The average homegrown pumpkin weighs nine to 12 pounds, but with the right seeds, a little soil preparation, and a lot of tender loving care, you can grow a pumpkin to enormous proportions. Professional pumpkin growers are gardening enthusiasts who share a passion for growing potential contenders to compete for the title of Canada’s largest pumpkin. Although this hobby is time consuming, the rewards are enormous. Kirk Chenier, president of the Giant Vegetables Growers of Ontario (GVGO), shares his passion and advice on how you can grow your own 300- to 500-pound orange monster. Even if you don’t plan to enter your gourd in a contest, you can grow the biggest jack-o’-lantern on the block.
1. Prepare the pumpkin patch
It’s best to start preparing the pumpkin patch in the fall. Designate a spot that is six feet by six feet, level and in full sun. Chenier suggests amending the soil with compost, manure, shredded leaves, dried grass clippings and natural additives like granular humic acid fertilizer, kelp meal, corn meal and even molasses. The soil and additives should then be mixed together and allowed to sit over the winter. Giant pumpkin growers have their soil tested in the spring to see if anything needs to be tweaked before the final tilling of the pumpkin patch.
2. Sowing the seeds
To get a head start on Mother Nature, start your pumpkin seeds indoors in mid-April. Chenier recommends Dills Atlantic Giant variety as the best seeds to use when growing a giant pumpkin. Plant individual seeds in four-inch peat pots filled with lightly moistened soil. Place the pots in a warm, sunny location and keep them moist. The seeds will sprout within three to five days.
3. Transplant the seedlings
Once the seeds have sprouted and the first true leaves appear, it’s time to transplant the seedlings outside. The pumpkin plants are extremely delicate, and care must be taken when transitioning them outdoors. Don’t remove the plant from the pot; you risk damaging the roots. Dig a hole and place the peat pot directly into the soil; the pot will eventually break down.
4. Shelter your plants
To keep your plant sheltered, a mini greenhouse can be used to keep the plants warm. Pumpkin professionals use ground-heating cables to keep the soil warm and toasty in early spring. Once the cool spring mornings have passed, the greenhouse or cables can be removed. Chenier explains that wind barriers erected around the plants help keep the young plants sheltered, especially since the seedlings have shallow roots that prevent them from anchoring into the soil. Once the plants have had enough time to establish themselves in their new home, the barriers can be removed.
5. Keep your pumpkin patch weed-free
Until your seedlings are established, it’s best to weed your pumpkin patch regularly, but don’t stop there: By eliminating weeds throughout the growing season, you’ll also help prevent insects and other diseases from potentially spreading to your vines.
Images courtesy of Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario