Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Pumpkin Season has Begun (Kind of)!

This time of year for years I've done the same thing.  As the weather starting warming up and you start seeing some of the crocus and daffodils peaking through the ground, my pumpkin growing fever starts to rise.  To curb the cravings I like to start something off that can be productive.  I've talked on this blog a couple of times about getting myco going in pots before you start your actual seeds.  I won't be start my plants for a couple of weeks, but it takes a while for myco to become mature enough that it is actually providing some benefits to the plant, so it is good to start it now. 

At the Niagara seminar Neil Anderson of RTI, whose company makes more myco than probably any other company out there, stated (somewhat quietly), that it may take a couple of months for the myco to get to the point that it is bringing back nutrients and water back to the plant.  I stuck around after his seminar and asked some additional questions about that.  He suggested during the seminar that "pre-starting" some myco before you started the seeds and then transferring that seed starting mix to the pots may be a good idea.

Typically I would have started some seeds a week ago, but I only got these started two days ago, because life has been very busy lately.  Using the paper towel method I started two 747 Johnson seeds.   Those sprouted and I then put them both into one pot with two different brands of myco, Azos and some other beneficial bacteria.  I also put a pinch of a WOW Super Start Pack in the seed starting mix.  The day or day before I start my actual seeds I plan to grow this season, I'm pull the plants from this pot and mix the soil in the seed starting mix of my other pots, so each pot will get some of this more mature myco.

I'll still put some additional myco and microbes in the pots of the plants I'll actually be growing this season.  

The other benefit of doing this is that it forces me to get my stuff pulled together in advance of when I start my actual plants and gives me a little practice.  For example, in the pot I put the seeds in today, I should have put a little humic acid into.  Hopefully this will help me remember when it becomes more important.

In about 3 days I suspect I'll start seeing the plants popping through the soil.  I start two plants in the soil to get more roots going throughout the pot quickly.  I figure more roots means more myco getting fed.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Amazingly Grateful: High Tunnel in the Pumpkin Patch in 2018

When we decided to move to Midway two years ago, I immediately decided that I would need a greenhouse to grow a pumpkin of any size. Overnight lows in the low 50s in July and a growing season that is literally a month shorter than Denver's (which isn't very long) I knew it would make it a challenge to grow a pumpkin that is 1,500+ pounds.

Last season I realized it was worse than I thought. High minds plague my area and I saw considerable damage to the plants as a result. To my rescue, Ralph Luab came. He didn't know it, but he had just what I needed. He was kind enough in early June to bring me some pollen from one of his plants because it was looking like I wasn't going to have pollen available to pollinate a female that was going to be opening the next day. He came all the way from Vernal to help me out. When he arrived I showed him the patch and was complaining about the terrible winds we had had for the previous two weeks and how beat up my plants looked as a result. He said, "I've got the same problem in Vernal. I found a government program that pretty close to gave me a free high tunnel." My ears perked up and I immediately said, "Do tell." He then began to tell me about a conservation arm of the federal government called the NRCS that does financial assistance for high tunnels.

A high tunnel is basically a greenhouse, but without power. For the program you basically have to do a lot of paperwork and if approved they cover about 95% of the cost for the high tunnel. Budgets change year to year for the NRCS, but for my NRCS office I think there were about 12 people that applied in the previous group, initially 10 were approved and then they got some more funding, so they were able to get everyone that applied a high tunnel. I filled out the paperwork and in the end of November the deadline ended and then after some more paperwork and a site check I found out this last week I was approved and signed the contract for my high tunnel. I'll be installing a 24x32 high tunnel which will have enough room for one plant and I should get funded this next month.  Pictured to the right is a larger version of the same one I'm getting.

Why would the government do a program like this? I don't know all of the details. I know part of it is for land conversation and I know another is to get more people farming, either in their neighborhood backyard or on larger agricultural farms. I was told when signing the final paperwork for a high tunnel this last week that the High Tunnel System Initiative came from Michelle Obama. As you may recall, she kind of had two initiatives that she headed up as first lady. One was to get kids fit. The other was gardening. They had a nice garden at the white house and had some small high tunnel hoop houses as part of it.  The high tunnel initiative kind of came out of this.

As you may recall, I put some pipe in the ground where this high tunnel will be going in about a year and half ago.  This was added even before we moved into the house as near as I can recall.  That pipe will be used as a geothermal system to help warm the hoop house during the night and cool it a little during the day.  An inline fan will pull the hot air at the top of the high tunnel into the underground piping, heating the soil.  At night, when it has cooled down in the high tunnel it will turn that inline fan on again and push warm air back into the high tunnel, using the warmed soil to heat that air that is going back into the high tunnel at the other end.

I also have four 50 gallon water barrels that will be painted black and put on the west side of the high tunnel.  Those barrels will heat up during the heat of the day and then will release their warmth back into the high tunnel at night.

On Ralph's advice, I've also purchased a portal water heater (made for showering outdoors) that I'm going to use to warm the irrigation water that waters the plants in the early morning hours (about 5:00am), when the temp in the high tunnel will be at its lowest.  Ralph said he was able to output water at about 80-85 degrees and the high tunnel warms right up after that and stays warm for a good while.

I'm hoping that between these three things, I can create an environment in the high tunnel that is more like the growers have in Ohio or Rhode Island, rather than what I have now at over a mile in altitude surrounded by mountains on all sides (it does make for some pretty views).  My day time temperatures aren't too bad.  By 1:00 to 2:00 it can start to get a little warm, but my highs on average are about 5 degrees cooler than Salt Lake.  If I can get my average night time temperatures 5-10 degrees warmer and protect the plant from the wind, I should be in good shape.

There is going to be a lot to figure out this next season, since it is all new to me.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Giant Pumpkin Growing 101: How to Grow a 1,000+ Pound Pumpkin

This video covers everything you need to know to grow a 1,000+ pound pumpkin. All of the "secrets" to giant pumpkin growing are revealed.   The entire growing season is covered step-by-step in this informative how-to video.  Everything for beginners to experienced growers.

Giant Pumpkin Growing 101 Plus Advanced Growing Tips Video Coming

Since we got started a little late yesterday at the seminar, I didn't have a chance to complete the presentation yesterday, so what I've decided to do is create it into an online video and I'll post it here.  Download the presentation at the link below and watch for the video to come out very soon and be posted here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Beginning Growers Seminar

You can find here the full Giant Pumpkin Growing 101+ presentation that I showed at the Utah Giant Pumpkin Grower's Spring Seminar at the link below.  This presentation covers seed selection, soil testing, how to build good soil, protecting plants, seed starting, how to plant your plant, vine pattern, vine burying, controlled pollination, fertilization programs and much more.  It is a great guide for both beginning and experienced giant pumpkin growers.  Download PDF

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Plant Growth-Promotion Bacteria & Fungi; Feed the Plants

Many gardeners don't know this, but without bacteria and fungi in the soil, plants couldn't get at the nutrients that they need.  Most natural nutrients are not in a form that plants can uptake, so without bacteria and fungi creating a synergistic relationship with the plants, life would not exist.  Most plants develop their root systems to explore the soil to find nutrients to sustain growth.  There are different parts to roots, but the root tip and hairs are most important region in terms of interaction with soil microbes and nutrient mineralization.

Plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) colonize root hairs and lateral roots and provide nutrients and water to the plants and in return the plants produce and give back sugars.  Not only do the microbes give nutrients, they also produce growth-promoting hormones which can stimulate root elongation and lateral root growth.  What does this mean for the giant pumpkin grower?   More roots and bigger roots and possibly a bigger pumpkin as a result.  Microbes can also produce hormones that help the plants deal with things like drought stress better and help protect the plants from pathogens.

So, what types of bacteria and fungi can have the best overall affects for your plant?  I think scientist would agree that this is an emerging field of study with not enough research to draw any solid conclusions.  For my pumpkin patch, I'll be using RAW Microbes (different strains of mycorrhizae and bacillus), Biota Max (different strains of bacillus and trichoderma), Actinovate, Azos and WOW mycorrhizae.  There are other items I would like to add to this mix (namely Rootshield and Companion), but at some point you have to draw a line when it comes to costs and some of those patented biologicals can be pretty pricey.  Although the research says they are good.

One new thing I found out this week when doing some research is that there are three different types of Azos (amazonense, brasilense, and lipoferum).  This was something I wasn't aware of.  Azos is listed as a nitrogen fixing bacteria, which is true, but I think it is the less interesting aspect of the bacteria.  The more interesting part of Azos is the growth promoting hormones (IAA) that are produced on the roots, which can increaes the root mass.  All three types of Azos have been found to be effective.  But each of the three have characteristics that are unique to them.

Azospirillum amazonense seems to do better in lower pH soils.  Azospirillum brasilense is the most well studied.  It is best known for helping plants use carbohydrates.  Azospirillum lipoferum is set apart from the others for elongating the roots in plants more than the other species.  In the past I've used Azospirillum brasilense on my plants.  This year I'm trying Azospirillum lipoferum.  I doubt I'll be able to find an big difference between the two, so this decision is more economic than anything else, but better root elongation sounds good to me.