Some call it a hobby; others say it's a sport. In the mid-1980s, the biggest pumpkins on record were about 400 pounds. Two years ago, however, an Oregon grower set a new world record with a 1,385-pounder. (Yes, these people are truly out of their gourds.) If growing tomatoes for your August salads just isn't exciting enough, you too can join in the pursuit of cultivating the largest fruit in the world.
Watering: A giant pumpkin is 80 percent water, so at minimum they'll need an inch of water a week (record-setters use even more). Keep the soil moderately moist at all times. Byron Siemers, a Green Bluff pumpkin grower for more than 20 years, says good mulches are the key. "How big they get just depends on the year," says Siemers, who relies on the skies for water, "and lately it's been hot and dry." But in your backyard, your hose can overcome such obstacles; misting the plant is advised during the hottest days.
Fertilizing: Because overfeeding can ruin a plant, applying fertilizer is an art form. "There are various methods of feeding pumpkins," says Connie Castle of Northwest Seed & amp; Pet. "Everybody who grows them has their own secret." She didn't say more. (To succeed, in other words, develop your own secret.)
Step One: Buy Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds, the only seeds used by record-setters. Grow seedlings inside in a warm place.
Step Two: Transplant to a spot that gets full sun with rich soil (lots of manure, a pH of about 6.6). You should get seedlings in the ground before July 10.
Step Three: Wait for pumpkin sets to develop. Pros don't wait for Mother Nature; they hand-pollinate. You may have seven or eight little pumpkins after a few weeks. Select one that has its stem growing in at a perpendicular angle. Make sure that it's nice and round and growing fast. Then pinch off the rest.
Step Four: Watch your pumpkin grow. Big ones can gain 25 pounds a day in the hot part of the summer. Then, if you think you've got a winner, you can enter it in the county fair, where they'll weigh it. Your first try will likely be a learning experience; a 300-pounder is a success. If you do manage to grow a pumpkin the size of a Hyundai, however, there's only one thing to do come Halloween: Carve it out and invite the neighborhood to come over to play inside your jack-o'-lantern!
Publication date: 06/10/04