df34c01dae4ac6f01cbec03a464689b0

Linus from “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966) might have more success seeing the “Great Pumpkin” if he sat in the half-acre pumpkin patch of Darrel Berry, aged 61 of Linden, Michigan.

There are only about four pumpkins, but they are gigantic, some award-winning and definitely impressive enough to call them great.

“Kids stand there with their mouths open and just stare. I try to carry a Polaroid camera. I get the parents to lift up the kids to take a picture with the pumpkin and I give it to them. It gives them something to take home and remember,” stated Berry about one of his reasons for growing giant pumpkins. 

Making children happy is definitely fun, but winning “weigh offs” is the other reason Darrel Berry raises these giant round globes. The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) is an international group that has certified locations all over the world for weighing pumpkins to decide who has grown the heaviest pumpkin (color only matters to determine if it is a squash, but there are surface requirements, like no cracks, holes or soft spots). “I don’t grow them for beauty, I grow them for weight,” states Berry. Harnica Pumpkin Farm in Dundee, Michigan is where Berry takes his pumpkins and other vegetables for the official weigh off.

These “weigh offs” have proven successful. According to Berry, “My personal best was 853 pounds in 2003; it was also a Monroe County record for two years.” In 2000 he won for one weighing 639 pounds. “Best in Show” was his award in 2005 for color and shape of a 760 pound specimen. According to Berry, “Now you need a pumpkin over 1,000 pounds to win anything.” He has won awards for other vegetables lately, but no pumpkins.

“If I had my druthers, I would have been a farmer, but GM had nice pay and insurance, it was too hard to leave that security after that,” said Berry. Always having a garden and experimenting with exotic varieties finally lead Berry to giant pumpkins when his friend Marvin Mitchell showed him his pumpkin patch in 1999. His first seeds were obtained from Mitchell along with growing advice. They are still close friends and help each other tend their farms and special vegetables.

Giant Pumpkin seeds are named by the pounds of the pumpkin the seeds were taken from. To keep track of seeds that grow the largest of the giants, Berry pollinates by hand. “If the bees are left to pollinate the flowers, I have to list it for example as, 922 open, since I don’t know what pollinated it,” Berry explains. He pollinates by picking a male blossom (no swelling or pumpkin growing below the flower) and rubs the male stamen on the female stigma.

So, how big is a giant pumpkin these days? The World Pumpkin Federation, founded by Ray Waterman in 1983 and kicked off with a 465 pound pumpkin grown by Peter and Paul Waterman, has been the push behind competitive growing. For many years, they pressed for a 1,000 pound pumpkin. In 1996 Paula and Nathan Zehr’s pumpkin weighed in at 1,061 pounds and won $53,000 (highest prize money ever awarded). The next level everyone was going for 1,500 pounds was beat in 2006 weighing in at 1,502 pounds and grown by Ron Wallace of Greene, Rhode Island.

So, what does Berry do with these heavy, odd-shaped giants? One is always donated to MJ Koblinski of Fenton for her special carving for the past several years. She has been carving pumpkins for the pleasure of children (and parents and grandparents) for about fifteen years. Traditionally, she carves a full Garfield character face. She started doing this for her two daughters to cheer them up because the family was going through a divorce. The tradition has remained. You can’t help but notice her display with a 300+ pound carved Garfield anchoring over 100 carved Jack O’ Lanterns. He donates or sells his other pumpkins, usually for causes that include children.

photo_-_giant_pumpkin_-_760_2005_best_in_show_-_ac_2.jpgGrowing these funny looking members of the squash family is only for passionate pumpkin people. Berry calls it, “Good, clean honest work.” Most people would say a lot of hard work. At peak growing time, the plants consume 50 gallons of water a day (he pumps it from Byram Lake into a reservoir and then to the plants by separate hoses twice a day). They can grow twenty to thirty pounds (or 8 – 10 inches) in one day. This year according to Berry, “The pumpkins are running about two weeks behind, because of the cool weather and there isn’t anything I can do about it.”

A typical giant pumpkin requires seeds to be started early in a greenhouse to extend the growing season, protected from freezing, shielded from the sun, measured daily, watered twice daily, fertilized every fourteen days, hand-pollinated, hand pruned…and hope that there won’t be any pests, diseases, holes, serious soft spots or cracks…whew!

Darrel Berry’s giant pumpkin growing tips…for competition or bragging rights

Soil – Darrel Berry recommends soil testing every fall by a University Extension Service. Nutrients should be added based on the recommendation of the soil test. He claims a sandy loam soil is best for drainage and nutrient retention.

Plants – Start seeds indoors around May 10th (Zone 5) for a full growing season. Plant in the garden about May 24, later if the weather is cool. Use covers at night (to protect from cold or freezing air) and remove during daylight hours to prevent scorching.

Water – A very important requirement. At peak growth pumpkins require 50 gallons of water daily; water pumpkins in the morning and early evening during peak growth and hot weather. Berry advises using gallon jugs to start, to help understand water needs.

Water Dam - Make a raised circle of soil to keep water near the main root, especially during hot, dry weather.

Fertilizer – Use a generic 20-20-20 soluble fertilizer (add to water) every two weeks…follow fertilizer directions.

Quick Lime – Every spring Berry adds quick release lime to the soil.

Light – Full sun all day.

Covering – Cover vines during early spring at night to avoid cold temperatures. When the pumpkins reach about 200 pounds provide a tarp tent-like structure cover to keep the sun from drying the skin and cracking it.

Pruning – Remove secondary shoots early in growth cycle. Late July all but one pumpkin should be removed from each vine.

Pollination – Approximately July 4th Berry uses the male flower to fertilize the female flower. Cheesecloth covers the pumpkin to keep bees from pollinating.

Diseases – The biggest problem is Watermelon Mosaic Virus. Its symptoms are bumpy, discolored, distorted leaves. It slows the growth of pumpkins which is serious to competitors and doesn’t show up right away.

Recommended reading – “How to Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins” by Don Langevin

P.E.T.P.U. – (pronounced pet poo) – People for the Ethical Treatment of Pumpkins http://www.geocities.com/petpu4/ an organization dedicated to the rights of pumpkins!  

"Rewritten with permission from the Michigan Gardener Magazine".  

 
Sandie is a freelance writer and photographer. Her mother started her passion for gardening by "letting" her help her plant and water annuals, paint stepping stones and mow and edge the grass. Some of the "dirt" must have been absorbed. She consider herself to be a plant collector. Her garden had a plan, but it has been overrun by cool and not so cool plants. If they grow and bloom or look nice, they stay. That includes what many people might call weeds! Sandie calls them wildflowers or native plants. Check out her website at www.SandieParrott.com for more info, or visit her profile at www.theMulch.com/mulch-community/2037-sandiep/profile . She currently writes garden articles and profiles of passionate gardeners for "the Michigan Gardener" and "the Herbarist" along with other non-gardening writing.  

Save


Plant Care Reminders

Microgreens
Edibles Chris Eirschele

What are Microgreens and How to Grow Them

Microgreens are tiny leafed vegetables that are grown from seed and require very little space.
Wisteria Monthly Plant Care
Vines Julie Bawden-Davis

Wisteria spp (Wisteria) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Stag Horn Ferns (Platyceriums) - Care…

50892 Walter Andersen Nursery
Stag Horn Fern Care and Propagation
Planting and Mounting

Quisqualis indica (Rangoon Creeper) -…

27304 Ellen Goff
Rangoon Creeper Monthly Plant Care
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) -…

13513 Steve Brigham
Sweet Potato Monthly Plant Care
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Gardening Articles

Patrick Anderson
Expert Bios Patrick Anderson

Patrick Anderson - Southwest

Region: Southwest
Straz Residence Makeover
Landscape and Design Kathleen Hassinger

APLD International Landscape Design Merit Award Winner: William H. Reeve, IV and Sean Kearns

Association of Professional Landscape Designers Announces: Annual International Landscape Design Awards Program Winners

Composting With Worms - Everything You Wanted to Know

8317
Red Wiggler Worms
Everything you wanted to know about composting with worms, but were afraid to ask:

Puzzle #4 - Plants & Such

6309
Plants Crossword Puzzle
Print this and take a few minutes and have some fun trying to figure this crossword…

How to Plant Grafted Tomatoes! - Gotomato Organics

21711
Grafted Tomatoes
Recently, Grafted Tomatoes have been introduced to local gardeners.

Plant Recommendations

Leaf Lily
Plant Recommendations Tania Marien

Favorite Plants To Draw

Tania's Favorite Plants to Draw
Kashmir Cypress

Weeping Trees - Southern California

Don Walker's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite Weeping Trees for Southern California.

Ivies for Small Moss Filled Topiary -…

11835 Pat Hammer
Hedera helix 'Lady Frances'
Pat Hammer's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite Ivies for Small Moss Filled Topiary in…

Companion Plants for Succulent Gardens…

20275 Patrick Anderson
Romneya coulteri
Patrick Anderson's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite Companion Plants for Succulent…

Other Plants in My Garden - Southern…

4212 Jan Brider
Digitalis purpurea
Jan Brider's Top Plant Recommendation: Favorite Other Plants In My Garden for Southern…

Featured Plant Care

Pomegranate Monthly Plant Care

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

in Edibles
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Agapanthus

Plant Care Recommendations - Shrubs - Sunset Zone 24

in Shrubs
Do you live In coastal southern California? Do you grow any of these plants?
Calendula officinalis Monthly Plant Care Reminders

Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold, English Marigold) - Monthly Plant Care Reminders

in Annuals
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!
Lemon Tree Monthly Plant Care

Lemon Tree - (Citrus limon) - Monthly Plant Care Calendar

in Edibles
You can have these monthly Plant Care Reminders sent directly to you each month!

Latest Articles

Peach Leaf Curl

Peach Leaf Curl - Information Hub

Peach leaf curl is a common problem found on leaves of Peaches and Nectarines (and their…
Avocado Information Hub

Avocado - Growing and Plant Care Information Hub

in Edibles
We're bringing relevant information about Avocados (Persea americana) to one fantastic…

Popular Articles

Using the Mulch for Home Gardeners

Home Gardener: Using All The Great Features on the Mulch

You Can Use The Great Features on the Mulch For Free!
Baseball Field Maintenance

Baseball Field Maintenance - A General Guide for Fields of All Levels

in Lawn
More great baseball field resources can be found here (including a pdf version of this…
Queen Palm Care & Use

The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) Care & Use

in Trees
Jungle Music Palms and Cycads is a family owned and operated business established in 1977
Microgreens

What are Microgreens and How to Grow Them

in Edibles
Microgreens are tiny leafed vegetables that are grown from seed and require very little…

User Guides (Slide)

Popular Recommendations (Slide)

Upcoming Events

View All Events

Who's Online

We have 1471 guests and one member online

  • moowy