pollination time then adding some bloom booster could give you the desired results.  But does it?

Most bloom booster formulas have a higher amount of phosphorous, potassium or both and usually a lower amount of nitrogen.  The amount in each formula tends to differ, which suggests their isn't a consensus on the perfect bloom booster formula.

Pumpkin plants need a certain amount of phosphorous and potassium to grow properly.  The goal of any grower looking to grow big has to be to keep nutrients within the narrow margin for optimal growth.  Too much of most nutrients and you'll have problems.  Have too little and you'll have problems. Get it right in the Goldie Locks zone and you'll grow big all the time.

Phosphorus is critical for plant growth, but plants don’t need a lot of it. The American Rose Society says “Commercial  growers of roses for cut-flower production typically use fertilizers with a 3-1-2 NPK ratio.”  Most soils are not deficient in phosphorous and phosphorous does not leach from soils so typically very little is required.  So adding extra phosphorous to the soil may be creating a less than optimal or even toxic soil if it is overdone. 

One study looking at flowering rate based on nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium application rates found that "the P low for reproductive development. Each plant produced over 20 flowers, even when no P was applied."  Suggesting that as long as their is sufficient phosphorous for flowering that adding more will have little to no impact on flowering.

Potassium plays an important role in regulating water and nutrient movement in a plant.  You'll also find high levels of potassium in a pumpkin.  Basically potassium acts like a pump in moving water between cells and with that moving nutrients through the plant.  Unless a plant is very potassium deficient to the extent it is impeding water and nutrient movement, it won't affect flowering.  Potassium, as a result, has little direct effect on flowering.

So what does affect flowering?   Plant hormones.   Auxins (IAA), cytokinin and gibberellin in particular. When the right levels of each hormones are in place than there are signals to the plant to go from vegetative growth to flowering and fruit.  This makes sense right?   When your pumpkin plants main vine gets from 7 to 12 feet out from the stump then suddenly flowers start appearing, right?  It wasn't the addition of potassium or phosphorous that suddenly made the flowers appear.  There is a clear change in the plant that happens around that stage of growth and that change is hormonal and not so much nutrients as long as the minimum required amounts are available to the plant.

So the myth of "bloom boosters" is busted.  If you want more flowering and earlier flowering then you'll need to manipulate the plants hormones and not the nutrients.  Although that probably isn't advisable.  Give the plants what it needs and be a patient grower and you will probably yield bigger pumpkins by the end of the season.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Pumpkin MythBusters: How Big is a Pumpkin Root System?

I often see posts from growers asking how far down the tap root goes down and how far out the root system goes out from the stump on a pumpkin plant.  I found this old study many years ago and thought I would share it here again.  Too often I hear growers share their opinion about the width and depth of a pumpkin plants root system that are just wrong.  I think the best growers understand that when you bury vines, the entire patch can be covered in roots if the proper environment is created.

In a “one-of-a-kind” research project in 1927, John Weaver and William Brunder, botanists at the University of Nebraska, grew many different vegetable crops and, over time, excavated and mapped the course of the root systems. They published their work in a book titled “Root Development of Vegetable Crops,” published by McGraw-Hill Company, New York. To my knowledge, no one since has attempted such a difficult task.

Vines of ‘Small Sugar’ pumpkin were about 16 feet long at maturity and the top 12 inches of soil were filled with roots. The taproot of mature pumpkins grew 6 feet deep and had 10 or more lateral branches that extensively branched outward for 5 to 17 feet or more. Many of these lateral roots were 2 to 4 feet long and all complexly and minutely rebranched, forming a “wonderfully efficient root complex”. The second and third feet of soil were also thoroughly filled with roots, with the fourth foot of soil containing many vertically descending roots.

It is probable that the root systems of larger pumpkins varieties such as Atlantic Giants may be much more extensive than those reported in this book.  In no post asking about the depth of the roots have I ever seen anyone post that the roots go 6 feet deep.  Usually comments are about just a few feet.  I'm busting that myth here.  Would be interesting to see how much bigger a root system of a 2145 McMullen in world class soil would look like in comparison to a Small Sugar variety.

Growers should carefully consider their walking boards and how far out they are properly preparing their growing area.  If you aren't prepping at least 16 feet out from the stump in all directions you may be missing some opportunities.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Pumpkin MythBusters: Areated Compost Tea -- Does it Work?

This is the first of a series of posts on different pumpkin growing myths.  The hope of these posts is to get at the heart of what is best to grow a giant pumpkin and see what the science says in regards to what works and what does not.  Now science is sometimes fact (i.e. the world is round) and sometimes theory that leans towards fact (i.e. black holes exist).  Much of what we are going to be talking about in this series leans more towards the latter, because you won't find any scientific literature or descent tests that have been done with Atlantic Giant Pumpkins so anything posted in this series is theory based on the best data and research available.  Having said that, in most cases you'll find the best results often times if you go with the data, so the point of these posts is to get the best information to grow the biggest pumpkin.

Aerated compost teas (ACT) are very popular with many growers and in particular organic growers.  I myself have used compost teas on my plants for years.  The idea behind compost teas is that by using aerated compost to brew a tea you select beneficial bacteria and fungi which are then added to the plants to help feed and protect the plants. The question is does it work?

A 2007 meta data review on compost tea by Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott concluded that “Clearly, the science is not strong for aerated tea use on crop plants, much less on lawns, shrubs, and trees."  Why would that be the case?   Let's take a look.

The most interesting study on this titled “Wood Chips and Compost Improve Soil Quality and Increase Growth of Acer rubrum and Betula nigra in Compacted Urban Soil”, by Bryant C. Scharenbroch and Gary W. Watson which looked at how trees that were treated in a variety of ways; only water, compost tea, commercial bacterial concoction, wood chips, compost or fertilizer affected tree growth.  The aerated compost tea was created using good standard practices and then the tea was sent to Soil Foodweb Inc, associated with Dr. Ingham, for testing.  The trees were grown in soil that was previously compacted so there would be less biology already in the soil and it looked at the resulting soil and tree growth.

The aerated compost tea (ACT) was made from compost and had the following microbes in it:

Note:  the brewing process reduced the bacterial population by 68% and the fungi population by 99%. This does not mean however that brewing reduces the number of microbes because if you take compost and add it to a large amount of water the overall volume naturally decreases. Assuming a bulk density of 650 Kg/cubic meter, bacteria increased by a multiple of 52 and fungi doubled.  Not bad right?

As compared to the other amendments, this is what was applied to the soil (CBP is a commercial biological product containing sugars, yeast extract, seaweed, silica and humic acid):

To find the effect on the soil by the different amendments, the following were used to determine the health of the soil.  This was the research results for each:

Aerated compost tea (ACT) did have some effect on density, but other than that the testing found little to no difference.  ACT shouldn't have added much in the way of nutrients.  It is mostly just water.  The interesting thing is that respiration did not increase at all.  Increased microbial activity over time should show an increase in respiration (more microbes should mean more CO2), but it did not in this study.

The more interesting thing from this study for giant pumpkin growers is how just adding compost does show the type of response that you would have expected ACT to show in terms of respiration.

So the question I have to ask myself is if the point of taking the time to make ACT isn't showing much of a response in terms of microbial activity, but just adding compost does give you that microbial response, then why not just top dress with compost?

Depending on what your soil has in it already, there might be good reasons to not top dress with compost.  Mostly adding more nutrients in an already overloaded soil.  But if you want to increase microbial activity, then compost is clearly the better way to go than ACT.

So what was the long term affects on tree growth in this study by ACT and the other amendments?

Water and ACT had about the same amount of impact on tree growth according to this study.

Now, obviously this study is on trees grown in compacted soil and we aren't growing trees.  There are other studies that have found similar results although more encouraging results however with different plants.  Is putting ACT on leaves beneficial?  There isn't enough good science to give an opinion either way.   Will I be using ACT on my plants going forward?  Yes.  But let me explain why.

I think the myth of using ACT on the soil to build biology is busted (mostly) according to current research.  The science doesn't show that it adds significant value, but there is some.  But I think there could be a case for putting it on leaves and I think you could even make a case for putting it on the soil if used in particular ways.   Here is my reasoning.  I like to brew compost tea with alfalfa pellets.  My thinking is that by doing so I can extract triacontanol (a growth regulator) from the alfalfa.  It is clear from the studies that some biology comes from the compost tea that adds some value, but I think the triacontanol from the alfalfa could have more benefit and it is good way to add it without adding all of the NPK from the pellets if you don't need it.

Would it just be better to add alfalfa pellets to the soil?  Definitely.  I always add some in the spring when doing my final prep, but alfalfa has a lot of NPK and heats up a fair amount as it breaks down and I don't want roots burning up by applying it later in the season, so compost tea with alfalfa seems to be the next best solution.

Some further notes on ACT.  There hasn't been a lot of great studies done on it.  Some of the challenges is the researchers in order to get their paper into a peer reviewed science journal have to be able to lock down variables and show what in a compost tea is producing results (if any).  To do that with an ACT would be very challenging because there is a lot of variables and a lot of recipes with different brewing times that would all have to be evaluated, but bases on current data ACT may not be worth the time it takes for the results from soil application.  I'm sure you could find more than one world record pumpkin grown without ACT.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Giant Pumpkin Growing Myth Busters

Inspired by the popular Myth Buster's TV show, my plan, starting Sunday, is to do a series of posts about commonly held giant pumpkin growing technique myths and debunking those that aren't true, based on scientific literature and actual testing.   Too often there are commonly held ideas in gardening and giant pumpkin growing that get passed on from grower to grower that just aren't true or there is no proof of their truth.  The end result is that we end up spending a lot of time or money doing things that are either are not overly helpful, are overly time consuming or we are spending a lot of money for something that has little value.

For example, I've heard it said by more than one grower/gardener that you shouldn't water during the heat of the day, because the water droplets act as magnifying glass and on a sunny day your leaves will get burnt.  Most things like this have a common sense element to it, where if you think about it, a water droplet on a leaf does have a shape of a magnify glass and it could focus the sun's rays and as a result you get a burnt leaf.  That makes sense, right?   The other side of it is have you heard of forests going up in flames after a rain storm followed by sun?   Obviously water droplets aren't causing rain forests around the world.   So the trick is to just not go by common sense and try to get at what testing and science can tell us as to what works and what doesn't.

Now does science know everything?  Obviously not.  You have to look at the source, how the testing was done, what the scientists/tests goals are in the experiment, what the sample size was and what type of crop the scientists were using in their testing, because not all plants are Atlantic Giant pumpkins and each plant is a little different.  But good science is pretty objective and should get us closer to the truth and as a result get us a bigger pumpkin.

Some of the things I'll be posting were a real surprise to me.  A few I even read from well respected "growing personalities" and heavy hitters and I believed were true.  But the science and testing is saying otherwise.  So stay tuned next week for the start of the giant pumpkin growing myth busters and maybe like me you might learn something new too.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pumpkin Prep Time

Next 30 days is going to be busy.  I got soil samples from the patches, now that the snow is gone, that is drying and then I'll send into the lab this week.  When I get my soil test results back I'll then amend the patches around mid-April and then I'll then start heating up the soil in preparation for planting around the first week of May.  Today I'm starting some pumpkin seeds, but these won't be the plants that I'll grow.  I've put some myco and azos into a pot.  This will be used to get the myco maturing early and I'll then transfer that myco to the pots of the plants I'll grow in two weeks.  The seeds I'm starting now will feed the myco until it is transferred into the new pots.

April 13th will be my seed starting date.  Once I get the greenhouse figured out I'll maybe start seeds earlier in future years, but with a last frost date around the last week of May, I have a fine balance between giving the plants as much growing time as possible and giving the plants the best growing environment. So this year I'm going to play it more on the safe side.  For everything else I'm going to put the pedal to the floor this year.

One thing that amazed me this last week was the growth of the winter rye.  Last fall I sowed winter rye seed in the non-greenhouse patch, just as the weather started getting cold.  Two weeks later in the greenhouse I sowed winter rye and a week later I had it popping up.   The other patch I never saw the grass sprout at all.  Eventually the outdoor patch was covered in snow and we got a lot of snow this year that stuck around all winter.  Maybe three feet deep at its deepest.   Last week the snow was still at least a foot deep in the outdoor patch so I cut some 2 foot wide holes in the snow in the hopes I could get some spots to dry out faster so I could get soil samples this week.  The last two inches I couldn't dig out, because it was all ice.

The beginning of this week those holes melted out even though the surrounding areas still had 4-5 inches of snow on them.  What surprised me was to see the winter rye popping up in the holes I had cut, even though everything around it was still solid ice/snow.  Now the outdoor patch is greening up everywhere nicely.   I'll till the planting areas in both patches in two weeks, to get the grass breaking down before planting.  The rest of the grass I'll let grow with a few mowing as long as I can (probably late June to early July).

The greenhouse grass isn't very tall at all.  Deer have mowed it short.  I didn't get much water in the greenhouse this winter.  Hose froze in the snow (silly me for leaving it out), so once every two weeks I'd shovel a bunch of snow in the greenhouse to keep it going.  With the warmer weather now I can see it starting to take off with the regular irrigation.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Soil Prep Time & Time for Amendments in the Pumpkin Patch

This is an excerpt from a write up posted by Soil Scientist John P. Taberna.  In my opinion John is the leading soil scientist in the area of giant pumpkin growing and might be the best for western soil farmers period.  He is one of the few that has done some research on giant pumpkin growing and as such is a wealth of knowledge.  The following are his fertilizer recommendations.  The numbers he is quoting is the total amount in the soil and not the total amount to add:  John's recommendations:

Phosphorus (P) 
The lab recommends 4 pounds of Phosphate per 1000 square feet. You're going to use 1152 Ammonium Phosphate. CALCULATION: 1 x .52 = .52 pounds of Phosphate per pound of 1152.4 pounds of recommendation / .52 = 7.69 pounds per 1000 square feet. If you take example 1 (1.925) x 7.69 = 14.80 pounds of Phosphate per garden. 1152 also contains 11% Nitrogen. CALCULATION: 1 x .11 = .11 x 7.69 pounds = 85 Nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Nitrogen (N) The lab suggests 3.5 pounds of Nitrogen. Never apply more than 1 pound of Nitrogen when using Ammonium Sulfate. Never apply 1.5 pounds Nitrogen when using other Nitrogen products. If you take example 3, by using 1152 you’re adding .85 pounds of Nitrogen per 1000 square feet already. If you added one pound of Uriah per thousand you’d be adding an additional .46 pounds N per 1000 square feet. If you add the two together you’ve added 1.31 pounds per 1000 square feet, which is okay.

Potash (K20) 
The lab recommends six pounds of Potash per 1000 square feet. The best source for pre-plant K is 0-0-50 Potassium Sulfate. You will need to apply 12 pounds 0-0-50 to get 5 pounds per 1000 square feet. Two pounds of Potassium Sulfate equals one pound of K2. You would apply 12 pounds every 1000 square feet to meet the 6 pound recommendation. During midseason, if you notice marginal burning, add 2 pounds of 0- 0-60 Potassium Chloride per 1000 square feet and thoroughly water with overhead irrigation. This would equal 1.2 pounds of K20. Potassium was the biggest deficiency from midseason on for Ron Wallace when he hit the 2,009-pound giant pumpkin. Sulfur (S) All products suggested contain Sulfur. There is no need to add more.

Magnesium (Mg) 
The lab recommends 0.7 pounds of Magnesium. Epsom Salt is the easiest to find and it contains 10% Mg. 0.7 pounds/0.1= 7 pounds Epsom Salt to apply per 1000 sq. ft. When burying the vines, always add ½ teaspoon of Epsom Salt. Be sure to thoroughly mix. When drenching, add ½ teaspoon Epsom Salt to the drench. During midseason, if you see mottling and blistering, foliar spray 1 teaspoon per plant twice a week. If you can find the product Kmag, this would satisfy the K, Mg and S needs. Add 1 teaspoon to foliar or drench per week per plant.

Calcium (Ca) 
If you are having blossom end rot or collapsing of the pumpkin, it’s generally related to Calcium, Boron and Potassium. After pollination, when you’re burying the vines; add 1 heaping teaspoon Gypsum, 1 level teaspoon 0-0-50 and ½ teaspoon borax each time. Don’t forget to thoroughly mix with your mycorrhiza, peat moss and other secret amendments. Also, don’t forget Taberna’s Secret Formula to stimulate bacteria and beneficial fungal growth: 2 cans of beer, 2 multivitamins, 2 aspirins, then pee in the hole after waiting an hour. This is a man’s thing that naturally occurs in the backyard, so if you are a gal raising giants… put your significant other to work!

When pre planting, it’s best to use Metallic Sulfate materials. It’s been found that sulfated forms of micronutrients retard onset fungal diseases.

Zinc (Zn) 
The lab recommends 2 oz. of Zinc per 1000 and you are using Zinc Sulfate which contains 36% of Zn. 2/.36=5.6 ounces Zn to apply per 1000.

Manganese (Mn) 
The lab recommends 1.5 oz. of Manganese. Manganese Sulfate is 24% Mn. 1.5/.24=6.3 oz. per 1000.

Copper (Cu) 
The lab recommends .7 Copper. Copper Sulfate contains 25% Cu. 0.7/.25=2.8 oz. Copper Sulfate per 1000.

Boron (B) 
If Boron is recommended, it’s best to foliar or drench with 1 tablespoon of Borax. When burying the vine, don’t go over ½ tablespoon of Borax.

In season when you’re applying micronutrients, use chelated products. Some examples are amino acid chelates, or citric acid chelates. I suggest buying individually and not taking the shot gun approach. Fancy EDTA materials are fantastic but very poor for foliar application. EDTA is stable at any pH for 2 months in soil. These materials are prone to leeching. Giant pumpkin and melon growers tend to water heavily and may leach expensive chelated below the effective root zone. The amino acid and citric acids are readily absorbed by plant tissue. It also wouldn’t hurt to add 1-teaspoon product to vine burial mix.