Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Grow "Room" Closet

During the off season I got some new grow lights for Christmas which has allowed me to start even more plants this year.  As of today all of the seeds that I started on Tuesday have popped through the soil expect for three and two of those three I know germinated so it looks like we are in very good shape.  Pictured below is my light setup. 

I start the seeds on some shelves in a closet.  On one half of the closet I've got 4 florescent bulbs with three full spectrum bulbs that are in brooders on the side.  This gives plenty of light to the plants as long as I keep the florescent bulbs within about 4 inches of the plants.

On the other half of the closet I have one T5 bulb and two cfl bulbs with brooders.  These setup is new but seems like it should work well.

At the bottom of the closet is a thermostatically controlled space heater.  On the plants level this keeps the plants at about 85 degrees which is just about right.

So far I haven't tripped a breaker.  Keeping the fingers crossed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Attempt at Germinating a Hard to Germinate Seed

Today I am attempting to germinate my 119 Johnson seeds.  Three previous attempts to germinate this seed during the winter failed.   The 119 Johnson is a late season cross of my plant that grew my 1,220 pound pumpkin with the plant that grew the world record 2,009 pound pumpkin.  I think it is a fantastic cross.  Problem is that when the frost hit the pumpkin was young and although there was lots of seeds, the seeds hadn't fully filled out.  At first appearance they look fully formed but they are light.

Joe was kind enough to offer me some gibberellic acid to help jump start the germinating process.  I mixed that with a little alcohol (it needs a solvent in order to mix with water), humic acid, fulvic acid and a touch of liquid seaweed and then put that in water and let the first group of seeds soak for about 2 1/2 hours and the 2nd group of seeds soak for about 4 1/2 hours.  I then wrapped the seeds in a lightly moist paper towel, put the paper towels in zip lock bags and put the seeds in a warm place (about 85 degrees).  Hopefully in the next 5 days some of them will germinate.  If they do I will grow that seed for sure as long as the plants don't look like duds.

So far every seed I've tried to start has germinated except for the 1791 Holland seed.  I went ahead and removed that seed from the paper towel and put in its pot.  I'm hoping that in about 5 days I'll see some signs of life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Warming the Soil for Planting Time

Ideally you want your soil to be nice and warm for when you plant your pumpkin plants into the garden.  Cold soils will stunt the growth of the roots and can make it difficult for the plants to get at nutrients.  probably the best way to warm the soil is heating coils, but I don't have any of those.  So what I do is put down plastic over the planting area a couple of weeks prior to planting to help get the soil warmed up.  It will also keep the planting area relatively dry so when it comes time to put the plants in the ground you don't get caught with a muddy patch of soil to put your plants into.

Clear plastic works best I think to warm the soil.  It won't get overly hot like black plastic which could start killing the biology in the soil, but should keep it at a nice moderate temperature.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Starting Grass Seed in the Early Spring & Late Fall

I'm planting a cover crop in the next couple of days.  The winter rye I'm planting is very hardy, but to help ensure a higher germination rate I'm following a process I've done a few times before.  This process also works very well for lawn seed.  Take a bucket and put enough sand into it that once you mix the seed and sand together everything will be covered.  Then add a little humic acid (1/2 cup maybe), Azos (tablespoon) and mix that together.   Then add your grass seed and mix again.  Lastly pour water so that there is enough that the entire mixture is lightly wet.  Put the bucket in a warm place in the house (maybe next to a heater event).  24 hours later plant/boadcast your seed into the soil.

Doing this will get you a much higher germination rate and the seed will start growing much faster. When I did this in the fall I had roots 48 hours after planting.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Let the Season Begin!

It never really feels like the season has started until the pumpkin patch is tilled.  I did just that today.  Next step: start the seeds on April 15th.

Today I tilled in about 70lbs gypsum, 2lbs kelp meal, 4 bails of peat moss, 2lbs sugar, manganese, 20lbs humid acid and  20lbs azomite.  The soil looked very good.  In the next few days I'll plant a cover crop of winter rye in all but the planting area.  That will be tilled under in June when the vines start running.

Getting Your Soil Just Right for a Big Pumpkin

I'm frequently asked what you should feed a giant pumpkin.  Good soil is the key.  To get a good soil built up takes a little time and a soil test.  The soil test will tell you exactly what the soil has and what it needs.  What should a good soil have?  
The following are some good target numbers:

• 6-9% organic matter
• pH of around 6.8 
• Nitrogen around 30-40ppm
• Phosphourous:  170ppm
• Potassium:  550ppm
• Magnesium:  350ppm
• Calcium:  2525ppm

These numbers are based on averages from patches that have grown pumpkins 1,200 to 1,800 pounds in recent years.  Giant pumpkin plants seem to however do quite well in wider ranges of soil nutrients than some other plants and can take what they need.  However if you have a well balanced soil it will go a long way in growing a new state record.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Soil Test is Back, Time for Final Prep

Sometime in the next three weeks I'll be putting in my final amendments and tilling the soil.  I got my soil test back and things are looking better.  Four years ago my soil was pretty jacked up and out of balance.  Each year that has improved but I still have a little ways to go.  My potassium has been very high for quite some time.  Potassium when to high can make it difficult for the plant to absorb calcium and other nutrients so I've been very careful to keep to a limit the amount of potassium that I add to the soil.  My potassium is still high but almost half of what it was 3 years ago.  That should make a bit of a difference.

Atlantic Giant pumpkin plants are very adaptive to soil types.  They seem to have the ability to get at the nutrients they need so if your soil is like mine and not in perfect balance don't sweat it too much.

I've sent off some questions to the soil testing lab but it looks like my final amendments to the soil will be 7 lbs Azomite, 40 lbs gypsum, 10lbs humic acid and 4 lbs evaporated cane sugar.

The following is a link to a simple but excellent website that lists the NPK for most of the most commonly used amendments:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Little Secret About Myco and Pumpkin Growing

I think most growers wouldn't know this, but the myco that we put into our pumpkin patch takes months to mature to a state that it is providing full benefits to the pumpkin plant.  There are three stages in mycorrhizal growth to maturity:  spore germination, hyphal growth, host recognition and appressorium formation.  There are studies that show that it can take 6 weeks to 2 months for myco to mature enough that the benefits of infection can be measurable on a plant. 

Neil Anderson, President of RTI, stated this fact at the Niagara growers convention some years ago and he suggested that starting your myco in a pot weeks prior to starting your pumpkin seeds could prove beneficial.  If you start a pot with a pumpkin seed in it a month before you start your seeds you want to grow and then break up the seed starting mixture and roots from that pot you can capture the mature myco in that pot.  You then just mix the pots seed starting medium with the seed starting mixture that you want to grow you actual plants in.   The myco in that pot can survive for up to two weeks without being attached to roots and will actually "call" to the roots of your plant.  You can then get inoculations to form with the roots of your plants much earlier and start getting benefits much faster using this technique.

In the pumpkin patch I'll be using just one variety of myco, but in this pot I'm using eleven endo varieties of myco.  Make sure you use endomycorrhizal for pumpkins, grasses and vegetables because the ecto variety will not work on anything but trees and bushes.   

If you are not familiar with mycorrhize fungi there are some very extensive studies the have found the following benefits from using myco:

• Increases nitrogen, water and phosphorus uptake
• Increases crop yields
• Protects plant roots from pathogens
• Improves plant resistance to a wide array of soil toxicities
• Salt tolerance

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Pumpkin Growing Checklist

One month until seed starting time. Seems like a lot of time but it always flys by and there is a lot to do.  Seems like if you get behind early in the season there is never a way to make it up later.
  • Clean our "grow closest" to make room for plants
  • Test grow lights and seed starting heat mat
  • Warm ProMix growing medium
  • Get castings from worm bins
  • Get soil test back and ask the smartest guys in Colorado and the world what I should be amending my soil with
  • Amend soil and till the ground.
  • Get hoop houses into shape and put on new plastic
  • Sow some winter rye into the patch
  • Soak and sand seeds on April 15th.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coloradoans Are Obsessed with Weather

Two weeks ago I had lunch with the Direct of Marketing at the Fairmont Resort in Mani.  She was origionally from Boulder, Colorado and made the comment that people form Colorado are obsessed with the weather.  I had never thought of that before.  People in Maui can't understand it.  And if you want to meet a truly weather obsessed individual then talk to a giant pumpkin grower in Colorado.  Weather is one of the big determining factors for growing giants and we don't have great weather for it in Colorado.  On top of that add hail and strong winds and it can drive you crazy.

Two days ago in Denver the temperatures were in the low 70s.  The next day snowy and cold with about an inch of snow on the ground.  Today the snow is all melted and we are in the mid-50s.  Welcome to Colorado!

I think the easiest job in the world would might be as a TV weatherman in Hawaii.  Every day it is between 78-86 degrees, chance for rain depending on where you are located and the real news is only how much sun you will get that day.  Not a bad gig.  In Colorado I've seen the public nearly string up the weatherman because the forecast was 20 degrees off.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Soil Testing Time

With some nice low 70s weather today I went out into the patch and took some soil samples.  I dug about 10 holes that were 6-8 inches down with a spoon and put that soil in a zip lock bag.  I'll let that soil dry indoors for a few days and then send it in for testing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Time to Start Doing Some Test Plantings

With pumpkin seed starting time next month it is a good time now to start practicing your seed starting techniques.  No reason to lose a good seed to poor techniques or a poor seed starting mix.  For the last few years I've been using ProMix BX for my seed starting mix.  I amend that with some earthworm casting from my own bins (about 1 cup) along with some myco and a little Azos at the bottom third of the pot.  For the full seed starting procedure look for my posts in April in previous years.

Late this fall I did a test planting with a soil less mixture that seemed pretty promising. I knew other growers had amended their soil with a similar product from the same company and had good results so I wanted to give it a try.  Everything come up nicely but three weeks later all three of the plants I had started quickly turned yellow.  I'm not sure what caused that but my suspicion is that the soil less mixture had a problem with it.  I won't be using it again.  You don't want the first month of the season to start with dead plants.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Four Seasons Resort in Maui Giant Pumpkin Growing - Five Star Pumpkins

This last week I had a wonderful time with my family in Maui.  While there I met one of the grounds keeps for the Four Seasons Resort.  The Four Seasons is Maui's only five star resort and a beautiful property.  We of course started talking about giant pumpkins during the conversation and he is going to try growing a giant on the property.  I'll be sending him seeds soon.  I think it will be something that guests really will enjoy.  Who knows.  Maybe the resort will get a six star rating now.

While looking at all of the lush vegetation and rich volcanic soil in Maui I couldn't help but think often how will pumpkin growing could do here.  82-86 degree days with lows around 70-72 and relatively high humidity you think would be a good climate for pumpkin growing.  The daytime highs might be a little low but the night time temps are definitely better than Denver's.  The area around the Four Seasons is relatively dry with only about 14 inches of rain per year so it will be interesting to see how this little experiment turns out.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Join the Club; Colorado Giant Pumpkin Growers

The Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers (RMGVG) is Colorado's chapter of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.  If you are thinking about giving a try at growing a big pumpkin in 2014 it would make sense to join the club.  With it you will get seeds from pumpkins weighing over 1,200 pounds, club newsletter and the community, tips and advice from the beet growers in the Rocky Mountain region.  You'll be surprised by how much fun it can be for you and your family.  Visit colorado to join today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pumpkin Seed Lineup for 2014

I've gone back and forth on this for months, but the following is my seed lineup for 2014.  There are a lot of great seeds out there and more potential great seeds out of Colorado then any time I can remember in the past.   I even had to leave one of my own seeds off the list (695 Johnson).  Just not enough spots to grow them all.  The list in no particular order:

1220 Johnson (1421 Stelts x 220 Debacco) - Best plant I've ever had by far with a lot of world record genetics crossed into it.

335 Scherber (1421 Stelts x 1161 Rodonis) - Fell in love with the plant my son grew this last season.  It is a cross of two clone plants that produce some big, orange and heavy pumpkins.

971 Scherber (1623 Stelts x 1655 Ford) - Colorado state record crossed into a 1623 plant that had a lot of the world record traits and was 100lbs ahead of the state record pumpkin when it went down.

282 Scherber (1725 Harp x Self) - This is a clone of the world record plant crossed with itself.

1791 Holland (1495 Stelts x 2009 Wallace) - This is a cross of what may be the best two genetic lines available and maybe one of the top three plants on each side. 

1317 Clements (1495 Stelts x 2009 Wallace) - See above.

I'm starting a lot more plants this year than I have in the past and will go with whatever is looking best.  Wish I had a spot for all of these plants.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Winter Time is Testing Time for Pumpkin Growers

Happy New Year!  Today I started doing some tests with my new toys I got for Christmas.  Pictured here is my new seedling heat mat.  Normally you would use this to warm the soil in your pots but I'm trying it for my seed starting.  It will take a little experimentation to get the temperature just right and make sure it doesn't fluctuate much.  Every hour or so I'm using a thermometer to check the temps.  When I first started out and didn't have the seeds on the mats I found that temps were around 75 degrees with the mat sitting on the shelf.  I put a towel under the mat and temps went up to about 85 degrees.  I then add the zip lock bags with the seeds and checked the temps but found that zip lock bags were trapping heat and the temps were getting up to about 92 degrees and I'd prefer it around 88-90 degrees so I've removed the towel and seeing what that does.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Seedling Heat Mat for Seed Starting

For my birthday last week I used a gift card to get myself a seedling heat mat.  I'll use it to warm my pots when they are under the grow lights but the main reason I got it is to start seeds using the paper towel method.  I like the paper towel method because you can get seeds going pretty quickly this way and usually within about 28 hours you will know if a seed is going to germinate or not.

Usually I start my seeds by putting them in a very lightly moist paper towel in a zip lock bag that sit on top of my computer.  The top of the computer is a pretty consistent 83-86 degrees so a descent spot to start seeds.  However this year I want to start about twice as many plants as in the past so I've purchased some additional grow lights and I'm going to use this heated mat to get the seeds going.  Doing it this way will give me more plants to choose some so I can hopefully have a better chance at getting some good plants going.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

1220 & 695 Johnson Root Systems

I did some test plantings of the 1220 Johnson (1421 Stelts x 220 Debacco) & 695 Johnson (1775 Starr x 1725 Harp) seeds a few weeks ago.  Today I took the plants out of their pots to see what the root systems looked like on them.  The 695 plant (the pollinator was the world record plant that grew the 2,009lb pumpkin) which is on the left hand side of the picture is a week younger but you'll note it has a nice looking root system with some very large roots at the bottom.   The 1220 equally has a nice looking root system (pollinator was the 220 Debacco) and the plant was a very nice looking, stocky plant that grew quickly.  I think these seeds could do well this year.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

1220 Johnson Giant Pumpkin Seed

I germinated a couple of the 1220 Johnson seeds this week.  The one pictured here is a very nice looking plant.  I also have a 695 Johnson germinated but that seed hasn't popped through the ground yet.  I tried to germinate six of the 119 Johnson seeds (this is the 1421 crossed with the world record 1725) but non of those seeds germinated.  Very disappointed.  I guess the pumpkins were just too young.  I'm going to try a few more but it doesn't look like those will be viable.

I was out at the patch today watering the rye grass and noticed that almost all of the 1200 pounds of pumpkin that I tilled into that patch there is nearly no signs of now.  The biology in the patch has nearly eaten it all up in just two weeks.  Pretty amazing.