Want an easy and big thing for your kidlings. Whether homeschooling or institutional schooling in buildings, if you have a home with a yard, this is a great project.
What you need: 4 foot by 4 foot area for the giant pumpkins; home depot has the large Dill’s Atlantic (most giants come from this type) or other pumpkin seeds like Big Max. But Burpee or some other national seed company is the best source for the maximum sized ginormous gourds. For the serious homeschool or public/private gardener students, know that seeds from the record sizes (current world record is 2323.7 pounds) go for $10 to $1000 A SEED!
The best way is to prepare the ground in the fall for a late winter planting (see Serious Contestant section below)
Dig out and backfill (use planting mix mixed with soil) the 2 foot square area; you ONLY WATER this area, keeping it soaked. The kids can do this and chart the growth
Plant three seeds hoping to get two good seedlings; if you read this and want a free one, first to text me at 714 267 1413 early September, you can have my last three seedlings.
Keep watering. If you can, once you have a promising pumpkin from one of the female flowers, take a picture from the same spot every second day. Let the kids put it together as a paperless (or printed) project including the photos.
Have your students research on the web with your oversight. Here’s a great site at Burpee, the seed kings:
How to Fertilize Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkin plants have two kinds of flowers, male and female, which appear in early July. The male flowers show up first, followed by the females. Look out for the first female flowers. Look for vines to be strong and well-established before letting a female flower set fruit. It might help to break off the first female on each vine and wait for the second or third, when the vines are at least ten feet long. A female is easy to recognize: she has a baby pumpkin at the base of each flower.
You need a big vine to produce a big pumpkin, so in a sense you’re choosing the vine before the pumpkin. When you find a vine that’s strong enough and a female flower on the verge of opening, put a bag of cheesecloth over it for the night to keep the insects out. The next morning pick a fresh male bloom, trim off the corolla or outer petals, and rub the pollen-laden stamen in around the center of the newly opened female bloom.
There are options for fertilizing: using Miracle Gro Performance or standard like 5-10-10 are two ways.
Another is to follow a pattern. Fertilizers have three numbers on them 10-15-19 for example. First number is nitrogen, then phosphorus and the last potassium, each doing specific things. Read on: Pumpkins are heavy feeders and will eat up whatever you give them. Different nutrients promote different kinds of growth, however, so when fertilizing pumpkins, it’s important to pay attention to what stage of growth your pumpkin is in and feed it accordingly. Commercial fertilizers come with three numbers on their packaging. These numbers represent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, always in that order. When feeding pumpkin plants, apply three successive fertilizers, each heavy in one of those numbers, in that same order. Nitrogen promotes green growth, making for plenty of vines and leaves. Apply a weekly nitrogen-heavy fertilizer early in the growing season to produce a healthy plant. Once the flowers start to form, switch to a phosphorus-heavy fertilizer for plentiful blossoms. When the actual pumpkins appear, use a potassium-rich fertilizer for healthy fruit.
However if you have five or eight kids and are too busy to monitor: Apply your fertilizer in moderation and wait to see what results a little gets you before adding a lot. If you’re new to growing pumpkins, a very basic and balanced 5-10-5 fertilizer applied moderately all through the growing season is much less intensive and should still yield good results.
Read more at Gardening Know How: Pumpkin Fertilizer Requirements: Guide To Feeding Pumpkin Plants https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/pumpkin/feeding-pumpkin-plants.htm
How to Grow Pumpkins
This is just the beginning of a summer of long but rewarding work. What you have started is actually a pumpkin-producing factory. Remember that there are 100 or more leaves to each vine and if you are trying to grow a 300-pound pumpkin, each leaf is responsible for up to four pounds of weight in your pumpkin. Every leaf, every stem, every hair roots is now receiving sunlight, absorbing water, and blending nutrients. All are traveling down the all-important stem to your prize pumpkin.
Giant pumpkins balloon out from the vine and if precautions are not taken, they will tear away and lose touch with their all-important stem. Since vines put out roots at every leaf, tear out the roots of the vine where it is close to the pumpkin. This will give it free room to grow without damage to the vine. Gently train vines away from the pumpkin to prevent it from crushing them, try giving them a nudge in the right direction every day.
When two or three fruits on each plant reach the size of softballs, remove all but the most promising one and start to prune the pumpkin plants. After the primary vine has reached 20 feet, pinch off the tips and the side shoots so the vines won’t divert resource from the fruit. Break off all the other female flowers A potential prizewinner is forming. The work of the plant now must go entirely toward nurturing this fruit alone.
It is important to remember that the only thing that will increase the size of the fruit comes out of the vines and the vines must get support from the natural root. For growing really big pumpkins, the most important things to remember are seeds, soil, sunshine, and water.
By mid-August the plants are pulling in water and nutrients at a great rate. Nighttime is when pumpkins do their growing, most expand two inches in circumference every night.
If it’s a dry season, give each plant 15 to 20 gallons of water twice a week. Water in the evening, and water only the base of the plant to keep the leaves dry, which reduces the risk of disease. One tablespoon of epsom salts (with magnesium) per gallon can be sprayed on leaves showing dificiencies
Some of those links we promised.
Dads, have fun with this. Pls comment back and even email or text your pictures; I love to do contests with groups like homeschoolers, formally known as domicilic pedagogists.
For example, your suggestions on how to make this project more kid friendly and educational. After all, together we are…
Homeschooling Grandpa Len
God bless you and always remember: it IS a great day to be alive!!
The SERIOUS Competitor
The Prize Len is offering for 2021 is $50 for the largest/heaviest with a $50 bonus IF the winner is over 200 pounds.
Come on, Coop super gardeners, you CAN do this. Every one wins with $25 for runner up and $10 prizes for 2-5. This is a SERIOUS contest for 2021.
Another take, deeper methods below for going for the giant giant.
Every fall, thousands of backyard gardeners haul an enormous harvest to county and state fairs around the country. Forklifts and small cranes are required to lift the largest pumpkins onto the scales. Blue ribbon winners weigh as much as a compact car.
The bar gets higher almost every year – the 1,000-pound mark was first breached around the turn of the millennium; the current world-record pumpkin weighed in at 2,323.7 pounds, grown by a German gardener in 2014.
World champion growers have turned what was once an innocuous 4-H hobby into a professional pursuit, with big cash prizes instead of just blue ribbons, the seeds of world champion specimens fetching upwards of $1,000 each. But that shouldn’t deter you from seeing how big of a pumpkin you can grow just for the fun of it, not to mention the bragging rights you’ll accrue.
If you want a giant pumpkin next fall, don’t wait until spring to get ready, you have to start preparing the ground now. It’s a race to provide the longest possible growing season and funnel as much nutrients and water as possible into a single pumpkin, all while making sure there are no mishaps with pests, disease, or errant kids, pets, or livestock trampling the plant.
Here we go:
Find a Plus-Size Pumpkin Seed
The first step in growing giant pumpkins is to obtain the right seed. One-thousand-plus pound pumpkins generally result from high-pedigree hybrid seeds, which circulate among the most serious growers and cost from $10 to $100 or more per seed. But virtually all giant pumpkins are descended from a variety called Dill’s Atlantic Giant, which is widely available from seed companies and sells for typical seed prices. Three hundred- to 500-pound specimens are routinely grown with this variety, but you still have to work at it – growing a giant pumpkin requires in-depth horticultural knowledge, a daily dose of TLC for the plant, and, well, a lot of luck.
Prepare Your Soil
- In the fall, till up a 10-foot diameter bed in a sunny, well-drained spot with rich garden soil. Eight or more hours of sun is a must, and if the area is protected from wind by shrubbery or structures, that’s even better.
- Spread 6 inches of composted cow manure over the bed and till it in. This will be the base of fertility for the giant pumpkin next year.
- Sculpt the bed into a low broad mound, like a pitcher’s mound, and cover it for the winter with a straw mulch or a cover crop.
- In late winter/early spring, start the pumpkin seeds in peat pots about a month before the average date of last frost in your area.
Plant Your Seeds
- Once your most vigorous seedling has several leaves, transplant it into the bed that was prepared in the fall. (If you have the space, you can plant more than one seedling if you prepared more than one mound; each seedling should be at least 10 feet apart.)
- Cover the seedling with a cold frame to protect it from late frosts and to warm up the ground, which encourages the pumpkin plant to start growing. This is essentially a mini-greenhouse, but it doesn’t have to be fancy – four stakes with clear 6-mil plastic sheeting stapled over top is sufficient. The cold frame should cover at least a 4-foot diameter area around the young plant.
- Check soil moisture daily. The ground needs to be evenly moist – but not soggy – at all times. Wetting the leaves encourages fungal problems, so always water at ground level (a drip system is ideal for this).
- Fertilize with light doses of nutrients weekly. In the first third of the growing season, concentrate on high nitrogen sources, such as fish emulsion; in the middle third, increase the phosphorus content with products high in bone meal; in the third phase, use products high in potassium, such as greensand. Provide trace minerals with kelp meal throughout the season. For an in-depth discussion of fertilizing techniques for giant pumpkins (including the use of conventional fertilizers – those listed above are organic) click here.
- Maintain a weed-free zone around the pumpkin plant throughout the growing season.
- Monitor for pests and disease on a daily basis and apply insecticides and fungicides as soon as they appear.
Coax a Giant
- If the growing area is exposed to wind, install a low fence around the pumpkin plant to prevent leaf damage and desiccation. You need the leaves to remain large and supple to provide maximum photosynthetic energy.
- Pick off all flower buds until the pumpkin vine is about 10 feet long. This allows the plants to grow more and larger leaves, which will then support rapid growth of a single pumpkin.
- After the vine’s 10 feet long, allow several flowers to develop into pumpkins, but remove all but the largest fruit after several weeks of growth.
- Spread a bed of sand under the chosen pumpkin to keep it out of contact with the moist earth below. This is essential for preventing rot.
- Gently adjust the chosen pumpkin so the stem is at a perpendicular orientation to the vine. The stems usually start out with an acute angle to the vine, but they are prone to breaking in this arrangement once they become brittle later in the season.
- Erect a canopy of shade cloth over the chosen pumpkin. In full sun, the skin of the fruit hardens earlier, restricting its ultimate size.
- Remove the rootlets that form along the vine for several feet on either side of the pumpkin as it develops. The vine needs to lift freely from the ground as the pumpkin grows, which is prevented by the small roots that form naturally on all pumpkin plants.
- Spread a couple inches of soil over roots that form along other parts of the vines to encourage a larger root system. Water and fertilize the soil under all the vines, not just the main root system, to encourage maximum uptake.
- Prune the lateral vines that develop off the main vine once they reach about 8 feet in length. Though, in general, you want as many leaves as possible to feed energy to the growing pumpkin, the plant begins to divert more energy to vine growth (rather than fruit growth) if the vines are allowed to grow to an excessive length. Many pumpkin growers recommend training the vines into a Christmas tree format, where the longest lateral vines are closest to the planting location, becoming shorter as they move toward the growing tip.
If you can keep up the TLC regime until the first frost of fall (when the leaves will turn brown and die), you should end up with a massive pumpkin. At this point, clip the pumpkin from its stem and find a few friends to help you roll it onto a scale. Most importantly, don’t let all that food go to waste – the giant varieties are suitable for soups, pies, muffins, and any other recipe calling for pumpkin. (hat tip to https://modernfarmer.com/2015/10/how-to-grow-a-giant-pumpkin/)
The contest for 2020 ends this Thanksgiving.
Contest “weigh in” for 2021 will be All Saints Day, but you can keep growing your giant orange baby through Thanksgiving if you like.
HS Grandpa Len