Saturday, September 21, 2019

2019 Pumpkin Season in Review

One week from today is the weigh-off.   At this point I'm excited for it to come to an end.  Lots of 30 degree nights over the last two weeks and another week of 30 degree lows and that is a battle I'll be happy to have over.  I haven't checked in a few days, but the pumpkin is still growing as well as one could expect this late in the season.  If the trend line stays consistent there is a very good chance for having a personal best pumpkin, which is very satisfying.  The scale will tell the truth however.

I thought before the pumpkin hits the scale and the emotion that comes with that, it would be a good ideas to review the 2019 pumpkin season.  If the pumpkin goes heavy, sentiment will be a little different than if it goes very light.  Either way I should be pleased with this season.

My early season plans was to complete the setup of stuff within he greenhouse in March/April so come May, when the plant was put into the greenhouse, everything would be ready and I could hit the ground running.  That didn't happen.  Bad weather, health issues and work made things challenging.  It wasn't until June 19th that I finally got all of the greenhouse stuff hooked up and running.  On June 20th I pollinated.   If I did anything right, I got all of the required stuff done when it needed to be done this season, but I was never head of it for the first couple of months and a lot of the little things didn't get done.

The spring weather was probably a tie for the worst growing weather I've ever had.   The interesting thing is that the other year that ties was the year I grow my biggest pumpkin to date.  Mays weather was terrible.  Maybe not as bad as the year I grew the 1220, but nearly as bad.   June's weather wasn't a lot better.  Was probably 1 1/2 to 2 weeks behind in vine growth by the end of June.  Even had frost on June 23rd.  I spent a lot of time the early part of the year just trying to keep the plants warm rather than trying to grow big.  I'd guess I lost 150 pounds on the pumpkin this year due to the weather.

In May, my dear mother-in-law passed away so spent some time in Canada.  Christine loved the pumpkins.  Wish we could have one year got her to a weigh-off.   She would always ask how the pumpkins where doing and loved to tell me about a big pumpkin her father once grow when she was a child.  Good neighbors helped take care of things when I was away.

The 2005 plant wasn't remarkable in the early season.  Vine growth was as fast as the 2255 which was outdoors in the cold and I sometimes mourned that I didn't grow the 2255 in the greenhouse.  The 2005 didn't much like the heat and easily flagged in the sun and the color wasn't great early on.  The 2255 by July had frost damage and bad wind damage.  Pumpkins on both plants were pollinated on the same day, but the 2255 pumpkin never really got going.  Weather damage, cold temps and then later disease took it down early.

By the end of July I was really disappointed with the 2005 plant.  It was gorgeous looking, but growth was slow on the pumpkin.  The root system on the plant was second to none.  Roots everywhere.  I hadn't seen roots like that since the plant that grew my 1220.  I had that plant vines perfectly maintained with everything nicely buried.  Leaves had great color.  Even the old leaves on the plant looked pristine.  But the pumpkin just was not growing well and I could not figure out why.

I did it later than I should have, but I sent in for a tissue test.  Honestly, I thought the season was a loss which was particularly disappointing because I spent so much time setting up the greenhouse and I didn't feel like I was getting a return on that investment.  But I figured the tissue test could at least give me info I could use the next season and that was the main reason I did it.  I'm really glad I did. 

My tissue test totally surprised me. I had been diligently doing EC testing and my numbers always came back really low.  It didn't seem to matter how much fertilizer I put down, but the numbers would only move a little.  I even bought another EC tester to make sure the first one was working.  They were the same.

EC testing tells you the amount of "salts" in the soil via an electric current.  Fertilizers are salts, so it can give you an idea of how much fertilizer is in the soil.  It doesn't tell you how much of each NPK, but just total.  In my spring soil test it showed low nitrogen and high potassium and phosphorous.  My soil is sandy, so it can leach nitrogen easily.  Potassium and phosphorous don't leach much.  So when my numbers were low, I assumed nitrogen was the missing element.  So I was putting down a fair amount of nitrogen with just a little potassium and phosphorous.  I wasn't seeing overly big, dark leaves or crazy vine growth, so that seemed to confirm my strategy.  Just prior to the tissue test I was considering adding even more nitrogen.  When I got my tissue test back I had to put the brakes on everything.

The tissue test showed very, very high nitrogen levels and moderately low potassium and phosphorous levels.  I called the soil scientist about the test results and asked why the numbers had changed so much since spring (note: what is in the soil and in the tissue of the plant isn't always the same thing).   On the potassium and phosphorous part he said, "The plant is just using it up."  So basically the pumpkin was ringing the dinner bell. 

The nitrogen part I didn't have to ask him about.  I knew where that had all come front.  The interesting thing about that point between where I sent in the tissue test and I was waiting for results to come back the plant completely changed.  It went from an average growing plant with neat and tidy vines to a jungle.  Mineralization had kicked in and vines started growing from everywhere, leaves started getting really tall and big and the plant became something of a mess.   That literally happened overnight.

On that same phone call I had mentioned an issue to the soil scientist about my fertilizer injector not working so I hadn't really used it to that point of the season.  When I mentioned what was happening he said, "try turning the water volume up."  I had forgotten that on the valve I had turned the water volume down and as soon as I turned it up just a little the injector started sucking up the fertilizer again.  I love the injector and look forward to using it for an entire season next year.  Makes it easy to evenly spread fertilizer throughout the patch.

On July 27th the pumpkin was only about 375 pounds and not growing very well.  About the same time as the tissue test.  From August 5th to the 12th I was away on vacation, but had started the adjustment on the potassium and phosphorous.  On August 13th I measured and the pumpkin had doubled in weight and it continued on that path through the end of August.

The first week of September the weather was unseasonably warm and the pumpkin continued to crank along.  The last two weeks have been very cool and about a week ago weight gains have been more consistent with what you would expect for a pumpkin over 90 days old and in fall weather. 

Next year I should have all of the pieces in place and hitting the ground running.  I think with a descent seed, better spring weather and everything working on May 1st that next season could be an improvement.  But like this year, pumpkin growing typically is never what you expect it to be.

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