The Great Pumpkin Race

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 25, 2012
“I’d rather sit alone on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be on a crowded velvet pillow.”
Henry David Thoreau 

We all love races.  From the children on the playground trying to find out who can run the fastest to our quest to reach the moon or to run a four (4) minute mile, we love the relationship between speed and time.  But it was Julia Scott who introduced me to “The Great Pumpkin Race” in the New York Times (October 6, 2011).

The quest of the great pumpkin race is to grow a pumpkin which weighs one ton.  You may wonder why I would reference pumpkins at this time of the year.  This is the time of the year when anyone interested in growing things begins the hard work of planning inside before the hard work of planting outside takes place.  For the weekend gardener or the full time farmer, the work done in winter always precedes the work done in summer.

If you are one of those people trying to grow a 2000 pound pumpkin, the gourd-like squash which is native to North America, you are undoubtedly gathering your best seeds and making your best plans right now.  Before you know it, you will be at the horticultural starting line for yet another passionate pumpkin race.

This drama is enhanced because others gardeners are simultaneously after the same elusive goal.  The world record was around 460 pounds until 1981 when Howard Dill of Nova Scotia broke the record with a pumpkin near 500 pounds.  Dill patented seeds used to grow this giant pumpkin, naming them Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds.  Growers from all over the world bought them.  Dill is credited for all of the giant pumpkins today, most of which are borne from crossing and re-crossing his patented seed with other varieties. 

By 1994 the giant pumpkin crossed the 1000 pound mark.  More recently, the October 2010 world record was set by Chris Steven’s 1,810 pound Atlantic Giant pumpkin because it surpassed Christy Harp’s previous 2009 record of 1,725 pounds. But it was at one of the last giant pumpkin festivals of the year at Prince Edward County on October 15, 2011 that Jim and Kelsey Bryson from Quebec, Canada whose 1,818.5 pound pumpkin set the current world record edging even closer to that ultimate goal. 

How do you grow a one ton pumpkin?  Here are ten secrets.

1. Super Soil.  Average soil will not do.  You must use just the right amounts of compost and fertilizer.
2. Great Genetics.  Seek seeds that have the genetics to grow the huge fruit.
3. An Early Indoor Start.  Giant pumpkin plants require up to 160 days to grow.
4. Lots of Fertilizer, the Right Stuff at the Right Time.  Discard all you know about fertilizing and learn what is like a new fertilizing art form.
5. Pour on the Water.  The top growers have elaborate drip systems to deliver the right amount of water 24/7.
6. Liquid Calcium.  Soluble calcium is needed in soil to aid fertilizer and nutrients in entering any plant but liquid calcium increases the ability to take them in even better.
7. Nurturing Plant Growth and Pruning Vines.  Top growers train and develop their vines with strategic precision.
8. Promoting Secondary Growth.  Secondary root growth can make all the difference because it enhances the plant’s capacity to receive the nutrients and water. At peak growth, record breaking giant pumpkins can grow 40-50 pounds or more per day.
9. Insect and Pumpkin Disease Protection. Many growers are stopped in their tracks by tiny insects or plant disease.
10. Shading the Fruit. Giant pumpkin growers regularly shade their pumpkins with bed sheets to protect them from the unpredictable elements.

Who knows?  This could be the year of the first one ton pumpkin. 

Ladies and gentlemen, start your “pumpkin” engines.  The 2012 Pumpkin Race is about to begin.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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