Recommendations given to me for best soil
TARGET Characteristics for Soil Test by Al Eaton for GVGO Seminar, Apr 1, 2007
Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) explained by Ron Wallace 2006 World Record holder
The importance of Calcium
The BEST source of
Clubs that you can join in Ohio -- these have membership fees.
List (and links) to all Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) clubs
Awesome source of getting supplies
Great source for water systems (for a complete automatic watering system)
Latest estimated weight
Great source for pest control products
Great source for Organic fertilizers
Microbes (your little helpers in the garden)
Time lapse Plant cam
Great books to read
I started growing Atlantic Giant Pumpkins last year (2010).
They are the most amazing thing I have ever grown in over 25 years of
gardening. I grew 2 plants, one of which produced an 1180 lb
pumpkin. With that fruit I took second place at the Circleville Pumpkin Show
weigh off. Because of how incredible they are, they have sparked a desire
within me to try to compete with the best. To that end, I have spent several
hundred hours reading everything I can find to help me to be successful. I have
compiled the following information from a lot of sources and would like to
thank everyone that has been so generous in assisting me in my quest.
Several people I know have shown interest in growing a Giant Pumpkin and that is the initial reason I started this document. As I went, I realized that putting things down in this format has helped cement a lot of things I learned last year and will hopefully make the coming years more productive. This is by no means everything you need to know, but I hope it is a good starting place. The target audience is beginners that want to grow a huge pumpkin, competitively or not. The first time growers that will be growing one of my 1180 seeds will receive a link to this along with the seeds. I'd like to wish everyone reading this the best of luck. I hope you grow a monster, and would like for you to keep me updated with your results.
The links that I have provided in this document for products are strictly for identification of the products that I used, they may not be the cheapest available. Shop around, there are large price differences for some of these products. Items found locally will usually save a lot of money because of shipping. In the wintertime, some clubs have seminars (SOGPG's is March 6, 2011). The owners of extremepumpkinstore.com come to a lot of these seminars and will deliver their products with free shipping. Contact them via email to find out where they will be, when, and if they can deliver what you want. They typically have sales during to winter as well to increase business.
I am open to feedback. If you find something that is bad advice, by all means contact me with what you believe needs to be changed. If you are a beginner and there is something that you don't understand or want more information about, just ask. I will do my best to answer the questions or direct you to someone that is more knowledgeable.
I've been asked this question over and over in the last year, which is part of the reason I decided to create this document. Along with the general knowledge of growing vegetables, Good Seed, Good Soil, Good Luck and a little hard work are the only things you need to grow an Atlantic Giant Pumpkin between 300-1500 lbs. Seeds are easily obtainable from other growers, auctions or seed sales.
The soil is where you can make the biggest difference. When I first decided to grow a giant pumpkin, I was advised to get a soil test by more than one person. I wasn't totally convinced it was necessary. After all, I have grown things all of my life. I know my soil is good because I grow vegetables in it every year, and thought I had a pretty good understanding of soil and plant biology. Finally as my first season was about to begin, I was asked by Dr. Liggett if I had the results of my soil test back yet? I said I hadn't done one yet and wasn't sure I really needed one. His statement to me was something to the effect of, that depends on whether you want to grow a big pumpkin, or be competitive. After pondering this for a little while, I realized the reason I was interested in growing them in the first place was that I wanted to see if I could grow one as big as him. So I did the soil test. It allowed me to make some adjustments that I feel sure aided in my successful year.
Even if you don't want to compete, these giants are more incredible than anything I have ever grown in my life and worth the effort. There is something magical about them. You can't help but be in awe when you see a 500+ lb pumpkin for the first time. Besides the incredible experience of watching it grow first hand, watching a child's face when they get close enough to touch one is an experience in itself
Here are the basics in case you don't want to read the entire document. Each of these have much more information in the following sections.
1. Pick a location.
2. Amend the soil.
3. Get a seed.
7. Consistent continual water in the correct amount.
8. Continuous steady food supply (more is NOT better).
9. Protect the plant against pests and disease.
10. Keep the weeds under control, they compete for the nutrients and are a breeding ground for insects and disease.
11. Protect the fruit from sun.
12. Keep the fruit dry.
Pick a location
Select a spot that has direct sun for at least 6 hours, 8 is better and has good drainage. You need a minimum of 200-300 sq feet (10-15 wide x 15-20 long). To grow competitively you will need around 500-750 sq feet (20-25 wide x 25-30 long).
Amend the Soil
Second only to getting a seed with good genetics, the key to growing a giant pumpkin is definitely in the soil preparation. If your soil is out of balance, you won't realize the potential locked away in that little seed. I've heard it said that if you plant a mediocre seed in great soil, you could grow a good fruit. But if you put the best seed in poor soil, you might not get anything.
For the beginning grower a soil test is still the best
place to start, otherwise you are blindly guessing. At a minimum, adding
organic matter in the form of chopped leaves, compost and peat moss a couple of
inches deep, and tilling it into the soil a month or two before you are ready to plant. Then during the season, feeding with a
good water-soluble fertilizer should do the trick. If you use manure, use less
than ¼ of the amount of compost and peat used. Peat will lower pH so use it
sparingly unless your pH is high (or you add lime to compensate for pH). If you
are starting late, tilling them in on the same day you plant, while not
optimal, is better than no amendments at all, but I wouldn't add manure at this
point unless it has been composted because it can burn the tender roots.
Tilling should be done as deep as possible for best results. The roots can
easily go 2-3 feet deep and a looser soil allows for roots to develop a larger
system. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.2, with 6.9 being optimal. The
type of soil is also very important. Sandy soil is definitely preferred over
clay. If one has a hard clay soil, adding organic matter (compost, peat,
leaves, etc), and gypsum will go a long way to loosen
it up. Buying some topsoil and working it in is also a solution to overcome
If you get a soil test and it indicates that your calcium is low but the pH is ok or high, use garden gypsum to increase calcium without increasing pH. If the calcium is low and the pH needs to be raised, dolomitic pelletized lime would be the preference over gypsum. If both P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) are low, using 6-24-24 would be a good general fertilizer to apply that is usually available at a local feed mill – DO NOT apply more than recommended. More IS NOT better!
Consistent continuous watering is much better than off and on watering every few days. A good starting place is 1 inch of water per week. Use this formula to determine how many gallons equals an inch for your patch size. From there you need to adjust the amount based on the “feel test”. My grandfather always told me, dig down 6 inches, grab a handful of dirt and squeeze it into a ball. Perfect moisture should be able to create a ball, but then by rubbing it between your fingers, you should be able to crumble it into smaller than pea sized pieces with very little effort. If it is too sticky, cut back a little on the water. If you can't form a ball at all, it is too dry, increase the water.
Again consistent continuous feeding will provide better results than fertilizing once every month or two. A good water soluble fertilizer will work well, at the rate of 1 oz per gallon, every 4-7 days. Adding organic foods such as Hydrolyzed Fish and Liquid Seaweed on a weekly rotation will improve the overall health of the plant and supply better results.
Protecting against insects and disease
Aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers can devastate a plant in a couple of days. Some insects carry disease that are injected into the plant when they eat it. Others spread the disease through their waste deposits. Using organic garlic sprays will go a long way to repel insects. For the ones that are not repelled, some kind of contact insecticide is a must. If you are not planning on eating the fruit (they are not really for eating anyway) systemic pesticides will assist in keeping the insects under control, by killing them after they eat the plant. This isn't a total solution because the insects have to eat the plant for a systemic insecticide to work and the plant might have already been infected. But it does stop them from breeding. Vigilant inspection, traps that will lure insects to it instead of the plant, repellant (plant garlic or flowers that repel insects, garlic powder sprinkled on the ground, garlic sprays), removal of pumpkin blossoms before they bloom (their scent attracts insects from long distances), a good contact insect spray program, and a systemic insecticide are the components of a total insect protection program that are essential to keeping the plant healthy. A good systemic insecticide to use as an initial application is Grubex. After the plant is established, spraying it once a month with Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub will continue the systemic protection as the plant grows. You must inspect and spray at the recommended intervals for the spray you use, after a rain, or when you see insect activity.
A good fungicide (Daconil) will protect against the most common diseases that pumpkins are susceptible to. Start spraying on leaves before the disease starts (Jun in Ohio) and reapply as directed. A rotation of multiple fungicides will provide better protection.
Putting a white sheet on the pumpkin, or building a shade structure with a tarp and PVC pipe over it, to protect it from the direct sun is important to keep the skin from aging too fast or sunburning in the hot afternoon sun (in nature the leaves are supposed to provide this shade). A tarp structure is my preference. It allows close continuous inspection of the fruit without having to remove the sheet or anything touching it, allows better air flow, and protects the immediate area from hail or excessive moisture. If you choose to use a sheet, don't leave a wet sheet on the fruit continuously or mold and rot might begin. The skin of these pumpkins is very delicate and any small imperceptible scratch or abrasion will turn into an ugly scar at maturity.
Spread at least 2 inches of sand under the pumpkin to drain away water. This will also keep mice and insects from tunneling underneath and building a home. Spread it as flat as possible and make sure there are no large rocks because there will be a lot of pressure on the base of the pumpkin. A rock the size of your fist an inch or two below the surface will cause the pumpkin to make a cupped in section underneath. An inch thick piece of open pore (white) Styrofoam with holes punched in it at about 6 inch intervals with a pencil will provide some extra padding and another barrier from the wet earth. Many top growers use mill fabric send an email to email@example.com to request a sample as an extra layer of protection. This is a heavy nylon mesh that is used in paper mills. It is very tough, bugs and mice can't chew through it. It is porous so water will flow through, durable enough to last for years, and slick enough that using 2 layers can allow one or two people to easily slide a 500 lb pumpkin an inch or two if you needs to relieve stem stress. I used one layer on top of Styrofoam and it worked well. In the future I plan on getting enough to put down two layers.
Pallets are not advised because the pumpkin will grow down through the slats, unless you cover the top with a solid piece of wood and then the mice like to build nests under them and them eat up through the bottom. Some people do use plywood, I think that would draw insects and if the wood gets wet it stays wet for a long time.
While I am certainly no expert, this is a compilation of information that I have researched and believe to be generally needed to competitively grow Atlantic Giant Pumpkins.
This is a very good article on why
you should get a soil test.
There are many choices in labs that will do a soil test. The A&L Lab in Modesto is the best I've found so far. I like their report and recommendations over the other 2 places that I have used. That said, they are more expensive by about $10-15 than the others too.
Below is how to send them a soil test and fill out the form.
Take a sample 6 inches deep about 1-2 inches wide from several spots. Using a shovel to slice off a piece and then a smaller shovel to take soil from the entire depth is recommended. Another method that is used is driving a 1 inch plastic pipe down 6 inches. Then use a wooden dowel or a smaller plastic pipe to push the plug out. Click here for more details from the labs website.
Don't use a galvanized item to gather soil, it will skew
Put all samples in a plastic container and mix well.
If samples are very wet, they should be air-dried to a workable condition before packaging.
Put 2-2 1/2 cups in a Ziploc bag.
Mail with submission form, payment and sample to:
1311 WOODLAND AVENUE
MODESTO, CA 95351
in about a week to a week and an half you will get an email and a mailed hard copy.
The S3C (full test) is currently $33. Adding the graphical report is an extra $1, and the recommendations are an extra $2. Both of these extras are worth it to me. Here is a link to their fees and should be referred to in case they change.
Check the following blocks:
Email report (and put your email address in blank)
lbs per 1,000 sq ft
“Atlantic Giant Pumpkins” in crop or plant type.
Sign and date at the bottom.
This is a topic that I can't cover with the importance that it deserves in this document. Out of the countless documents that I have found and read I have included the ones that I found to be the most helpful. A very good beginning is entitled Soil Management.
More than 8% organic matter (a lot of people believe more is better – some think that more breeds disease)
pH 6.9 (6.7 – 7.4 is a range of recommendations from labs and other growers)
P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) close to same ppm
CEC Cation Exchange Capacity over 15
Base CEC saturation – 75% (up to 85%) calcium and magnesium % approximately double that of K(potassium)
Below is a study done by Al Eaton that gives a more detailed look at soil tests from several exceptional pumpkins grown from 2001-2004. It also gives a target range for each item. While all of the numbers are important, the most important numbers are the ratios of K (potassium) to magnesium and Ca(Calcium) to magnesium.
The following soil samples were taken, solely from the plot where the one plant was grown, a few days after the fruit was removed, in early October. The samples were tested by Accutest Laboratories LTD in Ottawa, a provincially approved lab. The samples cover 5 giant pumpkins over 4 years and came from various of my 7 possible plots.
#3 in the World
#7 in Canada
#4 in the World
6.6 - 6.9
O. M %
7% - 11%
160 - 200
330 - 500
270 - 400
3000 - 4000
Ca / Mg
10 - 12
8 - 10
The above 8 items should be within the “target zone” in the spring and the growers should also have nitrogen and water soluble micro nutrients to use during the growing season.
AGs (Atlantic Giants) like % base saturation of K = 4 – 7%, Mg = 13 – 18%, Ca = 68 – 72% and CEC = 17 – 22.
I find that if the 8 items above are in the target zone, then the % base saturation and CEC values fall pretty well into the correct place. The % base saturation numbers can be useful though when deciding if to add K, Mg, or Ca, and how much.
End of Al Eaton's Paper.
Cation Exchange Capacity is the soil's ability to retain and supply nutrients. The lower the CEC, the lower amount of nutrients that will be supplied to the plants. A higher CEC will hold and supply more nutrients. Positively charged ions of Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium account for most of the soils cations. Sandy soils will commonly have a lower CEC ( less than 10 ). Most pumpkin growers soil that is high in OM will have a CEC above 15. Soils that contain a higher amount of clay will also have a higher CEC. We usually have a CEC of 15-20. A higher CEC will also slow down the leaching of soil nutrients. The percentage base saturation of the CEC we look for is 65-70 % Calcium, 10-15% Magnesium and 7-10% potassium. You do not need to be 100% base saturated as long as the above nutrients and pH are in line. Our soil is sandy loam and we have to "beef it up" every fall and spring. Nutrient losses on our sandy soil can be serious during the summer so we tissue test every other week. To bring up your CEC do it slowly over a period of a few seasons. The worst thing you can do ( and we have done it ) is to put down more compost or manure than what's needed. Doing this will only throw off the balance of your soil and during the process of summer soil mineralization release too much nutrients at one time. I would rather "spoon feed" nutrients during the summer.
More good information on CEC
Ca Calcium – important for cell wall
strength. The first article is a very
good explanation on why calcium is so important to growing Atlantic Giant
Pumpkins. The other two address calcium and plants in general and they are
worth the read as well.
pH determines how
much of the nutrients in the soil are available to the plant. Too low, nutrients
can't be absorbed. Too high nutrients can't be released from the soil. 6-7.5 is
the suggested range. 6.7-7.0 is considered the “sweet spot” by many. 6.9 is the
target for me. Lime and wood ash increases pH, sulfur and peat lowers pH. Below is a good article on pH.
550-650 sq ft
per plant is optimal for plants to reach potential (22-25 feet wide x 25 feet
If you have a hard pan, consider using a sub-soiler plow to break it up.
Add compost or chopped leaves (about 2 inches)
Add about 1 inch of manure
Adjust pH to between 6.7-7.0 using Lime or sulfur
Add unsulfured molasses at the rate of 1 pint per 2 gallons, with a watering can or pump sprayer, about 30 gallons on 1000 sq ft.
Tilling is optional
Alternate to above – plant winter rye and till in the spring (green manure).
Below is what I did to get my patch ready. My selected patch has full sun from 10:00am to 30 minutes prior to sundown for entire season. The area selected is higher than surrounding area and has only had grass planted on it for the last 30+ years. Grass clippings were never removed and as far as I know, no fertilizer or other chemicals have ever been applied. The soil type for the first 22-24 inches is very dark heavy loam/silt. The soil drains ok, sticks to your shoes when very wet and can get really hard when really dry.
I hand turned soil 2 feet deep putting the sod beneath 18 inches of dirt. Below is a description of how I did this.
First I took off the sod from a strip about 3 feet wide. (about 4-5 inches deep) and set it aside. I then dug down 1.5
feet and set it aside in a pile on one corner about 5 feet deep. (At this point
if you have a very hard base (subsoil) it would be recommended to use a garden
fork to loosen it a little, you don't have to turn it, just stick the fork in a
few inches and pry it up a little. This is called double digging and will help
with drainage and give the roots a better chance in the loosened sub soil. I
didn't have a hard pan base, so I skipped this step).
Then I started on next 3 ft section along the edge of this one and removed the sod. But instead of putting it aside, I placed it with grass side down in the trench that was dug on the last pass. After removing the sod, I went back and dug down 18 inches, putting dirt on top of upside down sod. This left a trench for the next row. I repeated this until the desired patch size was reached. At the end, I placed the first removed sod in last trench upside down and moved the dirt from large pile to cover it and fill in the last trench. Most people think I'm crazy for all of the work, but I believe when done correctly, you will greatly decrease the weeds as well as loosen the soil. It also creates somewhat of a raised bed – about 6 inches higher than it originally was. The sod will attract worms and decompose, turning into organic matter to improve the soil quality.
1st year I was behind
the curve and
everything was done in the spring. The amounts will change depending on the
results of your soil tests and are included only as an example. Some may not be
needed at all. Others might be replaced with something else.
I added (to 1100 sq feet)
80lbs Gypsum – calcium and sulfur (adds Ca
without changing pH)
100lbs Alfalfa Meal – Nitrogen source and natural fungicide
25 lbs blood meal (12-0-0)
48 lbs Bone Meal (4-12-0) – also a good source of Ca and helps soil tilth (structure).
50 lbs Lignite (Humic Acid)
2 bags GrubX (systemic insecticide – Merit)
1/2 bag Bayer Fungicide
4 cubic feet Miracle Gro Potting soil (2 cu ft bag at each plant site)
50lbs 6-24-24 fertilizer
5lbs Calcium nitrate at each planting site
1lb Epsoma Bio-tone starter plus at each planting site (this has to be added during transplant -- Mycorrhizae has to attach to root immediately or will die)
I started in fall and is basically same as my first year, but more because patch is bigger (2922 sq feet –for 5 plants) plus a few things.
40 lbs granulated dolomitic lime
160 lbs of gypsum – pH is low so I had to add lime which also adds calcium, so I cut back on the gypsum
96 lbs bone meal
15 lbs kelp meal
100 lbs humic acid
75 lbs 6-24-24 fertilizer
about 10-12 gallons of wood ashes
3-4 inches of finely chopped leaves over entire patch
1 gallon of molasses mixed with 30 gallons of water sprayed on the leaves
On 3 plant sites I added the following to see what the difference would be for more organic matter, better drainage. Cornmeal is for fungus protection and nitrogen for fall/winter microbes and worms:
100 lbs of cornmeal
2 cubic yards sand
1 cubic yard topsoil
3 cubic yards mushroom compost
Everything was tilled in several times -- 8-10 inches deep. Soil is very loose, I sink about 6 inches when walking in the patch. In the Spring, I will retest soil and add recommendations plus the following
35 lbs kelp meal
200 lbs alfalfa meal
50 lbs blood meal
4 bags grubex
1 bag bayer fungicide
Subdue – for Pythium control
Cleary3336F– for Fusarium control
At planting site (6ft circle) I will add :
2 cu ft bag potting soil
(probably won't use miracle gro – have heard some bad things about it can
1 TBLS BioEndo Plus Mycorrhizae (from Holland's) sprinkled on the roots at transplant time.
3 lbs calcium nitrate
5 lbs fish meal
1 lb Epsoma Bio-tone Starter Plus
Sprayer or fogger
A pump sprayer will work but a mister fogger is a huge time saver. Since you need to spray something every night, more than 2 plants a fogger is a necessity for competitive growing.
Electric ones are reasonably priced (this
link is just for the picture and description) do a search to find better
prices. More than 2 plants will still take a large chunk of time to spray
Gas powered ones greatly reduce the time, but are pricey. Many people have told me that it is the best investment that they have made toward competitive growing.
Stihl (This is what most big time growers use)
King I have ordered one of these. Only one person that I know has one and he hasn't used it yet, but the price is much better and specification wise it looks very comparable. I will update this after I have tested it out.
Some people have made their own using a leaf blower and a pump sprayer. By drilling a hole in the end of the leaf blower tube to insert the sprayer nozzle through, then attaching the wand so you can press the trigger while carrying the blower. To me this seems cumbersome, and you have to carry two items as well as manipulate the blower trigger and the sprayer trigger.
Personal safety equipment
Water system (any one of combination of the following)
under the canopy sprinklers
Sevin – powder or liquid
Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub
Under the pumpkin
1 inch styrofoam (open pore white)
Go to weigh-offs or online at www.bigpumpkins.com and meet growers, watch the Seed Exchange Forum during the winter. Talk to them about their pumpkins. Ask if they will give you some seeds, get their address. In November, send a self-addressed, stamped(with at least $2.50 in postage) 4x8 or 6x9 bubble envelope inside of a regular manila envelope, with a note introducing yourself and requesting a couple of their seeds to grow for this year. If you ask for seeds, grow them! People give them away to be grown, not stashed away in a drawer and hoarded. They only have a limited supply. If they give them all away to people that don't grow them, then they don't have any to give someone who truly wants to grow them.
Seeds sales and auctions are the biggest money makers for
clubs to offer prize money at weigh-offs. Support your local club by joining,
donating your seeds for them to sell and buying seeds.
Visit club websites. Most have seeds for sale at a reasonable price. Seeds in higher demand, draw a higher price.
Participate in auctions on http://www.bigpumpkins.com/MsgBoard/ViewBoard.asp?b=26 , or live auctions held every Friday and Sat night, from Nov to Mar, in the chat room on www.bigpumpkins.com. The chat rooms are about halfway down in the left frame on the homepage. Auction chat rooms will be labeled and have around a hundred people in it. Each auction is posted on homepage and the Auction details will usually have their rules in it, but the general auction chat room rules are:
No chatter, only bidding
Bids are in $5 increments
Keep the bidding moving, long pauses between bids drag an auction with 30 lots out to longer than 3 hours.
If there are two bids for same price the first one displayed is accepted.
No underbids are accepted (you must bid higher than the current bid)
Some lots have multiple offerings. If there is more than one set, the winner has the option of buying as many as he wants at the winning price. If there are any left after he gets what he wants, the second bid is obligated to purchase one (or more if they like) at the price they bid. If there are still remaining sets it continues down the list until they are all gone.
An example: There
is a lot that has 3 sets of 4 seeds.
Bidder 1 wins with $40, Bidder 2 had bid $30, and bidder 3 had bid $25.
If Bidder 1 only takes one set at $40, Bidder 2 must buy at least one at $30.
If Bidder 1 and 2 only get one set each, Bidder 3 must buy the third set for $25.
Likewise, if Bidder 1 takes all 3 he pays $120 and Bidder 2 and 3 get nothing.
2010 list of auction dates http://www.bigpumpkins.com/ViewArticle.asp? id=138
Some people may consider it voodoo, but this is the way I decided on what day to start mine last year. Maximum length of fruit growth averages between 110 and 120 days. It takes between 50 and 60 days of plant growth before pollination. So I counted backwards from my weigh off 180 days, then I looked at the Farmer's Almanac for the closest best planting dates for above ground plants. (This is what my grandfather, father and I have always done to determine start dates. I truly believe it gives you the best dates for planting). The best date closest to my count made me start 3 days earlier.
According to the 2011 Farmer's Almanac, the best plant dates for Pumpkins in mid Ohio (zone 2) are May 3-16. Optimum dates for planting and transplanting are the 7th, 8th, 13th through 16th. My target dates will be starting my seeds on the 7th and transplanting into the garden on the 13th.
First and foremost, DO NOT USE TOO MUCH WATER, the seed will
rot instead of germinating.
Use PLAIN potting soil (no fertilizer).
Soil should be DAMP, not wet. Squeeze a hand full as hard as you can, ONE drop should be all you can squeeze out, 2 is one too many. No more water should be added throughout germination.
The best temp for soil during germination is between 85 and 90, with the optimum being 88 degrees.
You can build a very inexpensive incubator with a 25 watt light bulb and an ice chest. You don't even have to ruin the ice chest – use the drain hole to run the wire through.
Use a thermometer like this to monitor the SOIL temp of the pot -- not the air temp (Wal-Mart and Kmart sell one in the outdoor grill section too).
For a fool proof hands off approach use a thermostat with a temperature probe inserted into the soil to make sure it doesn't get too hot.
No matter the method start this a couple of days early so you can get the temperature adjusted to stay in the correct range and warm everything up before you start.
Some people use a heat mat instead of a light bulb.
Last year I added a dimmer switch on my light so I could adjust if it got too high, without having to turn it totally off and get too cold. There was quite a bit of adjusting, but it was only for 2 days. Next year I will add the thermostat to control the light.
- Only work with one seed at a time so you don't get them mixed up.
- Label all pots and containers to keep track of which seed is which – a Popsicle stick works well – this is important when you are working with several different seeds so you can guarantee the genetics of your seeds for next year.
increase success of germination, it is advisable to file or sand the edge
of the seeds. This will weaken the seed hull,
make it easier for water to penetrate, and for the seedling to emerge. DO
NOT SAND THE TIP. Remove about a 1/16th of an inch. Just until it looks
kind of like a sandwich. If you go too far you can damage it.
Below are some pictures showing the stages of sanding the seed.
The edge before sanding
The edge after sanding
Stop before you get this far. Stop as soon as you a thin line in the center of where you are sanding or you might damage it.
An Unsanded seed split open. You can see how much you need to take off, about 1/16th of an inch
The tip of the seed, DO NOT DAMAGE This is where the root comes through and where the embryo is
- Soak in 3% peroxide for 30 minutes.
- Soak in 80-90 degree mixture of 1 tsp seaweed in 8oz (1 cup) de-chlorinated water for 6 hours, this speeds up the process by days. Mine germinated and poked up through the soil in about 30 hours.
- Dust seed until coated with a good fungicide – I used captan.
- Plant seed 3/8 below surface, tip down or laying flat, in plain damp potting soil (no fertilizer) in at least a 1 qt container, if it will be more than 3-4 days before transplanting you need to use a bigger container accordingly so that the seedling doesn't become root bound, as this will slow it down. DON'T pack the soil.
After they sprout, you MIGHT have to remove the seed hull.
I did on a couple of mine, the others shed it by
themselves. Be VERY careful the sprout is very fragile.
Keep the plant indoors in a 70-80 degree environment.
Put a florescent grow light 3-4 inches from the seedlings until the first true leaf appears. I used a 4ft shop light with 1 aquarium/plant bulb and one full spectrum “daylight” bulb. This was left on until seed leaves had no more yellow (about 24 hours), then were put on a timer that was 18 hours on and 6 off until transplanted. The 4 ft light worked well because it will sit across the ice chest with the lid removed – I had to elevate the pots with a brick for the first day or two to get the plant within 3 inches.
Here is something that I will be experimenting with this
winter with some test seeds.
If it works on the test seeds I might try it on one of my plants to see if it has merit, but I also have some reservations, because ultimately you are sacrificing stoutness for length and my observation over the years on plants in general is stoutness equals a healthier plant, but it is worth a try.
Seedlings need to be set in the ground before they get root
bound or it will slow them down. Depending on the size of the pot this can be
from 3 days to 2 weeks after they first sprout. But not before the first “True
leaf” appears. The initial two “leaves” that appear are called cotyledons and
are functionally similar to leaves. However, true leaves and cotyledons are
developmentally distinct. Cotyledons are formed during embryogenesis, along
with the root and shoot meristems, and are therefore present in the seed prior
to germination. True leaves are formed after germination from the shoot apical
meristem, which is responsible for generating subsequent aerial portions of the
plant. It is important to mark the side of the container with tape or white out
or something on the side of the 1st “True leaf” when it appears.
This will be the side that you use to determine which direction the plant will
grow when transplanting. The roots on these plants are extremely vigorous. Some
use a 1 qt pot and set them out 4-5 days after
sprouting. For mine, in a 5.5 inch pot, 8 days was almost too long, but a later
than expected cold spell made me keep them in for a couple of extra days. The
roots had completely surrounded the pot by the time I transplanted them. I
transplanted my backups into 2 gallon pots, so I could keep them inside longer,
in case it was still too cold for the ones I set out. The roots were just
starting to poke through to the edge on them at 12 days.
Expose the plants to indirect sunshine and outside temps for a couple of more hours each day for 1-3 days prior to transplanting. If transplanting into a hoop house this is less important because the hoop will filter the sun and raise the temps during the day. The important part about using a hoop house is to open it enough during the day that the temps don't get too high. On a sunny day, they can easily reach 100 degrees and this will kill the tender seedling.
The plant site:
After final tilling and prior to transplanting, it is a good idea to lay boards down to walk on. This will distribute your weight over a larger area and keep the soil from getting compacted. Longer and wider boards distribute your weight over a larger area. Most growers do not walk in their patch at all, except on boards. In a 6 foot circle around planting site and rake/till in:
1 bag of potting soil.
3 lbs of Calcium Nitrate
3 lbs of Fish meal
1-3 lb Bio-tone Starter Plus
In planting hole:
1 TBLS Mycorrhizae (make sure that it touches the exposed roots)
Plant seedling with 1st “True leaf” pointed AWAY from desired direction that you want the vine to grow, at about a 30 degree angle (toward the direction that you want the vine to grow) up to the bottom of, but not burying, the seed leaves.
If planting in early spring when nights are still cool (prior to May 15th-20th), creating a mini- greenhouse will give it a good head start by warming up the ground during the day and holding in heat longer for the night. This should be set up a week or so prior to planting to start warming the soil. Black plastic and heating cables can be used as well. Jugs of colored water and a light bulb will help retain heat through the night too. I plan on trying the heating cables in the coming year.
Consider a wind break to protect the young plants from severe storms that are typical in the late spring/early summer. This will keep the young plant from rolling over and breaking. Snow fence, construction site silt screen, construction site orange mesh fence are commonly used for this purpose.
Take 3-4 10 ft stalks of ½ or ¾ PVC and stick ends 6 to 8 inches in soil about 3 feet apart to form a hoop. Cover with row cover (some people use plastic – but it gets hotter inside) and clamp to PVC hoops – you can get clamps like this. Be sure to open the ends up on a sunny day as temps can reach 100 degrees very quickly and cook the plant in just a few minutes setting you back several weeks.
Perfect soil conditions for growing are 50% dirt, 25% air, and 25% water. Too much water will replace air and cause anaerobic conditions which cause disease and rot, and limit the roots ability to take in nutrients. Not enough water limits the nutrients taken in by the roots. 1 inch of water per week, split evenly every day, is recommended starting amount – in perfectly drained soil – to grow to fullest potential. If your soil drains too much more will be needed, if your soil doesn't drain well you will need less or you will have more disease and rot problems. Continuous consistent watering and feeding is essential to get maximum growth. If growth spurts are allowed due to dry and then wet conditions pumpkin WILL crack. This is a very good message thread on watering. Another great article that should be read.
Calculate the size of your patch in square feet
length x width = total square feet
total square feet divided by the square feet in an acre (43560) = your size in acres
your size in acres x number of gal to provide an acre with one inch of water (27154) = your number of gallons for 1 inch
your number of gallons for 1 inch divided by 7 = number of gallons daily to equal 1 inch per week
Adjust from here more or less using the feel test .
The numbers on commercial fertilizer indicate percentage of
NPK that it contains.
N Nitrogen – encourages plant growth, some nitrogen is also the carrier for other nutrients (too much nitrogen can cause fruit failure).
P Phosphorus – encourages root growth
K Potassium – encourages fruit growth
micro nutrients are also important
Regular scheduled feeding in equal amounts permits steady growth and decreases surges that can cause splits. Most growers suggest daily foliar feeding, some use a fertilizer injector in their drip systems and others use a combination of both. They all pretty much agree that small continuous feeding is better than bursts of higher doses.
The first month's fertilizer should have
high middle number for root growth
Next month a higher first number for plant growth
no fertilizer should be used for a week prior to and a week after pollination
4-6 weeks surrounding pollination (with exception of week on either side) should be a balanced fertilizer (like 20-20-20)
next month use a fertilizer with very little nitrogen but balanced P and K ( like 2-12-12)
The last month us a high last number for increased fruit size (don't over do it or it will mature early and stop growing)
I applied a daily rotation from the following table (one item each day then repeat) as a foliar spray using an electric fogger. Last year I used http://www.advancesources.com/hurricane_fogger_.html This year I have upgraded to a gas sprayer because I am growing 5 plants. The electric fogger took about 30-60 minutes to spray 1 gallon on 2 plants (depends on size) and the distance that it would reach was about 10-12 feet. The gas one will apply 1 gallon every 2-4 minutes at a distance of up to 30 feet. When the plants are small I will probably still use the electric fogger. Once they are larger than 10x10 each, I will switch to the gas powered one to reduce the amount of time required to spray every day. I will update this as I get more experience using the sprayer to relay whether it is worth the money.
Using a fogger allowed me to disperse things better with smaller amounts of products being used and easier to get on the underside of the leaves. You only want to get the leaves damp -- not dripping -- for best results. It is also advised to spray after the direct sun is off of the leaves to prevent burning. I used 1oz per gallon for fertilizers and followed recommended doses for pesticides and fungicides. A gallon covered my 1100 sq ft patch just about perfectly.
Oakland nursery -- Dublin
Vigor Cal – 5 % Calcium
This year I will use Nutrical
local grower gave me a pint for the year
Vigor Phos Cal 0-13-0
I still need to find a substitute for this
local grower gave me a pint for the year
40% Skim milk
1 qt skim milk plus 1 ½ qts de-chlorinated water
Fungicides (daconil, companion, bayer complete disease control, once a week in rotation)
Lowes, Oakland nursery, extremepumpkinstore.com (companion)
Lowes, Oakland nursery
Fertilome 9-59-8 1st 4 weeks
Oakland Nursery or Straders
miracle gro organic choice 8-0-0 week 4-6
local store don't remember maybe Walmart
Jack's 20-20-20 week 8-12
Oakland Nursery or Straders
Jack's Blossom Booster 10-20-30 week 12-16
Oakland Nursery or Straders
Potassium Carbonate 0-0-25 week 16- end
might not continue this – I think this is what stopped my growth early
Once a week I was drenching with 1 oz per gallon, covering the entire plant area and 5-6 ft beyond with about a gallon per 10-20 sq ft with a rotation of:
Once every 10 days as a drench
25 gallons water from well or de-chlorinated
3 cups worm castings
½ cup alfalfa meal (don't use pellets if they have salt added)
½ cup Epsoma Bio-tone starter plus
6 oz non-sulfured molasses
3 oz Neptunes Harvest seaweed
Brew for 2.5-3 days and use immediately!
Brewer is an air pump, pumping air through a submerged soaker hose, held down by a PVC frame, in a plastic container (initially a 35 gallon rubber maid tub – later on I found a plastic 55 gal drum and doubled the recipe). Suspend a paint strainer (from Lowes or Home Depot) with the solids in it from the PVC frame where the bubbles will agitate it.
Next year I will have a Fertilizer
Injector to administer these during watering instead of drenches,
and a "dirty water" pump and a garden hose to pump the water from the
ACT brewer and spray directly on the patch instead of carrying buckets and
drenching by hand.
A big time grower suggested using Aerated Compost Tea every 3 days. So I am stepping it up next year.
To prevent disease, anytime a vine gets a wound, either by you or nature, spray it with a solution of 6% peroxide, then treat with a good fungicide (I use captan – some people use sulfur). Keep it dry and watch it closely. Setting up a fan to blow directly on it will aid in keeping it dry. Retreat as needed. When trimming vines (described below) it is less likely that a problem will occur and if it does only a small portion of the plant is affected, so usually burying the area is the best solution. On the main vine, it is MUCH more important to monitor the area closely, because if a disease gets into the wound, the entire plant could be lost. One thing I learned about treating a wound or diseased portion of the plant is that time is not your friend. Act quickly and aggressively, if it doesn't get better quickly, seek advice from experienced growers. Post pictures somewhere (creating a diary on www.bigpumpkins.com is a good place), then post a link and ask for help on the Pests, Diseases and Other Problems message board. Lots of good folks and great advise on these boards daily. If a disease portion is discovered, and treatment doesn't help immediately, removal of that portion is almost always the best course of action because it will spread -- quickly.
Getting the vines to go where you want them is important so you can control growth, inspect for insects and disease, weed, water and feed without damaging the plant. At every leaf junction there will be a leaf, a tendril, a flower (male or female), 2 tap roots (one on top and one on the bottom), and a vine. As the plant grows there will be a main vine that comes straight off of the plant. Secondary vines are the vines coming off of the main, and are necessary for plant and fruit growth. These are the “Food Factory” and need to me kept healthy to realize the potential in the plant.. Tertiary vines are the vines that come off of a secondary. These need to be removed as close to the secondary as possible (without damaging the secondary) as soon as they start to grow. Treat the cut with 6% peroxide and fungicide immediately. They are only useful when something happens to a secondary and you need to replace it. Otherwise they take energy away from the growing fruit. The secondary vines may need a little direction to keep them manageable. Usually they are directed at right angles to the main and kept as parallel to each other as possible (so you can get between the vines without stepping on them if necessary. Using bamboo stakes is a good way to gradually direct them in the direction that you want them to grow. Crossing 2 stakes to form an X over the vine will help draw it down (they sometimes want to grow skyward) and when you have it where you want it will help hold it down until the roots at the junctions are established. This is important to keep the plant from rolling over in a high wind. NEVER move a vine until the sun has been shining on it for 3-4 hours! It will snap like a fresh green bean if it is cold. Only move the vine a few inches a day for the same reason above. The vines need to be moved prior to the tap roots taking hold – usually in about 2-3 days. If the soil is loose, you can gently pull the vine up after the root has formed, but disturbing or damaging the root will slow things down. These roots are the life of the plant, be careful.
Burying these secondary, aka side, vines is a common practice and will do several things. First, it will help physically anchor the vine. Second, it will allow an additional tap root to grow from the top of the vine at each junction. Third, it will protect the vine from the dreaded squash vine borer (which will kill the vine unless you catch it early and extract it). The best way to bury them is to keep the soil tilled ahead of them and dig a trench about 2-3 inches deep. Train the vines into the trench. Once it is where you want it cover the vine level with the surrounding soil.
In addition to burying the vines, the majority of competitive growers will add a teaspoon of Mycorrhizae at each junction. This is a good fungus that helps protect the root from disease and aides in its absorption of water and nutrients. Find out more about mycorrhizae here or here. It is important that the mycorrhizae come in contact with the root to work properly, otherwise it will die in short order.
Another important step in getting the most out of your efforts. These vines left wild will grow thousands of square feet. In nature they are designed to grow multiple fruits. Since we are manipulating the plant to only grow one fruit, we need the energy to go to the fruit instead of making new vines. There is a delicate balance between having enough to get the most out of the plant and keeping it healthy, not having enough to get the most potential, and having too much plant that the plant has to use energy for the plant and not the fruit. The general consensus is that between 500-750 sq feet is the optimal plant size for competitive growing with the side vines being between 10-12 feet long and the pumpkin set on the main vine between 10-15 feet. When the secondary reaches the desired length, cut it at a leaf junction and treat the cut with 6% peroxide and fungicide immediately.
There are exceptions to this generality and people try new things all of the time. The 2009 World Record 1725 Harp was set at 9 feet on the main and the secondary vines were longer. Depending on future successes, this may become “the norm”. For the most part the first female bloom is no closer than 9-10 feet, and sometimes it doesn't pollinate properly, so a lot of it has to do with where you are able to successfully pollinate a pumpkin. There have been some that can't get a pumpkin to set on the main before 20-30 feet. Huge pumpkins have been grown this far out. There are others that will train an earlier secondary to become the new main if the main gets too long before a pumpkin is set. All of these techniques are found through research and trail and error.
In order to manipulate the genetics to “make a better pumpkin” the cross has to be guaranteed for someone to want to grow the seed in the future. If the flowers are not protected from insects, the seeds are “open pollinated” and generally not desirable because there is no way to guarantee what the genetic background is, so we hand pollinate them. The female flower is identified by the small fruit behind the blossom. The blossom will be ready about 10 days after it first forms. To protect the blossoms from getting too hot a shade cloth over it is a good idea. Pollinating on days hotter than 85 degrees has its own challenges, that are met with using shade, ice and fans. The blossoms, both male and female, swell and change color from green to yellow-orange the day before they are ready to open. At this point, collect 3 or 4 males from the plant that you want to pollinate with, put them in a cup of water in the house. Being careful not to damage the blossom or fruit, tie the female blossom shut with a bread tie or small zip tie and cover it with a paper cup (6oz works well, too small or big won't protect the flower). I practiced on a couple that first come on a secondary, until I was comfortable with the process. The next morning, at sunrise is the best time, carefully remove the petals from the male blossoms. Remove the cup and tie from the female blossom. If it is ready, the petals will spring open. I have had some success opening the blossoms because of how early I had to go to work. I think this might have contributed to the seeds not being fully formed. I don't think I will do this again, unless absolutely necessary, probably better to wait until blossom opens naturally. Protect the blossoms from the bees while you are working (or it will be open pollinated) they WILL try to get in. Insert the male blossom into the female blossom and rub the pollen onto all parts of the female. Most people agree that 3 or 4 males is better than one. Then tie the female back shut and place the paper cup over it. The day after pollinating, remove the petals completely from the female blossom. Leaving it intact will allow moisture to form and mold to grow, which will end in your pumpkin rotting before it is 10-15 days old.
Pollinating everything until you get one that you know is “the one” is the best strategy in my opinion. You can't grow it if it won't pollinate. I have read there are some that will pull a plant if they can't get one in the sweet spot (10-15 feet out on the main). To me, by this time, I have done a LOT of work and I want to get a fruit from my efforts. Maybe as time goes on I will change my thinking, but not for now.
At pollination the pumpkin will be between the size of a ping-pong ball and a racquet ball. Within 2 days of pollination it should be about grapefruit size and shiny. If it ever gets dull or starts to get soft the pollination didn't take. Up until it gets to about soccer to basketball size (9 - 10 days) it can still abort (stop growing) so extreme caution should be used when handling it. Once you think there is a possibility of keeping the pumpkin you should try to position it as described below. After you get 2 or 3 pollinated on the main vine, usually one of them will be growing the fastest. This is usually the best one to pick. Some long time growers have advised me that the 2 nd one is typically “The One”. Once you have picked the one to keep, in addition to creating the “ S curve” you will have to put the material that you want under it before it is so big you can't move it.
After 10 - 15 days start removing the other ones. Remove them one at a time (some people take 2 days to remove each one by cutting only half of the stem per day) so the plant doesn't send a spurt to the remaining one.
These pumpkins can grow so fast that they CAN break the stem from the vine if the vine can't rise up or move due to the roots holding it down or pulling away (trying to stretch) as the pumpkin grows. It generally just cracks, but at that point it won't be able to grow to its full potential. To eliminate this problem cut the root at the 2 junctions prior to and after the pumpkin (after you know it is the keeper) and SLOWLY start raising the vine as it grows and place something like Styrofoam (swim noodles cut to length work well) under it. Try to keep it level with the pumpkin. If you go too far it will tip back and grow on the blossom end and if you don't go far enough it will tip forward and crush the vine. I went too far on my first one and it is tipping away from the vine. I ended up having enough slack, but I won't make that mistake again. A 3rd root might have to be cut later, but don't cut it until it is necessary. The roots closest to the pumpkin have the best chance of delivering the most to it.
To eliminate stem stress an "S" curve is slowly
created with the pumpkin on the outside of the center curve. This will let the
vine move as the pumpkin grows instead of trying to stretch it (which doesn't
Here is a picture of one that I did last year. http://www.bigpumpkins.com/Diary/DiaryViewOne.asp? eid=136019
Description of picture:
The vine runs from right to left.
The pumpkin's stem is the heavier yellow one coming straight down to the bottom of the picture.
At every junction you have a leaf, a side vine, a tap root, and at most junctions, either a male or female flower.
There are 5 junctions in the picture.
The leaves have been removed from the junction where the pumpkin is and the one after the pumpkin (to the left). If you don't do this they will scratch the pumpkin when it is young and a huge scar will occur.
Because they are so fragile and easy to break, I would suggest practicing on some side vines that are ready to be terminated prior to setting a pumpkin on the main vine and it being "for real" because if you snap the main, you will set yourself back by days or even weeks getting a side vine trained back around to make a new main.
I started 2
days before pollinating ( so the vine was about 4 feet
past the female ) -- the longer you wait the more vines, side vines, etc you have to move along with it. I started back at the
leaf node before the female, stick a bamboo stake in the ground on the same
side as the female and around 4 pm after the sun had been shining on it all day
(if you do this when the vine is cold it will snap like a string bean), I
raised the vine up all the way to the stake and moved the tip toward the female
about a foot. Try to "feel" the resistance and if it starts binding
STOP. I think the trick is to not pull on the vine too much and hold it as far
out toward the tip as possible (like the last foot) so that if it starts
binding there is a lot of vine between your hand and where you want it to bend
and it will transfer the bend along that whole stretch and not just snap. After
about 4-5 days you will have turned is nearly 90 degrees.
Then put a stake directly opposite the female blossom and follow the same routine until you get the angle that you want.
The side vines are A LOT more fragile, because they are very young. I broke, cracked, split, at or kinked 3 different ones until I figured out that you can only move it about 1-2 inches per day away from the blossom. Even on this side, you can see a spot about 5 inches from the stem where there is a scar from over stressing this one. One I did later (but I'm not keeping that pumpkin) turned out perfect. This one had a VERY long stem, so it turned out fine in the long run.
I have seen several pumpkins that have grown without nearly this amount of curve, but almost everyone cuts the side vine at the pumpkin and many terminate the main vine at the pumpkin and I wanted to keep them both for extra feeding and to be able to set another one after this one if there was a problem.
Keeping the pumpkin dry, cool and shaded are important factors in getting it to grow to its full potential. Putting a white sheet on the pumpkin is done by some people. Others build a shade structure with a tarp (silver is best) and PVC pipe over it. This is necessary to protect it from the direct sun and is important to keep the skin from aging too fast or sun burning in the hot afternoon sun (in nature the leaves are supposed to provide this shade). A tarp structure is my preference. It allows close continuous inspection of the fruit without having to remove the sheet or anything touching it and it protects the immediate area from hail, or excessive moisture. If you choose to use a sheet, don't leave a wet sheet on the fruit continuously or mold and rot might begin. The skin of these pumpkins is very delicate and any small scratch or abrasion will turn into an ugly scar at maturity.
- Make 3 15 foot lengths out of ¾ PVC.
- Cut 4, ¾ PVC “T”s so that the top – long part is sliced half off and it makes a cup shape that you will use to T another piece to it without cutting it. The reason I did this is the T was the weak spot when I actually glued a T in and I had some failures of the joint. This method solved that problem and makes the structure capable of being dismantled and stored for the winter, thus being reusable for years.
- On 6 pieces of 3 ft rebar, tie a 3- 4 ft piece of nylon twine about 1 ft from the end. Make sure it is wrapped enough times and tight enough it won't slip.
- Drive 3 pieces of the rebar, evenly spaced , lined up with one edge of the tarp that you will be using (I used a 6x8 ft silver tarp) about 3.5 feet from the center of the pumpkin into the ground about 2 feet, with the nylon twine closest to the ground (so that it is a foot below the surface).
- Drive other 3 pieces on the other side mirroring the first side.
- Bend the PVC and place over the rebar making 3 hoops.
- Make 2 center stabilizers using the cut “T”s and short ¾ pieces of PVC to go between the hoops.
- Drill a hole on either side of the “T” through the hoop and tie with a tie wrap or wire. This will keep the structure stable in one direction while the bend of the hoops will hold it the other direction.
- Drill a hole about 18 inches from the ground on the bent hoops.
- Tie the nylon twine that is attached to the rebar though the PVC to hold it down in a wind storm.
- Drill holes in the PVC and attach the tarp to the hoops with tie wraps. I used two in every hole to make sure they held. We had some 70 MPH winds and my shade structures withstood them all.
Growth slows at the end of the year due to cooler temps and shorter days. A couple of things are done to try and counteract these factors and extend the growth period.
When the nights get cooler than 60 degrees, cover the fruit with a heavy blanket at night. Be sure you remove it if the daytime temps are expected to be above 70. The theory is that keeping the pumpkin at a constant warm temperature, it will grow longer. BUT if it gets too warm it can sprout the seeds or even rot inside.
From what I have found through research, 13-15 hours of light is optimal for growth. When natural daylight is shorter than this period, some people use lights to lengthen the day. The light spectrum produced by High pressure sodium lights is the correct spectrum to increase fruit growth. With LED technology, there are LED grow lights available now. I plan on getting a High pressure sodium light set up for one plant and an LED setup for another for next season so I can see for myself what the effect is.
Keeping the plant healthy is another important part of getting late season growth. Protect it from frost, with row cover. If you get an unexpected light frost, you might be able to reduce the damage by spraying the plant with water before the sun hits the plant.
For Pumpkins less than 400 lbs, 6-8 strong guys and a heavy tarp or blanket will work. Tip the pumpkin back and push about 1/2 of the tarp under it, then tip it the other way and pull the excess out. Station everyone evenly around the tarp and lift together. Keep in mind that if a 300-400 lb pumpkin falls on someone it will seriously injure them. They make lifting tarps with straps that make it much easier to hang on to it. Anything bigger than that, will require a lift ring or straps and a tripod or tractor with a hydraulic lift on it.
3 - 16ft 4x4
1 - 3ft rebar
3 - 2ft rebar
1 - 6ft chain rated higher than your estimated Pumpkin weight
1 - chain hoist rated higher than your estimated Pumpkin weight
1 - Lift ring
Fresh, green, soaking wet, treated 4x4s WILL warp, and I haven't found any way to keep them from it. I strapped mine together and parked my truck on them and they still warped. Not too bad, but I'd look for some that were dry and straight and maybe untreated, if I were you. I have also heard of someone making one out of pipe but haven't seen the plan and wonder how much it would lift. We have lifted 4 so far with ours. The biggest has been 1180 and it didn't look or feel unsafe. I lifted the back of my Isuzu Rodeo completely off of the ground with an inline scale attached. The weight was 1290 before I stepped on the hitch, then it went over 1500, so I feel sure it is safe. I've been told that Quinn Werner uses this setup and he grows a lot bigger than I am so far.
Beginning the layout
Lay 2 of the 4x4s out on the ground in as flat a spot as possible in the shape of a V.
Measure your truck or trailer for height and width required to be able to back under the tripod. For example at the top of the truck bed on my truck is 4.5 ft high and 6 ft wide to the outside of the fenders. And you must allow for some clearance to be able to back under it safely, but you want it as straight up and down as possible to be able to take the load. Don't worry there is a little play depending on how you secure the top.
Take the measurements that you got above and measure up from the wide part of the V the height that you measured plus 1 ft. (it will sink into the ground some when you put the load on it)
At the measured height adjust the width to your width measurement plus 12 inches. (So I made mine 7ft wide --inside measurement --at 5.5 feet up). You can use the 3rd 4x4 along the bottom to make a triangle and an 8 ft 2x4 or something to find the correct height to measure the width. After you get the width correct, make sure they are still touching at the point of the V.
Lay the 3rd 4x4 on top of the other two, centering it
Draw lines on either side of it to mark where you will cut the angle on the first two at the top so they fit together when assembled.
Cut on the lines.
Lay back out to ensure you have a good fit with correct spacing and center one is in center (doesn't have to be exact, but the closer the better)
Draw a straight line across the top of all three as low as possible to still be in the part where they all meet.
Drill a hole through each one using the line as a guide so the hole will line up. This is the hardest part and I screwed up a little on mine, but making the hole a little bigger than necessary helped correct the problem and making it too small makes it harder to assemble anyway. I drilled a 3/4 inch hole and used a 3 ft piece of rebar as my connector. I've seen some that use a bolt. With the chain around the top and the 4x4s flush against each other at an angle it isn't going to slip apart so I think the bolt is not necessary but use you own judgment.
To assemble and use
Lay the 4x4s out like a Y, with the wide part lined up with where you are going to back in and about 4-5 feet up centered on the pumpkin. Line the holes up and get the angles flush with the center beam.
Push rebar or bolt through all 3 4x4s.
Place a stake behind both wide legs.
Raise the middle up trying to drag the single leg to you and let the wide legs stay put.
When you get it over your head you can use a ladder to rest it on.
Attach the chain to it. I'm using grade 80 chain that is tested to 4500 lbs, make sure you know what the load limit is on the chain you are using, some is big but not as strong. If you get the chain too tight it will bind as you raise it up. You want the load to be on the 4x4s not the rebar and evenly distributed on all 3 not just on 2.
Hook the chain hoist to it (I wouldn't recommend a come-along -- I dropped an engine using a come along, haven't lifted anything with one since.
Now you can lift the single leg and push it toward the middle until you have the hoist centered over the pumpkin.
Add the lifting ring and lift away.
As long as you don't hit a leg while backing up it should work well.
Making notes of everything you do and why is a good way to go back and learn from your mistakes, repeat a process that worked, or make a better process the next time. If you are asking for help, good notes on something that you might not think about when asking, might trigger a response from the person trying to help you. I kept a daily diary. As good as I thought it was, now that I reread it, I find some things that I have had to research again so that I could create this document, because I didn't make them clear and concise enough to be able to relay the information to someone else.
Official Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) website:
How To's, Blogs, people's personal diaries, forums, chat with other Atlantic Giant Pumpkin growers, seed trading, seed auctions, weigh-off results, links to other sites. No membership fees (unless you want to support site via premium membership).
4 zone timer with 2 valves (additional valves sold separately)
How to grow World
Class Giant Pumpkins (1-3)
by Don Langevin
My 1st year patch 26x42 = 1092sq ft
1092 / 43560 = .025 acres
So my 1st year size in acres was .025
Anything that is measured for an acre I multiplied that number x .025 to find out how much I was supposed to use. My second year patch is L shaped 25x50 = 1250 sq ft + 44x38 = 1672 sq ft.
For a total of 2922 sq ft
2922 / 43560 = .067 acres
So my 2nd year size in acres will be .067
Anything that is measured for an acre I will multiply that number x .067 to find out how much I will use.
1 inch of H2O per acre = 27,154
.025 x 27154=678.85
678.85 / 7 = 97 gallons a day for entire patch to get 1 inch of water per week
2nd year patch
.067 x 27154 = 1819.31
1819.31 / 7 = 259 gallons per day for entire patch to get 1 inch of water per week
Formula for Increasing Soil Calcium (Ca)
Lb. gypsum/acre = C.E.C. x (desired %Ca sat. - present %Ca sat) x 18
So for my patch
How to make 6% peroxide.
(what you buy at store is 3%)
You can get 27% peroxide at a pool supply store (oxidizer -- brand name Baquacil). Cut it with distilled water down to 6% by combining 4 oz of 27% peroxide and 13 oz of distilled water in a spray bottle and shake well.