Friday, October 25, 2013

EcoScraps, BioChar & Final Pumpkin Patch Prep

At a weigh-off this fall I met a very nice gentleman by the name of Scott that works for a company by the name of EcoScraps.  I had actually heard of EcoScraps previously because it was started by a couple of guys from my alma mater and they have received a lot of press.  There compost is different than most because it is mostly vegetable and fruit based.  What they are doing is getting left over product from grocery stores and the like and then composting it.  The final product makes a very nice, dark compost that that isn't animal derived.  When they get the waste product they actually will blend the different fruits and vegetables together so that they can get a more balanced nutrient profile in the compost.  You'll notice that there is much less in the way of wood chips in the compost than what even the "premium" compost blends have that you get at the garden centers.  That is a good thing.  Those wood chips will rob your soil of nitrogen and most bagged compost products have way to much wood in them.  This stuff actually looks like the compost that you make in your own pile.

Today I tilled the pumpkin patch in preparation for winter.  I tilled in 4 lbs kelp, 20 lbs gypsum, 4 lbs Yum Yum mix, 10 lbs humic acid, 4lbs elemental sulfur, 100 lbs alfalfa, 2 bags of leaves, 2 yards compost, 10 lbs biochar and 1,200lbs of Stanley.  You hate see a great pumpkin end it like this, but hopefully it will produce something even better next year.  After tilling everything in to the soil I then planted a cover crop in the area where the stumps will be next year.

This is the first year I've tried biochar so I used a fairly small amount.  Biochar is an emerging area of agricultural study and there is some descent research done with it but it isn't extensive.  The idea is that the biochar (very similar to but not the same as charcoal) has the ability to hold a lot of nutrients and share those nutrients with the plant.  So it isn't a fertilizer but a way to help keep the fertilizer from leaching out of the ground.  Microorganisms also like the biochar because it is very porous and so it is a great way to build biology in the patch.  I know of one grower that used it last year and he had a very nice pumpkin.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Secrets to Starting Cover Crop Seeds in Late October

Because I've been waiting for some amendments to come in I haven't tilled the pumpkin patch yet.  That will happen this Friday.  I want to get a cover crop started but the overnight lows have been borderline okay to get winter rye to germinate without getting frosted so the following is the trick I'm doing to help that along.  In a 5 gallon bucket I've put some sand, winter rye grass seed, humic acid and Azos.  That has been all mixed together.  I then added warm water to it and mix again.  That bucket will stay indoors for now to keep it warm and get the germination process going.  On Friday I will till the patch and after doing so I'm going to put down the sand/seed mixture, rake it in lightly and then put large, clear plastic sheets over it.  The plastic sheets will keep it a few degrees warmer and help keep the seeds wet.  With the indoor head start I'm hoping to have the seeds going before it gets really cold.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Colorado's Largest Jack-o-lantern

I don't believe you will find a larger carved pumpkin or at least not a better looking giant pumpkin in Colorado this year.  A massive thanks to Michelle Barnett or Ft. Collins for her hours and hours of work on this pumpkin.  I'm guessing she was out in the cold 20 hours carving this beast and I think she did an amazing job using the natural curves of the pumpkin to make this work of art.  The kids at the Harvest Festival are going to love it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How to Choose the Right Giant Pumpkin Seed

Forest Gump once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get inside."  Unfortunately Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds tend to be kind of the same.  Each seed in a pumpkin is a child.  And just like children in any family they all look different.  Often there tends to be some similar traits among the group but each child are different sizes shapes and may have different coloring.

Three years ago the world-record pumpkin was grown from a 1161 Rodonis.  That same year I grew a 1161 Rodonis.  Chris's world record pumpkin was 1,810 pounds and went very heavy to the charts.  My pumpkin was 868 pounds and went 9% light to the charts.  Both pumpkins had a similar shape and color but mine didn't get the same kind of "grow" gene that Chris got.

This last year my big pumpkin weighed 400 pounds more than my smaller pumpkin.  Each plant got the same fertilizer, soil and watering.  The smaller pumpkin just didn't have the genetics to grow.

When you pollinate a pumpkin the pollination doesn't affect how big the pumpkin will grow.  The genetics that are passed only affects the seeds that would be grown the next year.  Knowing the parents of a pumpkin seed can help you guess which seed to grow.  There is a great website called that allows you to see the family trees and progeny for a given pumpkin seed.  Once you start to become familiar with some of the main seeds (1725 Harp, 1161 Rodonis, 1421 Stelts, 1385 Jutras) you start to see a pattern where most of the big pumpkins came from.  Most of the biggest pumpkins have either a 1068 Wallace, 998 Pukos or 1231 Pukos (which is the reverse cross of the 998) in their genealogy.  I usually try to grow from those lines and particularly from the world record lines from those seeds.   The good news is that there are a lot of seeds out there with those lines in them.

It is important to understand how seeds are named.  The number at the beginning of the seed name (i.e. 1421) is the weight of the pumpkin that the seed came from.  The name that follows (Stelts) is the name of the grower that grew the seed.  So the 1421 Stelts (1385 Jutras x 904 Stelts) would tell you that the seed came from a pumpkin that weighed 1421 pounds.  The pumpkin that the 1421 came from weighed 1,385 pounds (this is the mother) and the pollinator came from a pumpkin that weighed 904 pounds (this is the father).  So from the seed name and the cross you can get a fair amount of information.

There are some terms you should be familiar with and how they affect the next generation of seeds.  One is Self and the other is Sibb.  A selfed seed is where the pollinator for the pumpkins is itself.  At one time selfed seeds were looked down upon until Christy Harp smarley selfed her world record pumpkin. From that seed the first one-ton pumpkin was grown and a number of giants.  A sibb cross is where a plant from the same seed is crossed together.  A selfed and sibbed seed does not have the same genetics as the parent seed.  I grew a 1775 Starr seed this year.  It was a selfed seed from a 1725 Harp seed.  My pumpkin weighed almost 1,000 pounds less than the parent it came from was a dark orange color (parent was pale orange) but had the exact same shape as the parent.  Some traits from the parent came through in my seed and others did not.

This year I got kind of lucky in two ways.  A local grower (Joe) was able to get a cutting (sometimes called a clone) of the plant that grew the world record the year before.  What they do to get these cuttings is they get a vine on the plant to root in a pot and then keep that cutting of the plant going during the winter in a green house.  Matt DeBacco, who did the clones last year, grew the cutting during the winter and was able to pollinate it with a plant that grew from a seed from the world record pumpkin.  Joe also got a seed from that pumpkin.  That seed was the 220 DeBacco (1725 Harp x 2009 Wallace).  In theory that 220 DeBacco should have a lot of the big growing genetics of the world record.  This season that proved out some with two pumpkins grown from the 220 DeBacco growing over 1,700 pounds.

My big pumpkin was pollinated with the 220 DeBacco so it is 1421 Stelts x 220 DeBacco.  When my pumpkin split I decided to pollinate some pumpkins on the 1421 plant with the the cutting/clone (1421 Stelts x 1725 Harp).  I just harvested the seeds from the pumpkins on the 1421 plant. The darker color seed comes from the big pumpkin pollinated with the 220 DeBacco.  The lighter color seed comes from a pumpkin pollinated with the clone (1725 Harp) late in the season.  I found it interesting that although the size and shape of the seeds were the same the coloring was completely different.  Even though the 220 DeBacco is 75% the same genetics as the 1725 Harp world record the differences in genetics is already showing up in the seeds.  This means there will also be differences in the pumpkins and plants.

So far this year seeds that were either from or pollinated by the world record have grown 6 pumpkins over 1,500 pounds.  One was a world record and another was 300 pounds more than the world record but it split so it was disqualified.  The fact that I put the same genetics into my 1421 plant as well as my 1775 Starr plant I hope will prove out the same results for growers next year.

So how to choose the best pumpkin seed?  I would look at the parents and at the progeny of those parents and see how well a particular seed tends to grow if there is data available.  Also look at the shape of the parents and progeny and see what they look like.  Pumpkins with deep ribs and tall pumpkins tend to split more often so you are a little safer trying to grow pumpkins that are long and less ribby.  Try to grow from genetic lines that tend to grow bigger pumpkins.  And then hope and pray you picked the right seed and did everything you could to let it grow a pumpkin that matches its genetic potential.  Good luck next year.  I should have my seeds from this year available in November.

New World Record Pumpkin

This is the new world record pumpkin grown by Tim Mathison of California.  An amazing 2,032 pounds!   Congrats to Tim.  This pumpkin was grown from a seed that came from last year's 2009 pound world record.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

10 Things to Do to Grow a Giant Pumpkin

I often get asked by newer or struggling giant pumpkin growers at the weigh offs as to what they could do to grow bigger pumpkins.  I'm always grateful for the question but a bit suprised, because in my own way I feel like a struggling gaint pumpkin grower who is always asking questions.  I've had a certain level of success but there is always so much more to learn.  Here are the secrets to growing a giant pumpkin that I know are needed to grow a pumpkin that will bring smiles to peoples faces and stop cars in their tracks:

  1. Good seed is needed to grow a giant pumpkin.  Without a quality Atlantic Giant pumpkin seed you aren't going to be growing a giant pumpkin.  My seeds will be available in November
  2. Join the Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers club.  This isn't a sales pitch.  It is worth it.  You'll get newsletters and access to tips from some of the best growers in the country.
  3. Get your soil tested.  No grower can tell you what your soil needs unless they know what is already in your soil.  Once you get your soil tested post the results on's message board and people can tell you what you need to do.
  4. Buy and read Your Ideal Soil.  Understanding the proper way to build a world class soil is frankly a bit complicated.  The book is the easiest and best read I have found.
  5. Prep your soil in the fall.  When you have planted your pumpkin plant in the ground in the spring 85% of what determines how big your pumpkin will grow will be determined by how well your soil is prepared.  What you put into your soil in the fall is going to be determined by what your soil needs.  I like to put down gypsum (for the calcium), elemental sulfur (my pH is high), lots of alfalfa pellets (100lbs over 1000 square feet for organic matter, nitrogen and growth hormones), humic acid, 1-3 yards compost and maybe some of the newly fallen leaves.  Till that into the ground 8 inches deep.  If the weather permits plant a cover crop of winter rye before it gets too cold.
  6. During the winter ask questions of growers and read everything you can online.  Also watch the How I Grew the 2009 Wallace DVD by Ron Wallace.
  7. Order the Xtreme Gardening Giant Pumpkin Kit.  Again, not a sales pitch.  In this kit are the things that the best competition giant pumpkin growers use and the book that almost every giant pumpkin grower has read.
  8. Start your seeds between April 15th and April 25th indoors in a warm (85-90 degrees) place and in a bright place (adding full spectrum lights may be required).
  9. Around the first week of May put your plants outdoors in the pumpkin patch inside of a hoop house.  Try to keep that hoop house around 90 degrees during the day.  Get a watering system in place that will evenly water the entire pumpkin patch.
  10. Once your pumpkin starts vining bury the vines.  At each leaf node the pumpkin plant will put down roots and the more roots you get the bigger your pumpkin should be.
Bonus giant pumpkin growing tip:  Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions of the best growers in your area.  Most of them will tell you everything you need to know about giant pumpkin growing and then take what they have given you and research it out.  Even from the best growers you may not always get the best advice but you usually won't get bad advice.  Local growers will know where to get stuff and understand the particular environmental challenges and can help you through those learning curves.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Elbert Ends up at 695 Pounds

Before I even planted the seed that grew Elbert I knew the pumpkin would go light.  Mom was a light pumpkin but the genetics were interesting so I had to give her a try.  The pumpkin turned out to be a nice looking, dark orange pumpkin but not terribly big by my standards.  The cross in this pumpkin is very interesting however (1755 Starr x 1725 Harp).  The pollinator is a clone/cutting from the plant that grew the 2,009 pound world-record pumpkin so that genetics from the pollinator are about as good as they could get.

Giant Pumpkin Coming to a Restaurant Near You; Giant Pumpkin for Sale

After the weigh-off today about a dozen growers in the club went to Ruby Tuesday for lunch.  My pumpkins were in the parking lot and probably 35+ people stopped by to take pictures of the pumpkins who were just passing by in the space of an hour. After a while the restaurant manager came by and said if I would park the pumpkins out in front of the restaurant he would give me a free dessert.  He wanted to take pictures for some new pumpkin deserts they had coming out and include the picture in their newsletter.  Their pumpkin cheesecake by the way is excellent.  I may stop at many of my favorite restaurants this week and try some of their desserts on their menus.  ;-)

I had been debating selling one of my two pumpkins for a while now.  All I ask is that I can get the seeds out of the pumpkin and I can deliver the pumpkin this week.   A forklift or a mechanical way to lift the pumpkin is required on delivery.  With delivery the pumpkin would be $750.  It feels like selling a little of my soul, but I'd like as many people to enjoy it as possible.   The pumpkin is an amazing crowd pleaser and stops people in their tracks immediately.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Big Thanks to Chris & Jose

Loaded up the last pumpkin this evening.  Storm is coming in tomorrow and the weigh-off is Saturday.  Elbert is a nice looking pumpkin (a little bumpy but very orange) but not as big as Stanley.  A big thanks to Chris for letting me grow on his land again this year.  You couldn't ask for a kinder neighbor.  Also a big thanks to Jose for driving the backhoe last Friday and helping to load up the pumpkin this evening.  Last Friday lifting that big pumpkin in the rain and mud was a nightmare.  This evening's lift took maybe 10 minutes.  See you at Nick's Nursery on Saturday!

Stanley Lift in the Rain

Elbert and Stanley

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Elbert is Still Growing Along with the Clone Pollinations

Last Friday night we had a light frost at the house.  Interesting enough the leaves under the hail netting were partially spared but leaves that were just outside of the hail netting are all black now.  On Sunday I took a measurement of the 1775 Starr pumpkin (Elbert) and this morning I took another measurement and it is still growing.  I expected this pumpkin to go light even before I planted the seed and I still expect that.  I'm just hoping that it will exceed the weight of my rookie year pumpkin.  This pumpkin was never a fast grower but is still pushing 6lbs a day right now.

I also checked the late pollinations that I did on the 1421 plant where I pollinated each pumpkin with a cutting (clone) from the plant that grew the world-record 2,009 pound pumpkin last year.  Pumpkins that have those world record genetics in them that have gone to the scale so far this year have been big.  My first pollination is only 30 days old but both pumpkins are still growing. I need to get to about 45 days to assure viable seeds.  However, Friday night of this week has a forecast for a hard freeze.  If that is the case I'll take the pumpkins off the vine and put them in the garage for a week.  I've heard that the seeds can still mature some after the pumpkins are taken off the vine.