Text by William Cullina for the January/February 2014 issue of Horticulture.
When it comes to “big,” no plant can top the fruits of the giant pumpkin. Atlantic giant pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima 'Atlantic Giant') are supersized variants of the giant squash, the result of careful selection by dedicated enthusiasts for over 100 years. There is no better way to introduce young folks to gardening than the challenge of growing a record-breaking behemoth (though true giants require skill, attention and more than a modicum of luck). I have to say nothing gets the kids more excited than watching these yellow-orange orbs grow to greatness.
Giant pumpkin seeds are very large and thus easy for even small children to plant. We start ours in our little sunroom four weeks before last frost, placing one or two seeds in an eight-inch pot to give them room to grow.
The seedlings are set out into rich, fertile soil only when the nights have warmed into the 50s, as any setbacks to growth will lower your chances. With attention to water and pests, the vines hit their stride and by midsummer you can practically hear them growing. At this point I give the kids a lesson in pollination as we select a particularly strong female bloom on a vigorous stem to receive a dab of pollen from anthers plucked from a male.
A few nail-biting days follow, as we wait for the fruit to begin to swell—the sure sign that fertilization was successful. With regular watering the fruit grows to basketball size in another week, at which time we carefully lift it, place it on a bed of sand and clip off neighboring tendrils that can scar the fruit. The best I have been able to grow barely topped 300 pounds, but the joy it brought was well worth the space and attention required.
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