Gardeners are always competing with each other.  They want to have the greenest lawn, be the first to have a new plant, or the first on the block to have a ripe tomato.  In the fall the competition is for the largest pumpkin. In order to settle who has the largest pumpkin, the pumpkin growers have formed The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth ( GPC ) that overseas and sanctions the results of over 80 weigh offs across the globe. hosts an interactive website that connects the giant pumpkin and squash community and has a record of the giant winners since 2005. . 

          I started writing about world record pumpkins in 2006. That year the record was 1,502# set by Ron Wallace of Rhode Island . In 2007 Joe Jutras of Scituate , Rhode Island hauled in the winner at 1,689# and a new world record. In 2009 the orange behemoth tipped the scales at 1,725# and another new world record. Christy Harp , a High School math teacher from Jackson Township , Ohio , grew the pumpkin with her husband, Nick . For Christy , growing gargantuan gourds has become a personal challenge since the eighth grade, and is now a bit of a hobby at the family farm. Last year she and her husband decided to have a little contest. Nick won the first year by 200# and last year she beat him by 400#. She said that at one point in August of 2009, the pumpkin was growing 33# a day. In 2010 the Guinness World Records confirmed that a massive pumpkin grown in Wisconsin officially is the world’s heaviest at 1819.5#. (1)

          Atlantic Giant” (Cucurbita maxima) seems to be the only variety of pumpkin that will create an enormous pumpkin. The original was developed from more standard-sized stock by a man in Nova Scotia named Howard Dill in the early 1970s. Present day growers of record giant pumpkins usually save their seeds and sell them at a pretty good price for one seed.

          Fall soil preparation is very important and includes adding lots of compost and/or composted manure to the bed.  According to Ohio State University “Growing giant pumpkins requires an early start. Seeds should be sown individually and started indoors in 12 inch peat pots about the end of April . Plants are ready for transplanting when the first true leaf is fully expanded. Granular fertilizers should be applied as a broadcast application over the soil surface and incorporated into the soil 4 to 6 inches deep a few days ahead of setting out transplants....A foliar feeding program should be started after pollination and fruit set have occurred. Follow label directions and continue application throughout the growing season.” (2) 

          Or you can start seeds outside in the garden in Southeast and South Central Nebraska when the soil is above 60 degrees F. A row cover can be used to protect the plants on cold nights. When the pumpkins are about 30# or the size of a volleyball, one grower selects the one or two best, removes the rest, and applies 100 gallons of water per day. During the hot summer he even puts a tent over the pumpkin to keep it from getting sun scald. 

          According to The U.S. Department of Agriculture about 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced in this country each year. Estimates also show that the number of acres planted to pumpkins has been growing over the last couple of decades. Pumpkins, which are thought to be native to North America , are a warm weather crop, which means they grow best in the summer months with temperatures in the low to mid-80s Fahrenheit according to George Janowiak , a past president of the Illinois Pumpkin Growers Association. Illinois , Indiana , Ohio , Pennsylvania , and California are the top pumpkin producing states in the United States .

          Pumpkins can have problems. In 2009 an early frost in August killed off much of the Wisconsin crop. Also last year unusually high rain amounts crippled many crops in New England with Maine hit particularly hard. An early season heavy rain can soak a field and rot the seeds.  Therefore, seeds must be replanted which can leave a farmer under pressure to make the mid-fall harvest. Pumpkins seemed to have faired better this year in most areas of the United States .

          I did not raise giant pumpkins but did have fun raising white mini-pumpkins (Baby Boo). I also planted Butternut Squash ( Waltham ), Acorn Squash (Table Queen and Honey Bear). Last year I also had a few Pie Pumpkins (Small Sugar Pie) in the garden in addition to “Dinosaur Gourds, and some small gourds for Gladys . This year the vine borers took out all my orange mini-pumpkins and acorn squash. I try to protect my plants with insecticides but that is hard. Also I usually put a piece of 1 inch wood or a wood shingle under each fruit so the ground insects such as slugs do not climb inside and eat the fruit before I get it picked.

          One year I grew “Swan Gourds” for Gladys and the vines took over the garden. If you grow pumpkins, squash, and/or gourds make sure you have enough room. Ohio State University Extension recommends about 2500 square feet per plant for giant Pumpkins.(2) Also, if you plan on storing your harvest, make sure you have room to store them. Last year I had a couple Butternut squash keep until Memorial Day in the basement. I stored them at 60 to 65 degrees F. under a large triple sink. This year because of the warm fall I did not pick mine until just before Halloween as I wanted to make sure as many as possible were mature. I try to wait until the stem is brown and dry. I have 45 stored in plastic crates to enjoy this winter. I am sure some of them will start to spoil before we enjoy them as some did not have completely dry stems and they still have some green stripes on the fruit.

Reference:   1. Lincoln Journal Star October 22, 2010 , page A8

                   2. Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden , Ohio State                                   University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-1646-94

                   Other resources:     


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