The Great Pumpkin-Growing Competition

pumpkin-growing competition

pumpkin-growing competitionThe gloves are off! In February, a longtime friend of mine sent me a bag of pumpkin seeds. Corinne lives inland from San Diego and, as she would be more than happy to tell you, she doesn’t consider herself to be a gardener. And yet, she decided it would be fun to have a pumpkin-growing competition with me.

Now these seeds aren’t just any old pumpkin seeds, mind you. My friend had attended the weighing-in of a 167-pound pumpkin last fall and asked if she could have some seeds from it. She explained that she wanted to grow a giant pumpkin just like it, and that she knew just the person to challenge in a pumpkin-growing contest. He obliged and she dutifully dried them in a paper sack for a couple of months.

The story behind the pumpkin that the seeds came from is this: Corinne works at an elementary school. Each year, the fireman husband of their 1st-grade teacher finds the largest pumpkin at a local farm, brings it to the school in an ambulance and wheels it into the school on a gurney. They hide it under a sheet until the big reveal.

“The kids just become electrified when they see such a big pumpkin!” she told me. It’s all done with great ceremony and sounds like a lot of fun. (photo on right)

pumpkin-growing competitionOK, back to the competition at hand: Corinne is well aware of the fact that I’m a Master Gardener, have been growing a huge vegetable garden for the past 40+ years and have a lot of experience under my belt.

But as all gardeners know, none of that really matters, right? We are often victims of fate (and the weather) and our results can be a matter of luck.

When I called Corinne after receiving the seeds, I explained how members of the Cucurbit family (pumpkins, squash, cucumbers and melons) are notorious for cross-pollinating… which means the seeds you save might produce something quite different from the parent. I also told her that, if the parent seeds were a hybrid, the same thing holds true: reliably getting the exact same traits of the parent is highly unlikely.

pumpkin-growing competitionBut Corinne wasn’t deterred in the least and I’m not surprised. I’ve known my dear friend since the age of 4 and I have to tell you that she is one of the most optimistic, enthusiastic and bubbly folks you’d ever hope to meet. I’m certain nothing will change her mind about starting this whole contest in the first place!

Although she might have wavered in her resolve at few days ago. I recently posted a photo of myself (on right) standing under our pole bean arbor; part of our vegetable garden was in the background and she quickly spotted something that she found alarming.

The following exchange took place:

Corinne: “OMG. Is that your pumpkin in the background? I’m feeling very insecure. What was I thinking???”

Me: “Yup, that’s one of ’em! I haven’t had time to tend to them, though.”

Corinne: “Rub it in. I knew what I was getting into – so I’m not losing any sleep. Will send a pic soon.”

Me: “Hey, it’s nowhere near a done deal yet! Anything could happen!”

Corinne: “Attitude’s everything.”

pumpkin-growing competitionSee what I mean? Optimistic indeed! She just sent me a photo showing how her plants are coming along (on right). It would be tempting to rile Corinne a little bit, saying her plants look wimpy, but for all I know, she has a secret pumpkin patch elsewhere and the pumpkins are already huge! So, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. 

As we discussed the pumpkin contest earlier this year, we agreed (for the most part, at least) that it would only be fair if I shared my growing secrets. I told her when I would start the seedlings indoors (May 7) and when I would plant them out in the garden (May 21). I also explained that I would be placing a plastic mulch on the surface of the bed to warm the soil, and would even cover the plantings with a sheet of floating row cover for the first couple of weeks, just to keep them toasty and get them off to a good start. I don’t know if I have any more secrets, but have been doing some reading up on how to grow “champeen” pumpkins!

However, as I told her, I have never grown a giant pumpkin in my life. I’ve heard tales of how competitive growers will inject top-secret fertilizers into the pumpkin vines and go to incredible lengths to produce whoppers.

But I don’t intend to go to that much trouble. I’m being realistic that I’m trying to grow a big pumpkin in the great Northwest, where we have a short-growing season and plenty of critters that could potentially snack on my pumpkins in the dead of night. But heck, there are folks who bring much larger pumpkins to the fair every year. Surely I should be able to come up with something respectable, right?

What I will tell you, though, is that both my friend and I have competitive natures so you’d better believe I’m giving it my best shot! (pssst, got any secret pumpkin-growing tips?)

Stay tuned for developments…