Saturday, September 7, 2013

Giant Pumpkin Growing Tips & Secrets

I got a great email from a new giant pumpkin grower that I thought I would share with everyone because this grower was asking the right questions in order to grow a big pumpkin.  The pumpkin growing tips that were asked kind of get at the heart of what it takes to grow a giant.  They are:

1. When do I send a fall soil test?
2. Does foliar application have to be under the canopy or is it sprayed on top?
3. What is the best organic fertilizer? Do I broadcast on the ground our apply as a drench?

The following is my reply to her questions:
"Thanks for your questions.  At this point of the season you can get a soil test at any time.  The sooner you can start prepping for next season the better.  I know of two growers that have actually pulled their plants with pumpkin still growing because the pumpkins were small for them and they wanted to start getting ready for next year. 
 Most of what will determine how big a pumpkin grows is going to be determined by work done on the soil in the fall and early spring.  Foliar applications can be on top of the leaf or the underside of the leaf.  The underside of the leaf is better because the cuticles are larger on the bottom side of the pumpkin leaf so they have a better capacity to take in nutrients.  However, it isn't always easy to get to those undersides, especially when the plant gets large.
The "best" organic fertilizer is relative to what your plant needs.  One of the hardest thing to learn as a grower is figuring that balance out.  There a lot of growers to help you with that.  Basically with a good soil test you will be able to find out what is in that soil.  Once you know what a pumpkin plant needs then you can start choosing what to feed a pumpkin plant to get the greatest gains.  Almost everything I give my plants is organic.  I use Fish & Seaweed (Neptune's brand) a lot as a foliar application.  My soil is pretty rich with nutrients.  In some cases I have too much of certain types of nutrients.  For example potassium is very high in my soil.  The roots can only attach to so many nutrients at a time (cations) and potassium attaches easily.  Because of that other nutrients have a hard time getting absorbed even though they may be in abundance in the soil.  So, for example, my spring soil test said that I was high in sulfur.  However I did a leaf tissue test in June and it showed my plants were a little low in sulfur.  Why?  Because potassium was blocking the absorption of the sulfur as well as a few other nutrients. 

One of things I've been zeroing in more on the last couple of years is how to do foliar applications of certain nutrients that my plants need that the plant  may not be getting from the roots.  If you read my pumpkin blog at you'll see me mention foliar applications of different things 5-6 times a week.  That is very small quantities of those nutrients to get the plant exactly what it needs.

I hope I haven't made this sound overly complicated.  In some ways it is and in some ways it is not.  If your goal is to grow a 600+ pound pumpkin next year than doing soil prep now, getting 400+ square feet of soil balanced, getting some quality Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds from a competitive grower, reading up on how to grow giant pumpkins, burying the vines as they grow so that they can root then giving the plant some granular fertilizer and some foliar applications during the season and you should easily do just that. 

If your goal is to grow a 1,000+ pound pumpkin then it takes a good seed to do that sometimes.  Every seed in a pumpkin has different genetics.  My plants this year is a good example of how genetics determines growth.  Both of my plants are about the same size at about 500 sq feet each.  I try hard to make sure that the entire growing area (all 500 square feet) is great soil and evenly built up.  This year I got a little too much nitrogen on the 1775 plant side and that cost me but otherwise everything is exactly the same for both plants.  However, my 1421 pumpkin is going to end up around 1,400+ pounds and the other pumpkin is going to end up around 700+ pounds.  The difference: genetics!  Some plants just want to grow pumpkins and some plants do not.

The other piece of growing a 1,000+ pound pumpkin is hard work in the patch before and during the season, good weather and experience.  With experience you can recognize problems before they happen and know what to do for them when they do happen.  A lot of giant pumpkin growing is mitigating risk and that only comes with time and advice from other growers so continue to ask lots of good questions.

I'll let you know what you have to do to grow a 1,500+ pound pumpkin when I get there.  I'm hoping my big pumpkin will get there this year.  There really aren't any secrets to growing a giant but there are about 700 different things you need to learn to do well to get there along with a little luck."

This evening I gave both pumpkin plants some foliar fish & seaweed along with a fairly heavy dose of 0-1-1 and a little multimineral.

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