The secret to raising giant pumpkins
At the peak of its growing season a giant pumpkin can grow as much as a pound an hour.
Giant pumpkin growers Glen and Margaret Martin know this can happen. They have raised giant pumpkins for the last six years but these Combined Locks growers say, “You have to be careful because if they grow too fast they can split.”
Glen Martin is the president of the Wisconsin Giant Pumpkin Growers organization.
He says Wisconsin held the world record for pumpkins at 1810 pounds but a new record to break in 2012 is 1818 pounds for a pumpkin entered by a retired dairy farmer from Canada.
Martin wants to get the world record title back to Wisconsin and has set a goal of being the first to have a pumpkin weigh in at a ton, 2000 pounds. To accomplish that, he’s trying to attract interest in raising big pumpkins in Wisconsin.
He says those who are not sure just how this is done can get help by attending meetings of the Wisconsin Giant Pumpkin Growers.
At their meetings members who have been successful at raising large fruits and vegetables share their ideas and answer questions. Membership ranges from age 12 – 80 years.
Martin and his wife have been raising pumpkins for about six years. He says they started after they went to a party and a person walked in with a 500-pound pumpkin wrapped in a blanket. Margaret challenged the grower, saying she could grow one even bigger.
The first year she successfully raised a 230-pound pumpkin but then she got serious about it and the next year her pumpkin weighed in at 560 pounds.
GROWING SECRET REVEALED
So what is the secret to raising giant pumpkins?
Martin says it really isn’t a secret. A lot of it is just good agronomic practices and he says, “You need to take a little time to care for them as you would with any plant.”
They test their soil and use just the right fertilizer. Too much will result in poor fruit and too little will result in less growth.
They use a natural fertilizer to avoid salt and use humates (humic acid mined above the coal layer). They also apply kelp and a biological fungi product.
They are even experimenting with plant hormones that tell the plant to grow.
They test the soil pH and say 6.8 to 7.4 is ideal. If it’s too low they raise it with lime. If it’s too high, they apply sulphur.
Their clay soil in the Kaukauna area benefits from the addition of organic matter including manure but he is careful not to add too much.
They get seed from other successful growers who have won contests. They exchange seed among members of the giant pumpkin organization and can also find seed on line at BigPumpkins.com where the genetic information is available.
There are also seed auctions.
Soil preparation is important. They plant in mid April in a greenhouse and 10 days later put the plants in the garden.
He says it’s important to make sure the greenhouse does not get too hot since heat can kill the tender young plants. Once in the garden he covers them in the beginning to protect them from frost.
As the vines develop he prunes them. “You don’t need a lot of vine,” he says. “And when the fruit appears select only one. Within 10 days of the appearance of the fruit we determine which fruit to keep.”
Flowers are male and female. Male has a pedestal and female has a little fruit under it. They assist in the pollination before removing flowers. There are generally 10 male flowers for every single female flower on plants.
As with any crop, watering is important but he stresses, “Don’t over water them. Consistency is important. In the beginning the plant needs one to two inches a week. That would be 600 gallons of water for a 1000 square foot area.”
Once the fruit is growing he protects it from the hot summer sun by covering it with shade cloth or a bed sheet.
Martin is recruiting new members to the organization and trying to revive interest in growing the giant pumpkins.
The organization started with 30 members and has grown to 120 members but his goal is to get at least 200 members.
Because of the increased interest in growing giant vegetables there are now five locations in Wisconsin that will hold weigh-offs this fall. They will be in Chippewa Falls, Milwaukee, Nekoosa, Stoughton and Mishicot.
The Milwaukee weigh-off will be at Wisconsin State Fair Park as a part of their harvest Fest on Sept. 29. Others are also part of fall festivals.
To learn more about the organization and growing big pumpkins check out their web site at www.wisconsingiantpumpkins.com or www.bigpumpkins.com or call Martin at 920-766-7477.