How to Grow a Giant Pumpkin
Above is a picture of Mark Baggs with his UK Pumpkin record weighing 1520. Well Done Mark and thanks to Sarah Hynes for the pictures.
Mark Baggs and Stuart and Ian Paton are the UK's best growers of giant pumpkins.
Below are a selection of the pumpkins at the UK Pumpkin Championships 2013
If you ask 10 competitive pumpkin growers how to grow a giant pumpkin, you're likely to get 10 different answers. It seems everyone has his or her own way of coaxing the most weight out of these giants. But there is a thread of consistency that runs throughout all the instructions, and adhering to three basic tips will get you well on the way to a prize winner. Above all else, you need good seed, good soil and good luck.
Good seed. If you want to grow a world-record pumpkin, you can forget about every variety of pumpkin out there except Howard Dill's patented Atlantic Giant. Since 1979, no other pumpkin variety has been a world champion.
Good soil Pumpkins are large consumers of all the major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), as well as many minor nutrients like calcium and magnesium and other trace elements. The key for big growth is soil well that has plenty of organic matter incorporated into it. In November add manure to the growing areas. Cow and horse manures are best. Use chicken manure sparingly and only in the Autumn. Cover crops of winter rye and field beans, planted in early September and turned into the ground in the spring, are fabulous. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8.
Good luck. If you can grow a good vegetable garden, you have the skill to grow a world-record pumpkin. I've seen newcomers grow 500-pound pumpkins their first year with good seed, someÂ help from an experienced grower and a lot of luck. With the right preparation and strategy now and in the spring, next year you might just be a contender for the UK Pumpkin Championships
1. PREPARE THE SOIL. Start with a pH test in October and adjust your pH to between 6.5 and 6.8 by adding sulphur to lower the pH or lime to raise it. Apply three to five square metres of composted manure where you expect to plant next spring. Plant a cover crop of winter rye or field beans in Autumn to be turned under in early spring, broadcasting sufficient amounts to covver your growing area
2. SOW SEEDS. Start seed indoors in six-inch peat pots about four weeks before the last frost. Plant the seed with the pointed end of the seed facing down. Keep the soil temperature at 85 to 90 degrees F. Most seeds will emerge within five days.
3. TRANSPLANT SEEDLINGS. Transplant seedlings into the garden once the first true leaves appear or when roots begin to grow through the peat pot (usually seven to 10 days after germination). Handle with care because pumpkins are easily set back during transplanting. If you want to grow a large pumpkin in the UK, you will need to grow it inside a polytunnel/large greenhouse
4. PROTECT SEEDLINGS. Place a "mini-greenhouse" over the seedlings for six weeks to shield plants from wind and frost. These mini-greenhouses can be as simple as two storm windows nailed together to form a teepee or as elaborate as a four- by four-foot wooden structure made from 1x2 wood nailed together with 6-ml clear plastic stapled to cover the frame. Once seedlings outgrow the mini-greenhouse, use a temporary fence to screen wind.
5. POLLINATE FLOWERS. Eight to 10 weeks after seed starting, the first female flowers will appear. They're easy to distinguish because they have a small pumpkin at their base. If you want to get a head start on your competitors, you'll need to hand-pollinate the flowers. In the early morning, locate a freshly opened male flower. Pick it and remove the outer flower petals, exposing the stamen and fresh pollen. Locate a newly opened female flower and gently swab the stigma (internal parts) of the female flower with the pollen-laden stamen.
Getting a pumpkin set as early as possible, preferably before the 10th July is key. The earlier you set a pumpkin, the longer it has to grow until harvest. Since these monsters can gain 25 pounds a day, losing 10 days in the early part of the season could put you well down the list at your local pumpkin competition.
6. REPOSITION SET PUMPKINS. Once a pumpkin has set, its position on the vine becomes extremely important. Most often the stem grows at a very acute angle to the vine. However, for optimal long-term growth, the best position is to have the stem perpendicular to the vine. If yours is not at right angles to the vine naturally, coax it gradually, over about a week's time, until it is in that position. Be careful, because at this early stage pumpkins may still abort or you may injure the fragile stem.
7. SELECT THE MOST PROMISING PUMPKIN. If one plant has three strong vines, you could have as many as seven or eight pumpkins set and growing by mid July. Now you must choose the best pumpkin and remove most of the rest. Measure each pumpkin's circumference at the widest point weekly or daily with a measuring tape. Choose the one that's growing fastest. Also, keep an eye out for the optimum shape. Young pumpkins that are round and especially tall grow the largest.
8. PRUNE VINES. Begin pruning vines early in the season to discourage random growth and an out-of-control patch. Prune each main vine when it has reached 10 to 12 feet beyond a set fruit. If you have a pumpkin on a vine that is 10 feet from the main root, cut the end of that vine once it is 20 to 24 feet long. Let side shoots off the main vines get no longer than eight feet before cutting off tips. Train side shoots so they are perpendicular to the main vine to accommodate access to the vines and pumpkins. Bury the ends of cut vines to reduce water loss.
9. FEEDING. During the growing season, most fertility needs of pumpkins can be met by applying water-soluble plant foods once or twice a week over the entire plant area. Give seedlings a fertiliSer that stresses phosphorus, such as 15-30-15. Shift to a more balanced formula, such as 20-20-20, once fruits are set.
By late July, use a formula that stresses potassium, such as 15-11-29. I apply water-soluble fertiliSer at the rate of one to two pounds per week per plant from fruit set until the end of the growing season. Some competitive growers will err on the side of overfertiliSation. But too much fertiliSer can hurt more than help. If the pumpkins start growing too fast, they will literally tear themselves from the vine and explode.Â Remember.... "Slow and easy wins the race." Remember this whenever you feel the urge to overfeed
10. KEEP TRACK. Measure your pumpkins at least weekly. Gains in circumference can average four to six inches in a 24 hour period. Measure the circumference of your pumpkins first parallel to the ground around the entire pumpkin, from blossom end to stem. Next, measure over the top in both directions: from ground to ground along the axis from stem to blossom end, then perpendicular to the stem-blossom-end axis. Add these three measurements together, then multiply by 1.9 to give an estimate of the pumpkin's weight.