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Growing that giant pumpkin

Pumpkins come in all sizes, but many try for the largest they can grow. John Zvirovski / The Sun

There are many memories of getting my garden ready for growing that perfect pumpkin once the fall season arrives. It was something I always looked forward to and planned for all winter long. Halloween is now around the corner and what better time to show off that amazing and grand product from the garden on your front porch during that fun evening for all to admire.

Pumpkins are only native to North America. Of course since their conception, they are now grown in all continents of the world except for Antarctica for obvious reasons. The carving of pumpkins today is called the jack-o-lantern as the candlelight inside them resembles the flickering of lights with that same name that appeared over the peat bogs of Ireland long ago.  

Growing pumpkins today can be a challenging endeavor with all the varieties available. They are also grown for many different reasons for the gardener. Some like to grow them for baking or eating, while others like to see if they can grow the biggest pumpkin for contests around the country. If you are like me, you strictly grow them for the size, decorating purposes, and to use the largest ones for jack-o-lanterns at Halloween.

Pumpkins are not difficult to grow, but they do need space as some vines can grow up to 25 feet in length. They prefer at least 6 hours of sunlight a day, plenty of water and a good organic fertilizer every three to four weeks, as they are heavy feeders.

Plant your pumpkin seeds in mounds according to direction on the package and allow 8 to 10 feet between mounds for ample growing room. Once your seedlings have emerged, thin them to three plants per mound. Once the vines are mature enough to produce flowers, you will notice two types of flowers blooming. There are the male flowers that bloom on a thin stem and are strictly known as the pollinators. These flowers will not produce pumpkins. The flowers that have a bulb at the base are the female flowers and if pollinated, these will become pumpkins in the future.

Pumpkins can take anywhere from 110 to 140 frost-free days to produce mature fruit depending upon the variety. Most varieties turn a brilliant orange color in the fall time when they are ripe for picking.

There are many types of pumpkins you can choose from in the market. ‘Jack Be Little’ is a small orange pumpkin used for ornamental purposes that is usually about 3 to 5 inches in size. You can also get the ‘Baby Boo’ variety, which is of the same size but a white color. Then there are pumpkins grown for eating and baking purposes such as the ‘Early Sweet Sugar’ and the ‘Jack of all Trades’ cultivars. ‘Lumina’ is a newer variety that produces nice 12-inch white pumpkins for something different. Then there are the pumpkins grown for the holiday jack-o-lanterns with ‘Ghost Rider, Connecticut Field and ‘Jack O Lantern’ varieties.

Let us not forget the pumpkins that only a few enthusiasts grow for size competitions; these would be the types like ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ and ‘Big Max’. These are the giant pumpkins that can grow anywhere from 100 pounds and up. In 1981, the largest pumpkin ever recorded was 460 pounds, but by 1994 the largest one weighed in at over 1,000 pounds. Just this past year there was a pumpkin that weighed over 2,600 pounds! I am not sure what you would do with these pumpkins after they have grown in your garden. They take a forklift and a flatbed truck to move around from one place to the other. I am sure they could make one heck of a pie, but I am not aware of an oven large enough to cook a pumpkin of this size! I have to admit, it would be fun to brag about and show people how big your pumpkin was that you grew in your garden … it would definitely be the talk of the neighborhood.

The art of growing the largest pumpkin means you have to obtain seed from a champion pumpkin from a previous year. Genetics is key when it comes to growing these monsters. Dill's Atlantic Giant still seems to produce some of the largest produce in the world. A dedicated schedule of water, fertilizer, rich soils and consistent temperatures are key to growing these items. Pumpkins are limited to two per vine, and many enthusiasts even cover their pumpkins at night to reserve a consistent warm temperature when cooler conditions arrive. Some have it down to an art where they encourage certain types of fungi to grow in the soil that make nutrients readily available to the vines themselves. Growing the monster has a lot to do with dedication and time. I'm sure there are many that have been met with disappointment in the end. I once grew a 78-pound pumpkin and thought I was doing really well, but it truly pales in comparison to what others can achieve.

Whatever the reasons you have for planting pumpkins in your garden, Halloween is the time of year where we can show them off due to size or carve a Jack-o-Lantern for a fun display.

Enjoy the tradition of the season this year with your family and friends and have fun with your pumpkin displays. Ah yes, the days will be getting shorter and the season of hibernation will soon arrive upon us all. Maybe I will use that 2,600-pound pumpkin to hibernate in, it would make the perfect hideaway.