Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Updated Seed Lineup

I saw a post yesterday about a seed that I had forgotten about that I wanted to grow.  The 819 Radach (1655 Ford x 2009 Wallace).   Joe Scherber grew this seed two years ago.   When he said he was growing it, I have to admit that I said, "huh?"  Obviously not a big pumpkin at 819 pounds and it wasn't listed as a damaged pumpkin, so it had grown to full-size, so I couldn't figure out why Joe was giving it dirt.   Then I got the back story.

Matt grew three pumpkins in 2014.  One was a 1655 Ford and another was a 2009 Wallace.   The 1655 Ford seed was one that probably should have seen more dirt.  Joe grew that seed previously and set a new Colorado state record from it.   An aggressive plant.  I think he and Matt were the only two to grow it. 

The 2009 Wallace is probably the greatest seed of all time and has grown multiple world records.   What makes Matt's pumpkins very interesting is the fact that he grow both pumpkins on only 290 square feet! Less than half of what most growers plant sizes would be.  He has limited space and literally had vines wrapped around bushes.   The 2009 Wallace grow a 1,223 pound pumpkin.   That is 51% bigger than any pumpkin he had grown previously (which is a number that I think is worthwhile looking at when considering which seeds to grow).   Makes you wonder how big that pumpkin could have gotten if it had more space.

Joe grew that 819 seed to 1404 pounds.   An aggressive plant.  Andy Corbin grow the seed from the 2009 Wallace pumpkin and grew a personal best from it.   The genetics are in there.

I'll have my son or daughter grow the 819 seed.   I really like those Barron seeds, but they haven't produced anything as big as the mother and progeny from the progeny haven't produced anything as big as the mother either, so the genetics are good, but nothing that seems to want to grow a world-record sized pumpkin.   I think the 819 has shown a little more oomph and have shown to be a able to grow at altitude.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 Giant Pumpkin Seed Lineup

This year I've got three/four different seeds in the lineup.   I'm going to grow a 1685 Scherber and my own 747 Johnson Atlantic Giant pumpkin seed.  Last year a new world record was grown off of the 2145 McMullen seed that was a whopping 2,624 pounds.   The was a significant increase over the previous world record and I wouldn't be surprised if the world record wasn't broken this year because of it.  

The 1685 seed is a cross of the 800 McMullen with the 2145 McMullen.  The 800 McMullen is a seed that is lower on the radar, but it is the reverse cross of the 2145 (same mama and papa).   So basically the cross of the 1685 is all the same genetic lines of the 2145.   The 1685 set a new Colorado state record by a fair amount and since it was grown at altitude and it nearly went to chart (Joe's big pumpkins almost never go near the chart) it is a pretty intriguing seed.  I and one of my kids are both going to grow this seed.

My 747 seed is a cross of the 1985 Miller with the 282 Scherber.   That 1985 plant was the best looking plant I had ever had early in the season.  For the first three weeks the pumpkin was just verily off the pace of my 1421 pumpkin that was a super fast grower and it ended up 15% heavy, so weight wise it was probably heavier than the 1421 at the first part of the season.  The problem was that I didn't realize that the plant for two weeks was only getting about 25% of the water that it should have due to an irrigation timer problem and as a result the plant nearly shut down.   For a day or two the pumpkin didn't show any signs of growth and once I discovered the problem it was almost too late.   

The 282 Scherber pollinator is a selfed clone of the plant that grew the world-record 2009 pumpkin.   The first pollination on that plant was a barn burner for the first week, but a hernia in one of the lobes badly mis-shapened the pumpkin so I had to take it off.  The second pollination aborted due to the watering problems and a late season third pollination split on me.  The plant was badly damaged due to the lack of water.  

Kind of a risk growing a seed from plants that really produced nothing, but I like the genetics and a saw glimpses of what the plants could have produced so I kind of feel it is worth the try.  I also like the 1725 genetics in this seed because they are coming from the very best of the 1725 lines.   

My son or daughter will grow one of the Barron seeds.  We'll start the 1916 and the 1738 seed.  Both seeds progeny to this point have been a little disappointing considering the cross, but I kind of believe there has to be one super star, magic seed out of that cross still.   Mom and pop did too well not for a big one to come out of them.  Also wouldn't mind seeing a nice orange pumpkin in the patch.

Had a Good Time at the UGPG Meeting

Andrew Pilger, a grower from Colorado pinged me this last week and came over on Friday.   It was good to talk pumpkins and get caught up on the latest happenings from the RMGVG with him.   That was followed on Saturday at the UGPG annual spring meeting.  I would guess there was nearly 65 in attendance and a number of Facebook live for the beginner and advanced Seminars. 

The advanced seminar with done with two time world-record holder Ron Wallace, which was great.   Ron is a wealth of knowledge, because he is into the science of growing.  I've found that there are two groups of top growers.  The scientist types and the feelers.  The feelers tend to be growers that just know plants.  Their experience allows them to just look at a plant and know what is going on with it and how to make it happy. The scientist types tend to be the types that can get into the smallest details of growing.  The best growers are the types who can do both and Ron is one of those types of growers.  25 years of growing and researching makes him one of the best in the world.

Sometimes you see world-record growers that got a good seed and knew enough to stay out of its way.  But they are one hit wonders and you never see a giant pumpkin from them again.  Other growers are consistently in the top 20 and those are the hardest working growers in the business.  Again, Ron is one of those.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What is the Perfect Soil for Giant Pumkins?

The short answer is a balanced soil that has all of the nutrients in the soil that the pumpkin plant would need throughout the season.  The reality is that it is much more complicated than that.   I got my soil test results back.  Since this is a new patch and the soil is a bit different than what I had at the old home, I have more work cut out for me.   The soil here isn't bad.  It just needs to be properly built up and balanced.

I did a conversation with the head scientist who is a soil genius.  I've talked with him more than once over the years and with as much as I know, I don't know a thimble compared to what he knows.   Good soil is all about chemistry and soil chemistry is pretty much like a jigsaw puzzle where some of the pieces don't always fit well.

For example, my soil naturally has too much calcium in it.  At 5,600 feet in altitude you would be surprised to learn that there are sea shells in my yard.  The soil is an old ocean bed and the limestone has lots of calcium.   Too much calcium puts the soil out of balance and as a result it can cause problems with other nutrients.  The only good way to make the soil "perfect" so all of the pieces fit together would be to replace the majority of the soil. To some degree, over time, that is what I'll do, but no plans to haul soil Ohio to do a quick fix.

Some growers think that if a soil isn't "perfect" you can't grow a big pumpkin.  I can show you soil reports from growers who have grown world records that don't have balanced soils and did very well.   I believe the key is to not be too out of balance and make sure you do the right things (i.e. foliar feeding) to adjust appropriately.

One interesting conversation I had with the soil scientist was in regards to the rhizosphere around the roots.  The roots can get to nutrients about 1/4 inch from them, so although your soil may have a lot of nutrients in it, you can have the plant "bonk" because it can only access so much so it gets depleted.

I asked about feeding during the season and also about nutrients being locked up and he suggested an additional test to include on the soil.  This test (75S) would show what is soluble and available to the plants which is a better indication of what a plant can use from the soil.  I'm going to have another conversation with him after that test is done and I'll let you know what I learn here in the blog.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tips for Giant Pumpkin Seed Starting

Soak the seed(s) in mildly warm water with a drop of seaweed (optional) and a little humic acid (optional) to help them germinate. After 3-4 hours of soaking transfer the seeds to lightly moistened paper towels that will be folded around the seeds and put into Ziploc bags. The Ziploc bags will then be placed at the back part of my computer where it is usually about 85 degrees. An ideal temperature for pumpkin seed starting is between 85 to 90 degrees. In 24 to 48 hours a little root will come out of the bottom of the seed and at that time I will transfer the seeds to my seed starting mixture in peat pots.

If you prefer, after soaking the seeds you can transfer the seed to a pot with a seed starting mixture rather than using the paper towel method.  The soil should be lightly moist and the pot should be in a warm place (80 degrees) to help germinate the seed.  the pointy part of the seed should be facing down as that is where the tap root will come out.

For my seed starting mixture I use 80% ProMix BX with some earth worm castings (optional) and some mycorrhizae (optional beneficial fungi) and Azos (optional beneficial bacteria). About 2-5 days  after putting the seeds in the pots they will start popping through the soil (can take up to 10 days if conditional aren't ideal). I put my pots in a closet with grow lights and a space heater in them so I can keep the plants at about 85 degrees. About two weeks later I'll plant them in the pumpkin patch inside hoop houses.  Anytime the weather is nice and not windy I'll put the plants outdoors so they can get sun.  No grow lights will do as well as the sun.

Growing Giant Pumpkins at Altitude

This will be my first season growing in Midway, Utah.  But having growing in Denver for years at an altitude that is only about 200 feet lower than most of the Heber Valley, it won't be much different as far as technique goes, although the average temperatures are about 5 degrees cooler on average.  The following are some tips for growing giant pumpkins above 4,000 feet in altitude.

Seed Starting
Start your seeds indoors in a warm area that gets lots of light.  Supplemental light and heat would be a good thing.   Start the plant in a pot that will give the roots room to grow.  Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds roots grow really fast.   A one gallon pot will have roots top to bottom in two weeks.  Usually I start my seeds around April 15th.  For competition pumpkins that is required to give the plant enough time to grow.  For the more casual grower, maybe start your seeds around May 1st.

Planting in the Pumpkin Patch
I'll put out hoop houses (little green houses) a week or more before I plant outdoors to help warm the soil.   Plants don't like cold soil.  The first week of May, depending on the weather, I'll plant my pumpkin plants in the patch inside the hoop houses.  At night I'll add a 100 watt incandescent bulb, space heater or heat lamp in the hoop house to give a heat source for the plant and put a tarp or blanket over the hoop house.  The hoop house warms up very quickly in the sun (like a car with the windows rolled up in summer) during the day, but inside the hoop house by midnight it will be nearly the same temperature indoors as outdoors, so some sort of heat needs to be added or else the plants could freeze or not grow as quickly as they should.

I keep a little wireless thermometer in the hoop house and as soon as I see it hit around 85-88 degrees I open the flaps up.  I try to maintain a temperature between 85-90 degrees as much as I can.  I don't like to let it get over about 91 degrees.

Pumpkin Plant Vining
If you start your seeds on April 15th and the plant is happy, the vines will start to grow around the middle of May.   By the first week of June the vines are growing fast and typically my plants are out of the hoop house.  By this time of year there shouldn't be much risk for frost so the plant should be okay until September.

Grow em big!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Better Weather, Cover Crops & I'll Starting to Get that Pumpkin Growing Itch

Here in Midway, UT we've had a fairly tough winter.  I'm told by the "old-timers" that this is the most snow we've seen in the last 10 years.  Seems like it just kept coming.   I've seen the soil twice in the pumpkin patch twice this year and most of the time it has been under more than a foot of snow and at one time almost 3 feet.   Snowpack in the Wasatch range is at about 160% right now.

The snow finally melted out of the patch today and from a distance I could see something that kind of surprised me. About 3 weeks before the ground froze I put in a cover crop in patch #1 and it got nicely established, but patch #2 didn't get a cover crop until about 5 days before it froze.   Today I noticed this nice green grass popping up all over the patch.   Germination rate looks to be adequate enough to cover the patch nicely by the time I till the soil in April.  I would of thought that since that seed had been buried under snow for the last three months it wouldn't had started to grow until we got at least a week of consistently warm weather, but this winter rye doesn't seem to care much about temperatures and snow.

I really like winter rye for this reason.  It is super hardy and it is easy to incorporate.  You can pull it out by your hand if you wanted to so it is easy to control.  It doesn't have the bio mass of some cover crops, but it works very nicely when you can't get a cover crop in early in the fall or when you want to get a cover crop going in the spring. Also a good way to get the myco going in the soil early in the season.