We’ve never quite gotten into the notion of competitive gardening. For us, gardening has always been a community effort, a share-the-knowledge and help-your-neighbor kind of thing. Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from bragging about snap pea yields or tomato harvests (or the excellent things we do with our harvests once brought to the kitchen). But contests for monster pumpkins? We haven’t had the garden space — the University of Illinois Extension division recommends that even for regular pumpkin vines you need 100 square feet per hill — or the necessary growing season and conditions to try it. But there’s a lot of gardeners that do. There’s even communities of gardeners dedicated to the giant beasts.
Currently, the record giant pumpkin weighed in at over a ton, a quarter ton increase from just six years ago.
So here’s what we’ve found out about growing giant pumpkins. The best part: much of what we’ve learned applies to growing good pie pumpkins as well. We mistakenly thought that growing giant pumpkins takes copious amounts of water and soil amendments. That’s not necessarily true. Good friable soil with plenty of compost worked in along with weekly waterings will do just fine. The secret is to trim fruits mid-season. Pick one pumpkin that looks especially promising and remove the rest. And trim the vines, too. No sense having the plant put a lot of energy into vines that aren’t producing plants.
You can get a head start on fruiting by helping with the pollination. It’s easy to figure which blooms are female; they have knobs (little pumpkins) at their best. Use an artist’s paint brush to transfer the pollen. As the pumpkins start to grow, carefully orient the pumpkin stem so that it’s perpendicular to the vine; otherwise, stress may crack the stem and stop the fruit’s growth. Shading your pumpkins from the sun as the season progresses will keep its rind from hardening which discourages growth. The most important thing when growing giant pumpkins is choosing the right seed. The best might cost you as much as $6 a piece. If you’re growing pumpkins for pie meat or for those fall displays and jack o’ lanterns, there are better (and less expensive ) choices.
There’s one thing we’d still like to know: do those giant pumpkins yield good (giant) pies?