How To Grow'em Big

Caring For Your Fruit
   - Your pumpkin requires a lot of care if it is to have any chance to grow to a quarter ton or more in weight. Again, nobody ever said growing a big pumpkin was easy. You will need to place something under your pumpkin for it to grow on that allows for water to drain as well as prevent pests from tunneling into your fruit from below. Many people use a 3" or 4" bed of play sand while still others are now using belt material discarded by paper mills. As long as it allows drainage and prevents critters from destroying your fruit from below, you can use a number of different things. The most important characteristic of the material you use for a bed is that it allows the fruit to grow and expand, unrestricted and with minimal resistance. If a material such as styrofoam with holes in it is used, the chances of the friction between the fruit skin and the foam causing the fruit to grow concave on the bottom increases, and thereby increasing the risk of a bottom split.
- Shade is one of the most important items needed to protect your fruit. While your plant needs full sun, your fruit needs to be in complete shade to prevent it from ripening too early. The easiest way to erect a shade structure is to use 2 pieces of Ĺ" PVC pipe or conduit crossed in the shape of a dome tent. Use dowels or rebar in the ends of the pipe to hold the ends to the ground and cover with an inexpensive blue plastic tarp. Use large binder clips to hold the tarp to the pipe allowing a secure attachment with ease of removal to tend to your pumpkin. Another method is to use 4 posts and a tarp pulled tightly across the top on a slope to allow water to drain off.
- As the plant grows throughout the season, older leaves and leaf stocks will die off and wilt. These older leaves should be cut off, insuring that the cut is at a downward angle to prevent water from sitting inside the stub of the leaf stock. This will not harm the plant, as new leaves will continue to produce energy for the fruit and will in fact help to improve the health of your plant and fruit. Excessive die-off , however, indicates a problem. These issues range from insect problems to disease infecting the plant, soil or both.
- In order to grow a big pumpkin, your plant needs to be kept as stress free as possible. Excessive heat is an enemy in that temperatures above 85 degrees will cause your plant to wilt, slowing down the energy process and thereby fruit growth. Frequent, short intervals of misting water over the leaves cools the plant by evaporational cooling and helps combat stress on those hot days. Sprinkler systems with a fine spray work well if nobody will be home to do it by hand, as the plant needs to be cooled every couple hours on those hot summer days.
- Another form of stress mentioned briefly above is stem stress. Your pumpkin will grow at astonishing rates from mid-July to mid-August in some cases gaining 20 to 40 lbs. a day. This rapid growth can put tension on the pumpkin stem as the fruit grows in height and its shoulders grow toward the vine. Cutting the tap roots under the 3 leaves in either direction of the fruit will allow the vine to move upward as the pumpkin grows. Supporting the vine as it curves upward toward the stem is also a common practice. Insure the vine does not rub against the fruit itself. You can train the vine by carefully pulling it away from the fruit shoulders with cushioned pieces of cloth. This method takes practice to learn and can run the risk of popping the fruit off the vine so use extreme caution when performing this method and only pull what the vine will allow every few days. It may also be wise to have another experienced grower demostrate the method before attempting it yourself. Cut off any leaves that impede access to the fruit or may be rubbing against the skin of the pumpkin.
- Your pumpkin can gain such large amounts daily because the skin is very pliable early on. However cracks in both the skin and stem do occur. Itís natural for the stem to develop splits and heal over as it grows in size, however deep splits are an issue. If a split or crack in the skin of the pumpkin goes deep enough to enter the inner cavity of your fruit, your season is over, as the fruit will begin to rot very quickly. If however a crack or split is superficial, it can be treated by applying a paste of either sulfur or a fungicide called Captan. Be aware that Captan is nasty stuff and you should avoid breathing the powder or getting it on your bare skin. Use common sense as with any chemical. Captan dries the moisture from the split area and prevents disease allowing the crack to heal. Many large pumpkins develop deep stem splits that do not go into the cavity, however if not cared for, they can continue to go deeper and ruin your season. The biggest asset a grower can have is early recognition of a problem and knowing how to react to it.

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