COMPOST FEEDING YOUR PUMPKIN
By: George Brooks
Although this season isn’t even over yet you should start planning for next year to improve your chances of growing a big one. The following article is about one method that has given me excellent results over the last three seasons.
This is not the only good method out there but is one of the best for supplying a consistent flow of nutrients. This gives the plant what it needs at the right time “as the plant needs it.” You do not want the plant to receive a surge of nutrients followed by famine. That type of roller coaster ride can trigger the plant to stop the Pumpkin from growing and starting the maturing process.
Rapid growth can also occur causing the Pumpkin to burst or “Blow Out.” Genetics does play a role in that condition though. Compost located near the root system will attract the Pumpkin Plant’s root system. This will allow the plant to extract its nutrients as needed by expanding the root system below and up through the Compost.
About the concept: I discovered that plants seek out nutrients, especially Compost, with their root systems from quite a distance. The first instance I encountered was when my Tomato plants sent roots out over four feet to reach a Compost Pile. Many times when moving Compost I have found numerous root systems growing up through the pile.
The most dramatic was a Pokeberry Plant that had grown its carrot like root up through the center of a pile. The root was actually two feet above the normal soil level of the plant growing beside the pile. Knowing that it’s important to supply a steady food source to grow huge Atlantic Giant Pumpkins. I devised a way that was compatible with this variety’s growth needs. In this article, you will find information to help you experiment with this process.
You need to get started right away so you will have plenty of partially decomposed Compost for next year. That’s right “Partially Decomposed.” The reason being if it was completely broken down it’s nutrients would be lost to leaching long before the next growing season was complete. You don’t need anything elaborate to start your Compost Pile. A piece of fence wire made into a circle will do just fine. In your pile put every piece of organic matter you can find. Some good sources are: grass clippings, all plant matter from your garden, Maple Leaves and fallen fruit of all kinds.
Care should be given to the type of leaves used. Some leaves contain a growth inhibitor that will actually reduce your Pumpkin’s growth. Others may be very Acidic like Oak Leaves and take too long to break down. Maple Leaves are a good choice if you have them in your area. If Maple Leaves are unavailable check with your local University Extension Service for another type of leaf that could be used. Layer your ingredients with grass clippings to supply a natural source of Nitrogen to aid in decomposition.
A layer of Manure will also be a big boost but avoid any mixed with sawdust, if possible. Sawdust consumes much of the Nitrogen as it breaks down. Another very important ingredient is Red Wiggler Worms. They will eat plant matter as soon as it starts to cool. Unlike Earthworms that will only eat Compost that is almost completely broken down. Red Wigglers are a reddish brown small to medium sized worm.
Many Bait Stores carry them in the summer when regular Earthworms are scarce. You can also buy them from Garden Supply Houses. Place them near the bottom in your new Compost Pile as soon as it is cool enough to touch. You do not need to turn your Compost because the worms will eat their way right up through it. Place bags of leaves all around your Compost Pile before the weather becomes too cold, to keep it active well into the winter season.
Preparing Your Planting Spot Next Season:
Prepare your garden soil as usual by adjusting the pH and over all nutrient levels. This is important because this soil will have to feed the Pumpkin Plant until the roots reach the Compost. Prepare your garden soil then mark out a spot four feet by five feet. Your Pumpkin Mound will be located here. Along side each of the five foot sides, mark a spot three feet by five feet.
Then remove the top soil in both areas to a depth of one foot, (if you have it), and pile it on the Pumpkin Mound area. If you do not have one foot of top soil remove what is available down to the sub-soil. Then remove and discard enough sub-soil until you have a one foot deep hole. Pile the soil up on the mound and let it slide down all four edges to form slanted sides. When all soil is piled up in the Mound Area flatten the top into a rectangle that’s smaller than the base of the pile. Smooth out the sides so they have enough slope to stay together and absorb the warm sunlight.
Then place a board on one of the slopes so you can kneel and reach the top of the mound without compacting the soil. In the top of the mound dig another rectangle four to six inches deep by mounding the soil removed around the edges of the hole. Compact the sides slightly to prevent them from falling apart. Later this hole is where you will plant your seeds about two inches from the edges. You are now ready to add your Compost.
Loosen the soil or sub-soil at the bottom of your three by five holes. Then start adding layers of your Compost from last fall’s pile. Cover each layer, (about six inches), with a layer of leaves, (about one inch), from one of the leaf bags you placed around your Compost Pile. On top of that add a one inch layer of Manure. Continue until you have one and a half feet of Compost overflowing the hole. This will settle down during the summer.
Check for Red Wigglers in the Compost as you go and add some more if needed. You will find that over time they will multiply like crazy and you will never have to buy any again. To aid in early season growth you can add some porous black plastic around the outside of the mound to help in absorbing sunlight. Make sure you do not go any further down than the top of the Compost to avoid blocking root growth. You are now ready to plant your seeds. Plant several, then thin to the best looking one when they start to send out a runner. As the Pumpkin Plant develops the roots will search out the Compost that is being broken down by the Red Wigglers.
They turn Compost into food that the plant can readily use. This will supply a steady flow of nutrients throughout the season. Watch for a Nitrogen deficiency, a condition that is more prevalent in a rainy season. This can be monitored by checking the terminal growth on the vines. This should be done on a warm sunny day late in the afternoon. A cloudy or cold day (below 80 degrees) can give you a false reading. The leaves should be a rich green color. If they are not for several days in a row, a Nitrogen fix should be considered.
Put one of the following on the Compost and in the Mound Hole “VERY SPARINGLY.” Manure Tea or Urea (45-0-0) will work very well. If you use Urea, water it in and be careful not to get the granules on the plant or it will burn it. Check the leaves again in a couple of days to see if the color is back. Your efforts will help produce a strong steady growth that should persist throughout the growing season. At the end of the season check and see if the root system grew into your Compost. Make note of the success and/or failures and make the appropriate changes for next season.
Closing Thoughts and Precautions:
With any new process or seed variety you try in the garden never rely on that one new thing. Try Compost Feeding on one of your plants next year to see how it works for you and gain experience with this new method. This also applies to your seed stock as well. Always use several different seed stocks of Atlantic Giant Pumpkin. If the seed doesn’t have the Genetics needed to produce a big one, all your hard work will not produce a monster. Good luck next year and I hope this will help you raise a champion.