Latest Giant Pumpkin Growing Diary

Growing Giants: A Chronicle of the 2023 Orange Pumpkin Odyssey

I decided to plant a bright orange pumpkin in 2023. Not just an orange pumpkin, but a bright orange beaut. My largest pumpkin ever grown was a 1,117 pound white pancake in 2020. That was fun, and it was the pandemic so that pumpkin was aptly named Pan. I have grown several other pumpkins around the 1,000 pound mark that were dull orange. In 2021, I produced an orange-striped pumpkin of 974 pounds. I loved the look of that pumpkin (it was a Thompson 2089 seed).

Due to space and light limitations, it will be tough to produce a true giant over 2,000 pounds. I am not saying it is not possible, but it will be challenging. However, what if I could create a very nice orange giant of large size? Not a world record size, but very pretty? I will give you the exciting details of my growing season in this blog, adding the latest updates when I can.

The Giant Pumpkin Seed California Pumpkin Growers Auction of 2023

See my blog about Finding Giant Pumpkin Seeds where I describe the exciting details of the 2023 California Pumpkin Growers Auction for some background. The 2023 California Pumpkin Growers auction on was four hours long, with seeds ranging in price from roughly $20 to more than $700 for one seed.

Like any good study, I printed up the auction program and studied it ferociously. The seeds were divided into 48 lots, mostly giant pumpkins. As in most auctions, lots were listed from least valuable to most valuable. I selected three lots to bid on: the 2350 Tiger King Progeny Lot (#8), the Previous Year’s Howard Dill Winners (#11), and the Very Orange 2022 Lot (#16). These were some bright orange pumpkins, and they were early enough in the line-up that I didn’t have to worry about high prices.

The auction quickly got rolling, and I secured Lot #8 for $105 which was $95 less than my limit. I also picked up Lot #9 which was an assortment of giants grown in California for only $100. This was a steal! Lot #11 got too high, and I missed that one, and Lot #16 got away from me as well. I think I thought I was done. There were many seeds still available, and my heart was pumping, so I walked away for a while in an effort to not spend all my money. An hour later, I returned to watch the fireworks. I wanted to see what the world record seeds would go for.

As the auction progressed through the more valuable pumpkins, I watched the prices go higher and higher. Soon I noticed “Ruby”, a single seed lined up in Lot #38. Ruby is a 1,461 pounder grown in 2022 that was cloned from the 2,350 Gienger grown in 2020. It is the brightest orange pumpkin I have seen. Because it was one of the first cloned pumpkins, Ruby was getting a lot of attention and I assumed it was out of my reach.

Surely this seed would go for $200 or $300? I couldn’t pay that much for a pumpkin seed. I just can’t. What if it doesn’t germinate? Much to my surprise, bidding was slower than I anticipated, and I secured Ruby for $105! I can’t tell you how excited I was. I smiled for days. I now have an excellent selection of seeds to grow for 2023.

Then the California Pumpkin Growers forum occurred in March and I secured another Ruby seed for $85 and numerous other seeds from bright orange pumpkins. Holly cow!

2023 Orange Pumpkin Germination

I typically germinate six seeds and select the top candidate for my main patch. In most cases, at least five of six seeds germinate, and 2023 was no different from any other year. I selected the following seeds for germination: 1,461 Rodebaugh aka Ruby (two seeds), 1883 Bayuk, 2003 Kisamore, 2078 Skinner, and 1643 New.

Germination began on April 8, 2023, and all but one seed germinated in 2 days’ time. Consistent with past years, the largest pumpkin seed didn’t germinate! So, I had five prospects. Seeds were put in soil and placed in peat pots in the grow tent. For a summary of my grow tent operation, see my blog Germinating Giant Pumpkin Seeds in a Grow Tent. They grew very well, and I eventually moved them to one-gallon plastic pots.

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Pumpkin plants basking in the sun on April 24, 2023.

Transplanting Ruby, April, 2023

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1,461 Ruby planting.
Latest Giant Pumpkin Growing Diary
Note shade cover, wind block, misters, and the mini-hoop house for night time protection.

All five pumpkins grew very well and there wasn’t a front runner. Ruby was selected for planting in the primary patch. The backup patch included the 2003 Kisamore. I also planted the remaining three pumpkins outside my fence in hopes they will produce pumpkins. I decided to transplant on April 26, 2023, as the plants were growing fast and the weather appeared to be improving. Soil temperatures were in the 80s during the day and the upper 70s at night.

In true California fashion, a heat wave arrived the day after I transplanted. Patch temperatures reached 103 degrees on April 27th. I installed my mini-hoop house for night protection. I covered the small pumpkin plant every night with a comforter and monitored temperatures inside just above the pumpkin. The comforter kept temperatures 10-15 degrees above the morning chill.

I installed my shade cover and got my misters working.  I must admit, this was a first for me – misting in April. Temperatures were high for another three days and then storms arrived with winds! Up came the wind blocking material. I continued to cover the pumpkin nightly as it was getting into the 40s.

One day brought hail poking holes in my pumpkin leaves – except Ruby in the main patch who was covered! I found it interesting how many tools and devices I had to use in the first week of planting.

Starting to Grow Primary Vine, early May

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Ruby on May 7, 2023, 11 days after transplanting.

Despite the cold mornings and lousy weather, Ruby is growing well. Six leaves are growing and the primary vine is laying down. I feed liquid fish and kelp every other day now. Currently, I water about one gallon a day. Weather is warming up in the near future, and we might be in business soon!

May Update

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Ruby on May 19, 2023.

Around the 9th of May, things started to heat up and temperatures in the patch consistently went into the 90s. Misters went on again and the plant started to grow a little faster. Average highs in the patch during the past week are in the mid-90s and average lows in mid-50s. I am watering the plant approximately 11 gallons of water a day. This consists of approximately one gallon by hand and 10 gallons via mist.

Misters are running for 30 seconds every 10 minutes between 12:15 PM and 5:15 PM every day. It is necessary to add misters as the plant grows, and the water is going to increase. Every other day, I feed with seaweed and fish. As of May 19, there are approximately 40 leaves, the primary is six feet long, and I am starting to burry vines. I am using Pumpkin Power and Bio-Grow Endo Plus when I bury the vines.

June Update

Female Pumpkin Flower
The female flower self pollinated in June 2023.

June was unseasonably cool in the patch, with day time temperatures only exceeding 100

Giant Pumpkin
Giant pumpkin 20 days after pollination on June 30, 2023.

degrees a few times. In addition, nights were cold, reaching into the 40s frequently. I watered between 10 and 40 gallons (ca. 151 l) per day during June. I watered most days by hand in the morning and used the misters when the temperatures exceeded 90 degrees. I

I fertilized with a mix of fish and seaweed several times a week, and continued to use Pumpkin Power and Bio-Grow Endo Plus for vine burying.

I noticed the plant getting plenty of nitrogen as the vines were growing up. I experienced a few vine breaks which caused a little concern, however, I had many pumpkins on the plant to chose from. Eventually I saw a well positioned pumpkin about 11 feet (3.35 m) down the primary vine.

I was able to position the vine nicely, and I really liked the way this pumpkin looked. It would have been nice a little further down the primary, but I will take what I get at this point. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to cross this pumpkin with one of my backup pumpkins but decided I wanted to go for the orange and I self pollinated this one.

The pumpkin is off to a good start, averaging about 14 pounds (6.35 kg) per day between day 15 and 20. It is still a little early to tell if it will grow larger than my prior pumpkins. I am not really in a rush at this point as I planted a bit early and also pollinated earlier than normal. I have a good list of potential names, but that will have to wait to see how things look.

July Update

The pumpkin cover in mid-July.

Right on cue, daily gains started to increase in early-July, approaching approximately 20 pounds (ca. 9 kg) per day. During the first week of July, a heat wave arrived and temperatures in the patch exceeded 107 F during the day and more than 60 degrees F during the evenings. Growth was consistently at or above 20 pounds (ca. 9 kg) a day for the entire month, reaching a high of 30 pounds (ca. 14 kg) a day in mid-July. It was now becoming clear this pumpkin would not be a record breaker for me.

I had predicted a maximum weight of approximately 900 pounds (ca. 408 kg) at this time. I continued to apply seaweed and fish approximately every five days, and I kept the misters on for approximately six hours a day for the entire month. Daily water use fluctuated, depending on the presence of heat waves, with a daily use between 40 gallons (ca. 151 l) and 100 gallons (ca. 379 l).

I also decided to put a good shade cover over the pumpkin as the sun was hitting the pumpkin directly in the afternoons, and I was increasingly worried about overheating.

August Update

orange pumpkin
Hue on August 8, 2023.

Daily gains started to dip below in August and Hue started to slow down. The weight on August 1 was estimated at 723 pounds (ca. 328 kg).

I continued with the misters and shade 30% shade cloth, as I had been doing all season. I also continued with seaweed and fish. Some new pest challenges were beginning to emerge. First, I started seeing more squash bugs and the hand-picking was not keeping up.

One day I collected more than 30 squash bugs on the leaves. I was able to knock down the population fairly quickly with insecticidal soap, which was effective at controlling the small squash bugs. I also sprayed BioAdvanced Insect, Disease & Mite Control for the adults. These two sprays were effective, and I have not found a squash bug since.

I noticed some mildew developing, mostly on the older leaves, and I powdered with antifungal powder. I am keeping a close eye on this issue. Weeds are popping up and leaves are starting to look old. Last, I started to administer Holland’s Land O’Giants Kick-A-Poo Joy Juice for some fertilization.

Things are looking good so far, and I am starting to think about how I will transport Hue. She is now too large to fit in the bed of my pickup truck, even if I lift her above the wheel well. Even if I do that, she won’t fit. So, a trailer it is. I have a large pallet and it needs a little work.

My standard moving method the past few years is to use a tripod with a chain hoist, and I believe I have access to all that gear again. I registered for the National Pumpkin Weigh Off at Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm on September 30, 2023 in Wheatland, California. I take meticulous records of my pumpkin growth each year and can compare and track the growth each year. Below is a graph of four recent pumpkins.

orange pumpkin
Daily growth of four pumpkins grown in my patch. Daily weight estimate is on the left (y axis) and days after pollination is above (x axis). On the top in red is Pan who had a final weight of 1,117 pounds (ca. 507 kg). In green below that is Cov who ended up at 998 pounds (ca. 453 kg). Hue is the black line and appears to be heading for approximately 1,000 pounds (ca. 454 kg). My first large pumpkin named Pat is in the blue. Pat was 800 pounds (ca. 363 kg).

September Update

Hue started out in September at a weight of just over 1,000 pounds (ca. 454 kg) and a growth rate of 6 pounds (2.72 kg) per day. August was a good month of growing, and the pumpkin packed on more than 250 pounds (ca. 113 kg). Hue began to turn more orange during September, making me really happy. Weight on September was estimated at 1,076 pounds (ca. 488 kg). Unfortunately, the skin hardened and part of Hue started to produce mini-cracks.

I cleaned frequently, and they healed well, but the cracks are unsightly. The weather during September was pretty good for growing, mostly in the upper 90s during the day and 60s at night, however, the pumpkin was definately slowing down and the plant was showing signs of decay. I continued to feed with fish and seaweed and Holland’s Land O’Giants Kick-A-Poo Joy Juice. I used approximately 40 gallons (ca. 151 l) of water per day.

orange pumpkin
Hue the giant pumpkin in September

Weigh-off and Conclusion

I took Hue to the National Pumpkin Weigh-off at Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm in late-September. It was an interesting weigh-off to say the least. First, it was pouring rain at the check in. The venue was on an actual pumpkin farm. The rain caused lots of mud and puddles and the forklifts drove through it all to unload pumpkins. There were more than 50 entries for the weigh-off. More than anywhere in the world.

I got there early and was the second person to unload my pumpkin so that I could set up for book sales. My pumpkin was the orangest orb there by far. It was definately not the largest however.

As the judging started going, I noticed all of the judges hovered around my pumpkin for a very long time. When I mean a long time, I mean more than a half an hour. Eventually I was called over and asked if I had waxed my pumpkin. I did not wax it and said “absolutely not”. My pumpkin was unique in that it is very shiny and smooth. It has been that way for months.

They asked me about some white stuff on it and I looked. It was fungicide. I told the I washed it with soap to remove the fungicide. They asked what type of soap and I said I just used a little car wash soap in water. At that time, they agreed to let me continue.

However, I noticed there were still hovering around my pumpkin so I went back again to ask if everything was ok. They said I should not have washed the pumpkin with soap as it was considered a foreign substance. I was disqualified. I told them I had found information on line about washing with soap – a very popular pumpkin growere had posted a video. They said it was misinformation.

They said they would weigh it but it would not be included in the competition. I said I understood. I misunderstood the rules. I went back and asked if I could wash the pumpkin with water and they said I could, but I was still disqualified. All decisions by judges are final.

Hue was weighed at a nice weight of 956 pounds. I moved Hue to Bokisch Vineyards where he is proudly displayed overloaking the vineyards. Hue looks amazing and I was excited to get to the end. I will be harvesting seeds from Hue and definately hope to grow this amazing pumpkin again. The colors and smooth shiny skin are just crazy. I won’t wash with soap again, and I may have a difficult time with the judges. That is ok!

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