PRAIRIE GARDENER: Growing giant pumpkins requires skill and patience

The golden orbs of autumn are becoming behemoths as growers try to grow ever bigger pumpkins. This year was no exception with Chris Stevens of New Richmond, Wis., (near Stillwater, Minn.) who produced a world record pumpkin totaling 1,810 pounds....

The golden orbs of autumn are becoming behemoths as growers try to grow ever bigger pumpkins. This year was no exception with Chris Stevens of New Richmond, Wis., (near Stillwater, Minn.) who produced a world record pumpkin totaling 1,810 pounds. The old record was 1,725 pounds and was grown in Ohio in 2009. A 2,000-pound pumpkin is within reach soon.

Stevens unveiled the new record-holder at the Stillwater Harvest Fest recently. Another pumpkin tied the 2009 world record earlier this year. Stevens said he'd hoped his entry this year would take the record. He and other local pumpkin growers have been striving for the big one for years. This year's record breaker will likely make the Guinness Book of World Records. The largest pumpkin ever grown in Wisconsin was also grown nearby.

In the beginning

Pumpkins were first grown by Native Americans. They were a valuable food source as were squash, beans and corn. Pumpkins probably were served at the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Mass. Later, they became popular as jack-0'-lanterns for the Halloween celebration. Today, October has become known as pumpkin month with these beauties turning up in fruit stands and grocery stores. Canned pumpkin frequently is used as pie filling or in muffins, breads and cookies.

If you are carving your pumpkins for today's Halloween celebration, you can take some steps to prolong the life of these vegetable sculptures. By using rubbing alcohol along the cut edges and Vaseline along the insides, you prolong the life of the carved pumpkin. The rubbing alcohol prevents the cuts from receding, and the Vaseline prevents the water from escaping. You can also cut back the amount of carving by using large carrots or other grotesque root vegetables as noses and ears. The seeds also can be roasted.


Pumpkin crop

The 2010 pumpkin crop is much better than that of the previous year when fall rains caused widespread destruction. A result was a year-long shortage of canned pumpkin that left bakers in a bind. There was hoarding, rationing and even profiteering following the poor harvest a year ago

The problem was compounded by the growing popularity of pumpkin in our kitchens. The pumpkin gained a reputation as being a "super-food" and people use it year-around for baked goods and as a vegetable. With the new crop soon coming to grocery shelves, prices and supply are expected to stabilize.

Growing giants

To grow a giant pumpkin requires considerable skill and patience. Growers prefer the Atlantic Giant variety and begin the plants indoors. Later they are placed outdoors in small plastic greenhouses so they can get a jump on the summer. They have to be carefully fertilized and watered during the growing season. Once the plants bloom, one fruit is selected for each plant, with all of the attention going into its growth. If all goes well, there will be a giant pumpkin in the patch by autumn.

For more detailed information on growing giant pumpkins, check bookstores. Several guide books are available.

Winter chores

Even though the calendar says late October, there still are garden chores that should be completed before the arrival of winter. This is a good time to complete any remaining housekeeping chores in the garden or yard. Be sure to run your lawn mower over dry leaves. If the leaves cover the grass, either rake or use the mower to gather them up. If there are just a few, chop them up with the mower. If you don't remove leaves prior to winter, you could end up snow mold later. This fungal disease is brought on wet conditions which are made worst with tall grass or soggy leaves. It can leave dead spots.


Remove dead plants from your flower beds and gardens and compost, adding well-rotted manure, peat moss or dry fertilizer to hasten decomposition. Don't bother with weeds that have set seed or with blight-ridden tomato plants. If you have plants that can be used for winter outdoor decoration, leave them. This would include hydrangea and purple cone flowers. Plants with seed heads or dried blooms add so much to the winter landscape, breaking up the monotony of winter's whiteness.

Be sure and mark plants so you know what is coming up next year. If your spring bulbs arrived late, you may still have time to get them into the ground before it becomes frozen.


A quick remainder on tender roses also is important. If you use the Minnesota top method, loosen the soil around the base of the rose with a garden fork and dig a trench from the base equal to the height. Tie up the canes and apply a fungicide, bend the roots and gently push the bush into the trench and cover with about 3 inches of soil and at least 18 inches of mulch.

An easier method is to prune back the rose canes to about a foot and apply soil and compost to 10 to 12 inches deep over the crown. Then place chicken wire around it and fill in with leaves or straw. In a pinch, use plastic foam rose cones. Be sure to make air holes and monitor carefully in fall and spring so the rose plants don't become moldy

Shrub roses don't require this level of protection, just mulch with leaves or straw.

Garden pots should be emptied, scrubbed and then stored upside down. Terra cotta pots filling with soil can crack or split in freezing weather

Store paint and garden chemicals in an area that doesn't freeze. Garden tools should be cleaned of dirt and oiled. You should empty fuel from lawn mowers and other machines prior to storage.


Apples galore

Readers have left bags of apples on the Prairie Gardener's doorstep after he indicated his apple tree took a break this year. There will be more than enough for winter pies and crisps as well as eating out of hand. Thanks to those who came to his aid.

Winter break

Today's Prairie Gardener column will be the last until next April when publication is expected to resume. This is the second year the column has been suspended for the winter months, normally a slow time for gardening. It should be up and running in early April, just prior to Gardening Saturday. KNOX, which has featured the Prairie Gardener for 10 years, will resume garden show broadcasts in April as well. During the winter hiatus, the Prairie Gardener will check his mail at the Herald for questions and respond.. You can also contact him at his home as he is in the phone book. See you in April when the tulips are in bloom.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008.

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