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Growing the Big One

By Jennifer Miller

Special to Okanogan Living

Many people have lifelong dreams that they hope to realize someday. My dreams came true this year when I grew two giant pumpkins over 500 pounds.

Growing a giant pumpkin is achievable if you have a good seeds, good soil, and a little bit of luck.

I got my Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds from a friendly grower on the West side of the state who sent me some in the self-addressed stamped envelope I had sent her.

I started the seeds May 1 and got them going in one gallon pots. The May weather in Okanogan County was frost-free for Omak, so I took a chance and got them in the ground in mid-May.

The young pumpkin plants were covered with 5’x’5 wire frames and thick plastic to make a mini-greenhouses over the top. By early June, the plastic was replaced with shade cloth for a few weeks as the pumpkins got used to the full sun.

Throughout the growing season, the pumpkin plants were given a weekly dose of fertilizer, which always included some nitrogen to keep the plant growing. As the plant took shape, the main vine was trained to grow straight and the secondary side vines were pulled out at 90-degree angles so that the entire plant looked like a Christmas tree.

Any tertiary vines were removed.

Once the main vine had 16 secondary vines, I hand–pollinated the female flower on the main vine. Pumpkin plants benefit from hand-pollination because the bees don’t always bring in enough pollen to fully pollinate the flower.

Once it appeared that the pumpkin on the main vine was going to grow (about 20 days after pollination), I removed any other pumpkins from the plant and continued to keep any new fruits from setting.

The pumpkins were watered daily, and in hot weather, an extra sprinkler misted the leaves of any pumpkin plants that had wilting leaves. As the pumpkins grew past the size of a basketball, I covered them with white cloth to keep the sun from hardening off the skin, enabling the pumpkin to grow rapidly without cracking.

Each day brought new joy as the white cloths were lifted and the size of the pumpkins grew. Vines were checked for cracks and pests, and any leaves were removed that were scraping the pumpkin. As August began, it became apparent that these pumpkins were going to be big, maybe even reaching my 500 pound goal. It wasn’t until weigh-day that I found out how huge they became.

When the pumpkins were harvested, my kind neighbor drove his front-loader over and we arranged some rigging around the pumpkin to lift it on to a flatbed trailer. Earlier that morning, the trailer was weighed at the Omak Feed Store. Then the first pumpkin was loaded on to the trailer, which got weighed again. When we subtracted the weight of the trailer from the weight of the pumpkin, we learned the orange pumpkin weighed a whopping 670 pounds! I went back home and my neighbor helped me load up the cream-colored pumpkin, which weighed a satisfying 570 pounds.

It was so fun to share these pumpkins at the Okanogan County Fair. Every time I looked, someone was either taking a picture with the pumpkin or giving it a friendly pat.

On Sept. 16 we attended an official Great Pumpkin Commonwealth weigh-off at the Skagit valley Giant Pumpkin Festival in Mount Vernon. The orange pumpkin took fourth place with an official weight of 666.5 pounds and earned $300 in prize money. The cream colored pumpkin took seventh place weighing 546.5 pounds and earned $50 in prize money. It was also one of three pumpkins that were considered for the ugliest pumpkin award.

We hope our pumpkins piqued the county’s interest in growing giant pumpkins and we look forward to seeing more big pumpkins at the fair next year.

I hope these giant pumpkins have inspired young and the old to try their luck at growing Dill’s Atlantic Giants, and if you decide to give it a shot, I hope to see you at the fair next year! ♦



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