How you can grow the Great Pumpkin

IF you are interested in growing a Great Pumpkin - or tomato, or sunflower, or whatever - you have to begin by choosing a variety that is genetically programmed to grow big. As the little elfman once said to the inquiring boy: ``I'm just as big for me you see, as you are big for you.''

Put another way, the Sugar Baby pumpkin will never challenge for the world title no matter how much TLC you shower upon it.

There are several pumpkin breeds with the capacity to grow huge, but the one that has dominated the international pumpkin scene since the late 1970s is Dill's Atlantic Giant, available from the World Pumpkin Confederation.

Given the right breed, cultivation becomes of prime importance:

1.Soil. Sandy loam is the ideal, but any soil, clay, or sand can be conditioned with large amounts of compost, and aged or composed manure. Use fresh manure only if it can be tilled into the soil 4 to 6 weeks before planting, but preferably the previous fall.

2.Sun. Pumpkins need full sun. If you haven't a bright sunny area, find a friend who has, or else don't try.

3.Planting. Sow seeds about inch deep, with the pointed end facing down. If you have started the plants in a peat pot indoors, transplant them outdoors when the third true leaf starts to appear. Always transplant in the evenings or on overcast days.

Loosen the soil in a 20-foot circle around the plant, and if you can protect the growing site on the north and west from winds, so much the better.

4.Fertilizing. Pumpkin seedlings can be fertilized with a liquid fertilizer (say 15-30-15) at half strength once a week for the first three or four weeks. After that, go to full-strength applications every 10 to 14 days. For home gardeners, applying the fertilizer through a hose-end attachment as you water the plants is the easiest way to do this.

5.Watering. Pumpkins need a consistent supply of water to retain vigorous growth. Watering deeply at five-day intervals is a good rule of thumb if the weather is dry. Check the soil after watering. Top 12 inches should be wet.

6.Special care. Give your vines plenty of space (16 to 20 feet between plants is optimum). After several pumpkins have formed, select the first one to reach soccer-ball size; then cut off the rest. Allow the vine to keep growing, but remove all flowers (they're nice to eat).

Pumpkin vines send down strong taproots all along the trailing vines. The more roots, the better - but not within three feet of either side of the growing pumpkin, for this reason: As the pumpkin grows, it begins to lift the trailing vine off the ground, often by as much as two feet! Left uncut, these roots would anchor the stem to the ground so it couldn't lift up. The resulting strain could eventually tear the stem from the fruit ... and your pumpkin would grow no more.

For more information, contact the World Pumpkin Confederation, 14050 Gowanda State Road, Collins, NY 14034.

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