Secrets of monster pumpkin growers revealed

Big pumpkinBy Denise Ruttan
Halloween may be months away but if you are hoping to grow monster pumpkins, now is the time to start planting.
The world record monster pumpkin of 2013 weighed in at 2,032 pounds, according to the New York Botanical Garden.

Maybe you won't achieve quite that size of a pumpkin, but choose the variety ‘Dill's Atlantic Giant’ and you, too, can grow the great pumpkin of Charlie Brown's dreams, said Jim Myers, a vegetable breeder for Oregon State University.  
"I've had these types growing in fields and without doing anything special to them I've gotten 400-pounders," Myers said. "They certainly need plenty of water and lots of space to grow. People who grow them competitively have their own secret formulas that they don't talk about and use different strategies. It's a very small group that does it competitively and they're very fanatical about it."
Myers offered the following advice for growing your own monster pumpkin:  
* Buy seeds from someone you know who has grown a record-setting pumpkin if you want to do it competitively. Note that the seed may be pricey.
* Germinate monster pumpkin seeds at air temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees and soil temperatures of 70 to 90 degrees.
* Grow pumpkins indoors from seed and move the starts to your garden about five to seven weeks later. Plant in late May after the last frost.
* Place plastic around the base of the pumpkin to warm the soil and give the vines room to grow away from the plastic. That's because the vines will develop their own separate roots as they spread and the plastic prevents the vines from growing roots into the soil around the pumpkin.
* Provide your pumpkin plenty of room to spread – a single plant may use as much as 1,200 square feet, or roughly a 40-foot diameter circle.
* Remove enough flowers and fruit – pumpkins are actually fruits – to force the plant to put all its energy into producing one behemoth fruit instead of lots of smaller fruits.
* Hand-pollinate pumpkins to increase the number of seeds that develop and the likelihood for bigger fruits. Pull off the petals of male flowers, which look like straight stalks, and dab these on the female flowers, which have little round ball-shaped ovaries at their base.
* Give pumpkins 130 days or more to mature. Because of this, they are best suited to western Oregon.
* Harvest your pumpkin at the end of the season just before the first frost. It won't color to the bright orange of a jack-o'-lantern type, but it will appear pale yellow to orange-ish red when it is ready.
* To qualify as a pumpkin and not a squash, the surface area must be shaded red, pink or yellow, rather than blue, gray or green.
* At harvest time, be careful that the pumpkin does not develop cracks, which will count against you in competitions.
After you've entered your pumpkin in weigh-off competitions, you could sell it or roast the seeds, Myers said.
"It's something that's interesting to do. There's not a lot of practicality. There might be a little prize money and it's good for notoriety," Myers said.
Image above: Photo by Jim Myers. Make sure to give giant pumpkins enough room to spread — as much as 1,200 square feet.

McKenzie River Reflections

McKenzie River Reflections is the weekly newspaper serving Oregon's McKenzie River Valley. Available by mail for $23/yr in Lane County, $29/yr outside Lane. Digital subscriptions are $23/yr. Subscribe at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/subscriptions-0. Purchase copies online at: http://mckenzieriverreflectionsnewspaper.com/catalog/back-issues-0. Read about area communities including Cedar Flat, Walterville, Camp Creek, Leaburg, Vida, Nimrod, Finn Rock, Blue River, Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge.