Sunday, May 24, 2020

Which is the Best Fertilizer for a Pumpkin?

Which fertilizer is best to grow a giant pumpkin?  I hear that question a lot.  The answer that any good grower will tell you is that it is the one that the plant needs.  You'll only know that through a soil test, tissue test or an experienced eye.  

About every four days or so lately I've been giving the plants a little RAW Grow 7-4-5 fertilizer.  That isn't as aggressive as I know some growers will do, but I think it is sufficient at this stage.  The Grow fertilizers I like because they are water soluble and have a little more than just NPK in them.  The main nitrogen source in it is plant protein hydrolysate, which I've read good things about.  It also has humic acid, cane molasses, boron, copper, seaweed, iron DTPA, magnesium, manganese, silica, zinc and azomite.  And the qualities of each are sufficient to see results from them.

The little extra nitrogen will help support the rapid growth of the plants at this stage.  Ideally I would like something like a 7-2-5 at this stage, but a 7-4-5 is close enough. 

Soon, I'll be adding a little blood meal to that fertilizer mix to add more nitrate nitrogen.  The studies I've read suggest that during rapid growth nitrate demands of the plant go up, so this will help support that.  I've also read that too much nitrate nitrogen can help vine growth, but diminish root growth, so to me, it makes sense that June is the time of the season for nitrate nitrogen (like blood meal and calcium nitrate) and then stop that once you start getting into the fruit growing stage.

So, which fertilizer is best to grow a giant pumpkin?  It is a balance of what your soil has and what the plant is asking for at that time of the season.  But at this time of the year, something with some nitrogen should be given regularly in spoon feeding quantities.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

How to Use Plants in Your Yard to Help Your Pumpkins Grow

From time to time I find issues in the yard that can be canaries in the coal mine for the pumpkin plants.  For example, my lawn over the last two weeks went from beautiful green and growing nicely to an off color.  At first I thought it might be a nitrogen deficiency so I gave it some more nitrogen with little change in results.  Watching it closer, I've decided it is an iron deficiency, so I gave it some iron today.  At the same time I gave the pumpkin patch some iron. 

Although my lawn doesn't get an anual dose of compost and some of the other treatments, it is sometimes safe to assume if you are low in a nutrient in the yard, the pumpkin patch might be heading the same way.

I'll often use binder weed in the same way.   Binder weed seems to be very susceptible to powdery mildew.  If I see binder weed getting some powdery mildew on it, I'm start ramping up my fungicide program in the pumpkin patch to help fight it off before the plants get it.

In further updates, I've pulled the 2005 Haist that went flat vine (sad!) and will be growing the 1325 Johnson in the greenhouse.  Not overly sad however.  This 1325 is growing nicely and I like the genetics. 

In the hoop house, I'll be pulling the 1325 Johnson which has gone flat vine and growing the 2051 Marshall.  The 2051 has been a beautfiul plant so far and maybe even a better grower than the 1325 so far.

Both plants will have reached the end of their hoop houses by tomorrow.  Weather over the next three days is bad (below freezing some nights), so I'll but cutting a hole in the plastic so they have additional room to grow.  Fortunately after the next three nights it warms up considerably.  I'll try to keep the plants in the hoop houses as long as I can, so I can keep them as warm as I can at night and within 5-6 days I'll have to remove them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Vine Burying for a 1,000+ Pound Pumpkin

I talked a lot about it in the spring seminar, but I think the one thing that most growers can improve upon to get a 1000, 1500 or 2000 pound pumpkin is vine burying.  It isn't fun.  Particularly in the middle of a hot day in early July when the vines are growing like weeds, but it pays off big time.  Why?  Properly buried vines, done soon after vine growth means more roots growing at each leaf node.  In the past I know I've lost potential roots out of the top of the vine because I didn't bury soon enough or deep enough and the root start dried up.  Growing a giant pumpkin is like a death by a thousand cuts.  There is no magic fertilizer or seed.  It really is about doing about 100 things really well.

This year I'm going to vine bury earlier, a little deeper and I've added a couple of other things into the mix.  In the past I've done myco, seaweed, humic acid and Azos at each leaf node as I've been burying.  I'll continue to do that, but on the main vine I'm also putting down Wallace;s WOW Super Starter Packs.   That is the only fertilizer Eddy Z has been using (he puts one at every leaf node).  I don't want to do it at each leaf node because with my fertiligation I feel I can better apply targeted fertilizers when I need them, but I think there might some value in adding these starter packs.

I'm also adding Rootshield Plus at each leaf node.  I won that at the Spring meeting and it was something I wanted to buy anyway.  Rootshield is a natural, beneficial fungicide that can help protect the roots from pathogens.  Healthier roots should mean bigger pumpkins.

The last thing I'm doing, which I did last year, is putting a little compost down on top of the buried vines.  So I bury with soil and then put compost on top of it.  That will add some nutrients, but it also adds a ton of beneficial bacteria and fungi to the soil.  Actually much more than some of the beneficial you can buy in packets from the garden center. I personally don't prefer to put compost right on the vines.  I can see too many possibly problems that could come from that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pumpkin Flatvine (Dang!)

The 2005 Haist plant has gone flatvine (AKA flat vine).  That is really too bad.  Probably won't be able to grow this plant now, which is disappointing.  I haven't had a flatvine ever before.  The problem with a flatvine is the vine tends to go mutant and has trouble splitting.  What you can do is train a side vine to be the new main vine and that works fine, but it sets you back two weeks when you have to do that.  Since I have a very healthy 1325 Johnson plant, I'll probably go with it, but I'm going to let this 2005 plant grow out as long as I can to see what it does.  Right now the vine tip hasn't gone mutant.

Today I gave the plants some Omina, silica and yucca.  I've been watering the plants heavy.  In particular the 2005 plant, because some people have said it will grow out of it if you do that.  This video shows the flatvine.  I'm not sure anyone truly knows what causes flatvine in a pumpkin plan.  I think it is a combination of a strong plant vigor, temperature and nutrients playing together in combination.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

1325 Johnson Pumpkin Plant

Yesterday we finally got all of the plants into the ground.  I'm hoping the 1325 in the outdoor patch shapes up as nicely as the one that is in the greenhouse.  It is a beautiful looking plant.  The weather yesterday was fantastic.  Mid-70s with little to no wind.  We spent the better part of the full Saturday working in the yard and pumpkin patches.

Gave all of the plants some alfalfa pellet compost tea, with the new plants getting the same nutrients at planting as the greenhouse plants got earlier in the week.  As I mentioned previously in this blog, aerated compost tea does not seem to add biology in the soil that makes a significant difference.  Tests has shown that the increase that should happen with addition of biology from compost tea should cause an increase in respiration in the form of CO2, but that does not appear to be the case in the studies I looked at.

So why add an aerated compost tea using alfalfa pellets then?  Triacontanol!  Triacontanol has been called "the most potent growth hormone ever used on plants." I'm not sure yet it meets that high of praise, but it can't hurt and an aerated compost tea I think is one of the best ways to give it to your plant that is in the soil.  Studies have found that triacontanol can increase root mass by as much as 26%.  These studies weren't done on pumpkins, but I like those numbers.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A Little Fertilizer for the Plants & Plant Protection

I'm really pleased with the two plants in the greenhouse.  They've transitioned perfectly to the soil and haven't seemed to slow down at all.  Today I gave the plants a little Neptune's Fish & Seaweed 2-3-1 that I got at the GPC pumpkin seminar.  I've used this in the past and really like it.  No horrid smell like some and I like how they cold process it until some of the fish fetilizers.

Fish and seaweed to me is a great early season fertilizer.  I want to push the plants at this point, but not too hard.  The nice thing about this fertilizer is it is going to have a lot of micro nutrients along with growth hormones.  Enough to give the plants a nudge.  The one thing I wonder about is how soon the nutrients are available, but based on a presentation that the Neptune guys did at the convention, there is some evidence that at least some of the nutrients are readily available to the plant.

I add a new night time covering for the hoop houses this year.  The local construction has had a lot new new basements poured and the works threw into the dumpsters the tarp "blankets" that they use to help the cement cure.  They are basically two tarps with a foam insulation core and I've been able to keep the hoop house from getting much below 60 even when it is below freezing outside.  Plants are not happy below 54 degrees, so this helps keep them growing constantly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Some Nice Plants & Growing in a COVID-19 World

2005 Haist (left) & 1325 Johnson (right)
Finally got plants into the greenhouse today.  Will probably do the other plants tomorrow.  The 2005 Haist and 1325 Johnson are pretty much twins.  Both plants have the same leaf shape, coloring and growth patterns.  If it comes down to it a tie, I'll grow the 2005 Haist, because I'll have a 1325 in the other patch.   I predict both plants will be about the same when it comes to picking the finalist.

I'm about 5-7 days past due for planting.  Between a very, very busy schedule in a
COVID-19 world and still at freezing temperatures lately (29 degrees last night) I've been holding off on planting.   Usually when I put large plants that are a little too big for their pots out on a sunny day they tend to get really droopy and sad looking.  These ones weren't that way however.  After a healthy watering they sprouted right up after a bit and seem pretty happy.  I hope that is a good sign.

I like where my soil is at.  I wish I had tilled in the cover crop a week earlier so it was broke down a little more.  It was the biggest cover crop I ever had at tilling time and as such there was more organic matter than normal.  That isn't a bad thing.  In particular with my sandy soil, but I like all that organic material to be visually fully broken down when planting.

I've got most of the setup in the greenhouse done and feel like I'm in pretty good shape.  Have been warming the soil via the geothermal system the last 4 days and it seems to have done its job.  I was planning on checking the misting system prior to tilling the soil, but I forgot, so I have to hope now there is no troubles with it.

The good news is we are back in the patch and growing again.  Five more months of labor in the patch and we will yield the fruits of our labors.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Sunbathing the Seedlings

Usually I try to get the plants some late morning sun as often as I can to help them adjust to the outdoors.  Even good indoor lights and a lights can't quite get you what the sun can do.  In my area it gets windy by noon typically, so usually half an hour to two hours is about as much sun time as I can get.  If you don't get the plants in the sun, usually I find that the plants struggle and look horrible during the brightest parts of the day for 3-7 days after planting.  So this sun time is important.

The plant at the bottom of the picture is the 2005 Haist. The one at the top is my 1325.  Both seem to be doing well.

In an ideal world, I would plant these right now.  When that 2nd true leaf shows up, it is about the right time.  I'm still 10 days out probably.  Will be watching the weather closely.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Getting the Pumpkin Patch Soil Prepared for 2020

So this last week I took soil samples and sent them into Western Labs so I know what I have in my soil and to get recommendations on what I need to add.  Both patches came back with very similar results.  The one surprise is that the greenhouse patch I expected to have higher nitrogen since I kind of jacked it up last season.  I'm guessing that since I completely laid off nitrogen the 2nd half of the season the plant used a lot of that up.  I also watered in the greenhouse a fair amount this winter to help flush it out.  Last year my nitrates were much higher than in the greenhouse in the spring.  I wondered why at first, but then realized, 3 feet of snow had gone through the soil leaching out the nitrogen during the winter, where the greenhouse didn't have all that water.  So this winter I watered the cover crop much more regularly and deeply.

Yesterday I turned over the soil in the planting area to start killing off the cover crop, get the soil turned more deeply and also to make it a little easier to till.  I've found when you have a thick cover crop the tiller tines slide accross the grass and it can be a challenge to get a deep till.  Turning the soil makes that a little easier.

My plan is to start my 2005 seed on April 13th and then the rest of the seeds on April 15th.  Karl Haist said my 2005 seed was a little bit of a runt, so it may not be mature and I want to see if it will germinate.  If it doesn't I'll go with one of the other Haist seeds that I have to replace it, so I want to give the 2005 a little bit of a head start so I'll know if I need to start another seed.

Then my hope will be to get the plants into the hoop houses around May 1st, weather permitting.  The ideal would be to get the plants into the soil a week after starting the seeds, when the first true leaf starts popping out, but because of my weather, I can't do that.  I start my plants in descent sized pots to try to keep the roots from getting bound, but sometimes I can't get the plants out of the pots for 3 weeks, which is too long.

Friday, March 20, 2020

How to Make Best of the Corona Virus by Growing Giant Pumpkins as a Family

Spring has sprung.  We'll according the calendar it has, but it is snowing here as I write. And being stuck inside because of the Corona virus is going to get pretty old pretty quick.  What can you do?  Grow a giant pumpkin.  It is a great physical activity that can be done outdoors as a family.  If you really want a big pumpkin and hour a day is what it takes and less time if you get the whole family enjoying it together.  Give it a try:

Sunday, March 8, 2020

How to Grow a 1000+ Pound Pumpkin

This is a video I put together that came from a presentation I did for the Utah Giant Pumpkin growers spring seminar.  I figured the presentation might be useful to other growers so I turned it into a video.   Believe it or not, I actually like to watch the video myself in the early spring to make sure I'm not missing anything as I head into the season.  This video pulls from 12 years of growing experience and a lot of good advice from excellent growers over the years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Say Hi to Me at the GPC Convention in Vegas this Weekend

I'll be at the International Giant Pumpkin Growers convention at the Flamingo in Las Vegas this weekend.  If you are there be sure to say hi.  Looking forward to seeing some old friends and learning from the best growers in the world.

Monday, November 25, 2019

1325 Johnson Pumpkin Plant

Started one of the 1325 pumpkin seeds last week to make sure the seeds are viable.  This nice little plant was produced.  I think this could be a good cross.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mulder Chart for Nutrient Interactions

The Mulder chart that Joey Hogan shared I found very useful.  It basically shows how different nutrients interact in a very easy and understandable way.  In giant pumpkin growing we always talk about a balanced soil.   This chart shows the interactions of different nutrients and can be useful when trying to balance your soil. Click to enlarge:

Thursday, November 21, 2019

2020 Pumpkin Seed Lineup, Kind Of

Okay, my seed lineup got solidified today when I got a bubble in the mail.  It's like an early Christmas.  I haven't met Mr. Karl Haist yet, but I'm hoping he will be in Vegas because I want to shake his hand.  I asked him for one seed and he sent many.  And they good ones.  I'm going to grow my own 1325 Johnson seed this next year, but haven't decided what seed I'll grow in the greenhouse yet.  The 2005 seed is the one I grew last year and it grew the biggest pumpkin in 2019.  The 2nd seed is the 2517 which is a seed from the biggest pumpkin grown in the world this last year.  Decisions, decisions.  Which one would you grow and more importantly why?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Giant Pumpkin Seed Gentics's Lineage of the Kings

When you look at pumpkin seeds that have consistently grown the biggest pumpkins in the world over the years you find a line that connects the dots to the seeds that seem to point a path to the future.  From time to time there have been side shoots to these lines, but typically the progeny on those lines peter out quickly.

So a little history.  Today's lineage and the seed that was the one that everyone wanted when I first started growing was the 1068 Wallace.  All of the big pumpkins today come from the 1068 genetics.  The first pumpkin over 1,500 pounds was grown by Ron Wallace from his own 1068 seed.  A lot of growers grew a personal best from the 1068.

The next big seed was the 1161 Rodonis.  I grew a 1161 Rodonis and it grew me a personal best pumpkin.  That seed grew the world record 1810 Stevens, but that seed line seemed to peter out.  A number of big pumpkins came from it, but the progeny didn't seem to produce any lineage that continued to grow big pumpkins.

There was also the 1404 Bryson that grew the 1818 Bryson, but that line fizzled out as well.

The next big seed was also a world record grower and it is a second generation out of the 1068 Wallace.  That seed was the 1725 Harp.  The 1725 Harp produced what I would call a game changer seed. The famous 2009 Wallace seed, which was the first one ton pumpkin and was grown by the same Ron Wallace that was mentioned earlier.

I got a 2009 seed from Ron and I didn't even ask for it.  Unfortunately it was the only seed that didn't germinated that year.  The 2009 produced the world record 2032 Mathison and the world record  2323 Meier world record pumpkins.   A lot of big pumpkins came out of the 2009 Wallace seed.

At that point the seed line deviated just a little.  Out of the 2009 Wallace, but not directly came the 2145 McMullen which produced the current world record 2624 pound pumpkin.  I say deviated, because I would have expected the line to the next hottest seed to be directly out of the 2009 seed.  There have been a lot of big pumpkins from 2009 progeny, but none have seemed to be as good as the 2145, which is 3rd generation 2009.   The interesting thing is that mama's side of the genetics in the 2145 is a lot of 2009 and papa's side was mostly 1161.  So in some ways the 1161 Rodonis line didn't really die out, it just took a few generations for it to pop back up.

What is the next big seed?  My money is on the 2005 Haist line.  It produced the biggest pumpkin in the world in 2019 and the average weight of the pumpkins grown was something like 1,700 pounds and all of them went heavy to the chart.  I grew that seed and wish I could grow it again.  Didn't have ideal conditions this year, didn't have good health and would have changed up my fertilizer program some knowing what I know now.  My guess is the next world record will come out of the 2005 line.

My 1325 Johnson seed takes the #1 seed of 2019 in terms of average weight, being the 2005 Haist and crosses a top 25 seed pollinator 2255 Zaychkowsky.  I think it has some good potential.  The seed is available for sale here.

Giant Pumpkin Growing Podcast

This is pretty cool.  A giant pumpkin grower podcast with some of the bigger giant pumpkin growers:

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Found Farewell to the Great Pumpkin

The pumpkin went out in style.  It got professionally carved Halloween night at Pumpkin Nights.  Kind of a fun way for it to live out its last days.  The carving is a cityscape with a dragon in the upper left hand corner.  It kind of reminds me of something out of Lord of the Rings.  Today the seeds were harvested and will be dried over the next two weeks.  Over the last month the pumpkin was in front of our home, went to two schools and then was on display at pumpkin nights in front of about 60,000 people.  For as much work as it was to grow it, we got as many miles out of it as we could and hope many smiles were put on many faces.

I asked Jim Seamons to take a picutre of the meat of the pumpkin.  The pumpkin went 8% heavy so I was interested to see how thick the was the meat on the pumpkin.  Not exceptionally thick but it matched what Dale Marshall said about his pumpkin which shared the same "father" as was in my pumpkin.  His pumpkin went heavy, but he said the meat wasn't overly thick on his pumpkin either.  But he said the meat was just dripping wet.  My guess is that the 2003 genetics has that trait and why almost every 2018 Haist seed produced a pumpkin, except for two, that went heavy and some went very heavy to the charts.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Coversation with Dale Marshall; 2,051 Pound Pumpkin Grower in Alaska

Talked for about 1 1/2 hours with one ton pumpkin grower Dale Marshall this evening.  Really nice guy.  When I saw he popped that 2,051 pounder in Anchorage I was really happy for him and I knew I needed to get him on the phone with him.  I hadn't ever spoken to him before, but I've got a hint of the extra work that he has to put in to grow something like that in that environment and it isn't a small task to start your season in March when it is 20 degrees outside.

His summer days are long, but his nighttime temperatures during the summer are very similar to mine, although his lows are shorter because his sunset is around 11:30pm and his sunrise is around 4:30am.  I wanted to understand how he is dealing with his temperatures, because obviously whatever he is doing is working for him.

What I found is that what he is doing is pretty close in many ways to what I've been doing, just a bit better.  He has a soil heating system that uses radiant heating that is similar to what I'm getting from my geothermal system.  Same types of soil temps.  The biggest piece is he is using a Mr. Heater like I did late in the season this year, but he is doing that all summer long.  I'm not quite ready to put in the money for the propane  yet, but what I've decided I need to do around peak growing time (days 28-42 after pollination) is I'm going to run my heater at night for that period to help maximize growth.  Right now I'm typically at around 54 degrees at night.  I think I can get that up to around 60 degrees with the heater which is about what his nights in his greenhouse are like.  Maybe I can get a few extra pounds a day for those two weeks that way.  If I could get the 50 pounds a day that he was doing at his peak this year I'd be thrilled.

Really appreciated Dale taking the time to talk.