Monday, March 30, 2009

High Sodium Soil in the Patch

I haven't even planted a pumpkin seed yet and I've already had my first two screw ups of the season. Both came in the form of the same compost manure. The first mistake is not to take a hard look at the amount of phosphorous being added when adding poultry compost to the soil. It actually is a common mistake to look at just the nitrogen levels (which I did) and ignore the phosphorous numbers going into the patch. High phosphorous shouldn't cause the pumpkin plant to much trouble but it probably will cause the myco to be less effective.

The second mistake is that high sodium levels were introduced into the patch with the poultry compost. My fall soil test showed very low sodium levels but the most recent soil test numbers showed the sodium levels through the roof. There is only one source that this much sodium could have come from and that is the poultry compost. I've learned recently that some chickens are given a high phosphorous and salt diet to keep malnutrition away and to plump up the chickens. Apparently that was the case for where my compost came from. I was told the compost was Class I compost but apparently that wasn't the case. The lesson learned is to know the source before it goes into the patch. Joe Jutras had problems with his poultry compost last year too and he still grew a 1507 pound pumpkin. Hopefully I can do some things to fix at least the sodium problem.

To get the sodium out of the soil I am adding 20lbs of gypsum and flooding the patch with water. Base on some tables from the Colorado Extension service I need about 6 hours of irrigation to flush out the sodium by about 50% in my clay soil. I started that process on one half of my patch yesterday. After everything has dried out I'm going to get another soil test done and see how much nitrogen, potassium and magnesium I need to put back into the patch because those amendments should be somewhat flushed out by the irrigation too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pumpkin Seed Selection

This is the Sophia's Choice time of year. The time of year when you have to make the tough choice for what pumpkin seeds to plant. A lot of great growers have been very kind to share some great seeds with me. After doing some pumpkin seed genetic research I have decided to go with the 1566 Rodonis (1450 Wallace x 1231 Pukos), 1450 Wallace (1068 Wallace x Sibb), 1350 Starr (985 Werner x 227 Leland) and the 1363 Werner (985 Werner x 1450 Wallace). There are about 5-6 other seeds, in particular the Van Kooten, Doucet, Grande, Mohr, Hooker, Zaychkowsky and Hunt seeds that I would love to plant but I only have 2 1/2 spaces so choices have to be made. The 1/2 space will be a pollinator which will be my 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son's plant. Some of the other seeds that didn't make the cut will see dirt next year, given back to the grower or will be traded.

I like the seeds that I will be planting because they have four main genetic lines that I believe are some of the best. I like the 1068 Wallace genetic lines because no seed has ever performed better with a world record and the second biggest pumpkin grown to date coming from it. The 1231 Pukos is the reverse cross of the 998 Pukos and you have to like those world record genetics. The 985 Werner I think is one of the top seven new super seeds (in my opinion the 1385 Jutras, 1566 Rodonis, 1161 Rodonis, 1350 Starr, 1041 McKie and 1689 Jutras all fit in that class) and may surpass 1068 with time. The 227 Leland has the great old school genetics with the 723 Bobier x 1370 Rose. The 723 Bobier probably was just as good a seed as the 1068 Wallace but was a head of its time in terms of grower technique.

I'm really look forward to this season. If I can get my sodium and phosphorous levels down in my patch some I think I'm in a position this year to get over the 1,000 pound mark. Only time will tell however. Lots can happen in a season.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seed Starting Mix Round 3

Last year I did some experiments with seed starting mix and found that not all starting mediums are equal. This year I tried round 3 of the testing with thee different mediums. I had read how a lot of people liked Fox Farm's Light Warrior soiless medium. I am a big fan of Fox Farm's products so I decided to give it a try. I did three plantings for this test. One with Ligth Warrior, one with Light Warrior plus 20% earthworm castings added in and one with Jiffy Mix soiless mix. After 4 days the Light Warrior with earthworm castings plant came up. After 6 days the Light Warrior plant came up and after 7 days the Jiffy Mix plant came up. In the picture to the right the plant with the earthworm castings is the biggest one, the 2nd biggest is the Light Warrior plant and the smallest plant is the Jiffy Mix plant.

Irrigation in the Pumpkin Patch

I "completed" (except for one broken connection) my patch irrigation system yesterday. It is pretty simple but it will work. I have two sprayers that pretty well cover the patch on each end of the patch. The sprayer is attached to a hose end battery operated timer that will be set to run Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning for 24 minutes. And then every day at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00 I'll have the timer set to run for 1 minute to cool down the patch in the hot part of summer.

Pumpkin Grow Light Setup

After doing a little research I decided that I could do a very inexpensive grow light setup for my pumpkin seed starting that should work as good as the $80 setups that I've seen in the store and online. The setup consists of two 100 watt, 6500K CFL light bulbs from Wal Mart ($4); two brooders ($10); and the timer plug that we use for Christmas lights (already had it so $0). I screwed in the bulbs into the brooders so I could direct the light to the plants and plug the brooders into my christmas light timer so that the lights would run for 14 hours during the day without me having to remember to turn it on or off. The whole setup was placed on a table in a closet so I could better control the temperature. In the closet I place a thermostatically controlled electric heater that I got at Big Lots ($15) that was run at nights when the lights were off to keep the plants at around 80 degrees. At the base of the planting cups I put a wireless thermometer so I could watch the temerature which stayed at a very consistent 75 degrees. Closer to the bulbs where the plants leaves were located it was about 81 degrees. My test planting proved to be very effective with all of the pumpkin plants coming up and growing nicley.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Back in the Patch Again

Someone didn't tell mother nature that it is still winter, but I have been enjoying getting out into the patch again in 70 degree weather. Over the last two days I have been roto tillig and pouring compost tea over the patch. My initial tilling in the fall didn't get me nearly as deep as I wanted to go because the ground was so compacted so I have been letting the tiller run as deep as I can. The soil is looking much better than it did in the fall. Better tilth and lots of nice organic pieces in the soil. I don't expect my soil to be perfect this year (it takes a while for everything to break down and for the biology to build in the soil) but I think I will be good enough. I have a little more tilling to do and then I am going to wait until my soil analysis gets back to see if I need to add anything else. After the last analysis I will till the soil again going in a perpendicular direction to what I went last time in final preparation for planting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Welcome to March, Warm Weather & Pumpkin Patch Prep Time!

It is looking to be 70 degrees today after a string of warm weather last week and forecasts in the 60s the rest of this week. It is taking all of my will power to not put a seed in the ground. Lots of snow days to come but you wouldn't know it from the weather we are having. I saw two bees flying around yesterday and one of my aspen trees is looking like it is getting ready to bud.

Today I went out in the patch and turned the soil with a spade fork. I sent off a soil sample to the lab last week so I'm hoping to get a report back this week so I can do some final prep while the weather is still so good.

My soil still needs a fair amount of work but it is looking much better than it did in the fall. Depending on what the test results say I'm planning on adding about three more yards of compost to the patch and building some mounded areas where I will be planting. If anyone knows of a good bait shop around Arvada I would like to buy some nightcrawlers to add to the soil. I'm still not seeing any worms in the soil which is a little scary.