Years ago I met a guy who had grown a state champion pumpkin, something like 1500 pounds. When I told him I had a garden he gave me a few seeds from this ¾ ton beast. He had kept these cherished seeds in the bottom of his refrigerator for a few years, but he assured me that most of them would germinate.
These rather large seeds found their way to the bottom of my refrigerator, in a jar wrapped in tin foil to keep out the light. I then waited 5 months for spring to arrive in New Hampshire.
I had tried to grow a Dill’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin three times before, without success. Each time a pumpkin got to be about the size of a basketball it would just rot on the vine. I had also had trouble with the dreaded squash vine borer, little worms that drill into the vine and ultimately kill the plant. When that happened I’d dispose of the vines and be left with nothing but shattered dreams, and a sad, half-empty garden.
Some people go completely nuts with this hobby – they build pumpkin greenhouses, install heaters under the soil, and use special lights and timers to keep the plant growing when the days get shorter. They spend big bucks on seeds and weird seaweed fertilizers. That wasn’t me, though. I was going to grow this the old fashioned way – sun, soil, water, and standard garden fertilizer. I had some proven pumpkin genetics on my side this time, but it wasn’t going to be a big budget operation.
Previous efforts to grow these giant gourds only reminded me that gardeners are in constant combat. It is almost as if putting a seed in the ground is cause for every potential garden enemy to declare war against you. Wind. Rain. Not enough rain. Downpours. Thunderstorms. Hail. Disease. Mold. Mildew. Lethal bugs of all kinds preparing to lay waste to every neatly planted row.
Undaunted, I planted the seeds indoors in pots in May so they would be ready to be transplanted when the ground was warm enough outside. Most of the seeds germinated, and I selected the healthiest 3 for my garden.
I planted them in hills about 8 inches high, and each plant did okay for a while. Each sent out a main vine that ran down its hill. On a windy day in June, though, two vines split despite me having pinned the vines down with pieces of coat hanger. I was now left with one lonely plant, and my dream of growing a 100 pound pumpkin was suddenly in serious danger.
In mid-July I hand-pollenated a few baby pumpkins and hoped at least one would take. Only this one did. I buried some of the vines so the plant was better protected against wind and vine borers.
Eleven days later it was really starting to grow. Every pumpkin needs a name, and to give this one some encouragement I named it Andre, after Andre the Giant, the best professional wrestler of all time.
On August 1 Andre looked like this. I put a little sand underneath it to help it stay dry. It was drinking a ton of water at this point.
On August 11 it had grown to this size. It needed watering multiple times each day, and I fed it a constant diet of liquid fertilizer and kept it covered with towels so it wouldn’t overheat in the sun. Note the soda can on top for a size indication.
More trouble: The stem angle. The stem was in danger of breaking off because the vine and stem were now touching the growing shoulder of the pumpkin. I gently dug up the vine (being careful not to damage the tap roots) and moved it so there was a little more space between the vine and the pumpkin.
In mid-August the pumpkin’s leaves were drooping. Despite all my efforts, Mr. Vine Borer had arrived in my garden and attacked the stem in several places. I had sprayed an insecticide designed to prevent vine borers, but it didn’t work. I gently slit the stem with a razor blade and removed two borers, but I didn’t want to risk more surgery. I crossed my fingers and hoped the plant would be okay …
Here it is on August 24. It is changing color.
By September 2 it was basically done growing. Many of the leaves were dying.
Here it is a few days later out of the garden. I could barely move it. A measurement calculation indicated it weighed a little more than 200 pounds.
Here’s the official slideshow and video:
After years of failure I’m glad I finally got a giant pumpkin to grow (and getting to the 200 pound mark was pretty cool). I had fun doing this, but would I do it again? I don’t think so. It was a lot of work and a constant worry.
If you accept the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in your garden I hope this article helps you. You don’t need a big budget to grow the biggest pumpkin on the block. With good seeds and some good luck, you too can grow one of these mammoth gourds!
Craig J. Nielson, doghillmedia.com columnist
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