Sunday, July 15, 2012

Staying Out of the Pumpkins Way

I got an email from a grower in California yesterday who said, "Thanks again for the advice and the blog.  I can see from the structures, pumpkin growing is a summer occupation rather than a hobby."  When I started growing nearly 5 years ago Joe Jutras had just grown the world record 1,689 pound pumpkin.  I read an article in the NY Times that quoted his wife has saying that Joe spent about 3 hours a day in the patch.  At the time I couldn't figure out how he could have spent that much time in the patch.  I now know how he does that.  I try to balance, work, family and Church as part of my growing, but it can be a pretty time consuming hobby.  During the busiest part of the season (June and July) I spend about 2 hours a day in the pumpkin patch.  During the slower parts of the season (April and September) I spend about 45 minutes a day in the patch.  The following is part of my reply to the grower in California.  I thought it might be a benefit to other newer growers.
"The second biggest challenge in pumpkin growing (wives can be the first, lol) is that there are so many things that can go wrong.  You always have to be mitigating risk and that can take a lot of time.  Last year I lost a pumpkin to rot.  I had been diligent every day checking for cracks in the skin (this pumpkin liked to crack) and then wiping the cracked areas with a 10% bleach solution and then put some sulphur powder on the crack.  When I did that the cracks always healed.  One day I noticed some ooze on the ground by the face of the pumpkin.  What I discovered was that a crack had formed just below the main vine where I couldn’t see it and the rot had gone in almost two inches.  The pumpkin was lost.  Probably 85% of potential plant and pumpkin problems can be stopped before they happen but first you have to know that the problem even exists and then you have to know the solution. 

My patch was totally destroyed my second year by hail/tornado.  The next year I put up hail netting and the day after the nail netting structure was completed we had a pretty good hail storm and the plants were saved.  I had some damage on one plant where the hail had gotten under the netting where it came in on a slant but the season was early and I only really lost about 15 leaves.   However, the process that saved the plants started in January and was a lot of hours of work.

One good grower once said, “those pumpkins will meet their potential if you just get out of their way.”  What he was saying is that the genetics to grow to 1,500 pounds is in the plant.  If the weather is good and you do the right things so you don’t get in the plant’s way that pumpkin will meet its potential."

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