Growing Giant Pumpkins
Growing a pumpkin the size of a Volkswagen Beetle isn’t intensely difficult. If you’re the kind of person who relishes a challenge, enjoys a little DIY finagling, and can handle details, you can tackle giant pumpkin growing. While you may not grow a record-breaker your first time out, you’ll have the thrill of raising your own mammoth pumpkin. More than that, you’ll also have a chance to enter the world of competitive pumpkin growing, which means you’ll attend fun fall festivals and fairs and meet some folks who are passionate about pumpkins.
The current world record pumpkin title, awarded in 2012, belongs to an orange orb weighing 2,009 pounds. Experts predict that record will hold for years until another perfect pumpkin-growing season arrives. That gives you time to hone and finesse your giant pumpkin growing skills.
A ribbon-winning fruit starts with the right seeds. You need giant pumpkin seeds to grow giant pumpkins. Look for Atlantic Giant or Goliath Giant pumpkin seeds in typical seed-selling outlets. These seeds will get you started—and may even earn you a local title. But to compete at the national level, you’ll need to get seeds from the top giant pumpkin growers. Those seeds aren’t available commercially.
Average autumn carving pumpkins need about 100 days from start to finish. For giant pumpkins growing, you need 140 or more days. If you garden where frost threatens in April and May, start seeds indoors. Pumpkins don’t transplant well; for best success, you need a pot you can bury, like a peat or homemade newspaper pot. Pumpkins are heat-loving crops and won’t tolerate any frost. Once you tuck pumpkin seedlings into the garden, keep an eye on the weather. If frost is predicted, protect seedlings.
A giant pumpkin is a giant drinker, guzzling up to 30 to 40 gallons of water weekly. Most champion growers rely on soaker hoses or drip irrigation to deliver water directly to soil. Watering this way also avoids wetting leaves, which can lead to disease outbreaks. You’ll also need to juggle fertilizer through the growing cycle. Early in the season, fuel vine growth with nitrogen (N). As flowers start appearing, switch to a high-phosphorus (P) fertilizer. As fruits form, use a high potassium (K) fertilizer.
After the first pumpkins appear and reach softball size, mentally divide your plant into thirds. Remove all but one pumpkin on each third of the plant. Pamper and protect these remaining fruits. Shade them during the hottest part of the day to prevent the rinds from hardening, which can hinder growth. For a true giant, allow only one pumpkin to mature. Also, don’t let vines root along the stem where your pumpkin is growing. A rooted, anchored stem can prevent a giant from enlarging freely. Fruits enlarge overnight, gaining up to 2 inches nightly.
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the rind is hard and fully colored. Take plenty of pictures of your giant pumpkin, and research local competitions where you can see how your efforts measure up.