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Putzing with Pumpkins

 

 

Written by: Kevin Milaeger

July 26, 2021

 

After all these years of planting I’m finally growing pumpkins for the first time. There’ve been pumpkins planted in my garden in the past, but it was done by squirrels. They chewed up the fall pumpkin display and buried some of the seeds, and the pumpkins sprouted as volunteers the following spring. I got a few pumpkins out of it with no effort on my part. This year it’s different. I guess the story begins about five years ago when I was walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago one fine fall day. The city had huge planters on the sidewalk, and they always looked wonderful. On that particular day the autumnal display included pumpkins. Not huge, maybe 150 pounds or so. But some hooligans had been busy, and smashed some of the pumpkins onto the sidewalk. I scooped up some of the seeds and stuffed them in my souvenir cup from the Billy Goat Tavern, and put them in my refrigerator when I got home. This year I finally remembered the seeds at the right time, and planted up a bunch. I’d say 80% germinated, so I gave some plants to friends and planted the rest in my garden on June 13th.

 

 

planting day June 13

 

July 25, 6 weeks after planting

 

Now the plants are well established, maybe ten feet wide. Like all cucurbits (plants in the squash, pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, and melon families, as well as other plants that aren’t often cultivated), the huge flowers require pollinators. This is usually done by different kinds of insects, but sometimes the insects are in short supply. When the plants begin to flower, most of the early flowers are male. But if you observe the plants carefully, you’ll soon see female flowers. I check them first thing in the morning, watching for insects that have already discovered the flowers. They are good at it. That’s their job, after all. But if there’s a shortage of insects, you can hand pollinate. (If you’re a bit prudish, you can skip the next couple of sentences about sex in the garden. lol)

To assist in the pollination process, simply pick a fresh male flower, and strip it of it’s rich golden petals. The anthers remain, and you simply dab the pollen laden anthers onto the stigma of a female flower, as thoroughly as possible. You can do this with several male flowers if you feel frisky, but one is usually enough. The next day you’ll see the spent female flower, withering. Directly behind it, you’ll see the fertilized ovary, the future pumpkin. It’ll be about the size of a ping pong ball, pale yellow in color. If the fertilization didn’t take, it’ll dry up. If pollination was successful, it’ll immediately start to develop, and you’ll see it grow in size every day.

 

 

female flower stigma, with pollinator

 

male flower with pollinator on anthers

 

Every year around Halloween we see stories in the news about very large pumpkins. The record for Wisconsin is 2,282 pounds. That would be fun to see. Most pumpkins begin showing female flowers around mid June. Many are quite a bit later. But let’s say you had a successful pollination in mid-June, and you harvested that pumpkin in mid-October. That’s about 120 days of growing. For that record pumpkin, given those dates, it would have to gain an average of nineteen pounds per day for the entire 120 day period! That requires lots of water. I’ve heard that growers of these monster pumpkins have a constant drip of water going. I’ve even heard of some growers injecting the pumpkin stems with milk. I’m sure there are plenty of tricks, especially regarding fertilizer. I’m not doing anything special, other than regular watering and fertilizing. This could be a fun project for kids, but my four year old granddaughter didn’t seem too impressed with the ping pong sized pumpkin I showed her a few days ago. No doubt as it grows it’ll grab her attention.

 

 

female flower

 

male flower

 

Hand pollinating isn’t necessary for most plants. After all, they’ve all managed to reproduce in their native regions long before we humans started to grow them in our gardens. But it’s kind of fun, and it’s a great way to get kids involved in the garden. I mentioned earlier that pumpkins are in the family of plants known as cucurbits, a family that includes cucumbers and squash. All of these plants can be hand pollinated if you want to get intensely involved in the garden. I like it because it forces you to get intimately involved with the plants, and it helps you understand them. It also draws you into the entire natural world, and that’s a good thing.

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) with your questions and comments!

Click here to see Kevin Milaeger's Vintage Ornament Blog


Archives

2021

July 2021 - July Tomato Observations

June 2021 - Late Spring Garden Update

May 2021 - Picking Peppers and Pepper Pointers

January 2021 - Paste Tomatoes—Searching for More Flavor

January 2021 - New Gardeners - Dig In!

2020

October 2020 - The End of the Season

September 2020 - Planting Now for Fall Harvest

August 2020 - Midsummer Garden Notes

July 2020 - Cukes Now! Tomatoes for the Fourth?

June 2020 - Tomato Plant Supports and Fertility

May 2020 - Time to Plant

April 2020 - Making Salads More Memorable

April 2020 - Victory Gardens Then and Now

April 2020 - Turn Off the News and Get in Your Garden

March 2020 - Stay Healthy---Plant Some Greens

February 2020 - Winter Planning, Winter Reading

2019

September 2019 - Planting Fall Greens---what's your excuse?

September 2019 - 2019 Tomatomania Review

August 2019 - The Hypochondriacal Garden

July 2019 - Tomatoes 2019---A New Record!

June 2019 - Tomatoes---Early Summer Progress Report

June 2019 - Dwarf Tomatoes---The Next Big Thing

May 2019 - The Urge to Plant is Getting Stronger

April 2019 - Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Greens

April 2019 - Jefferson's Tomatoes & Tomato Nutrition

March 2019 - The Year of the Potato

March 2019 - Tomatoes---America's Favorite Vegetable

February 2019 - The Greens are Coming

January 2019 - Long, Chilly Nights Make Me Think of Tomatoes

2018

June 2018 - Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

May 2018 - To Plant or Not to Plant

March 2018 - Brrr...Can You Plant this Early?

February 2018 - February's Climatological Shift

2017

October 2017 - Remember: Every Tomato Variety is Someone's Favorite

August 2017 - A Tomato Miracle

July 2017 - Our Big Garden & Some Unpleasant News

June 2017 - Mid-June Tomato Report

June 2017 - Tomatoes----The Acid Test

April 2017 - It's Time to Plant Onions

April 2017 - Raspberries: It's time for annual pruning

March 2017 - Warning! Internet Garden Danger!

March 2017 - Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending

March 2017 - It's Only the Start of March, but...

February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes

February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner

2016

October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more

September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is...

September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.

August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!

July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening

July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns

June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!

June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!

May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!

May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!

April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!

April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!

March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!

March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato

March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant

February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience

February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon

January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?

January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!

2015

November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015

2014

September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   (Click here for Spreadsheet)

2013

October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 BlogVideo and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog

July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables

May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers

May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013

April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013

April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!

April 2013 - It's Planting Time

March 2013 - Onions

March 2013 - Vintage Veggies

March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update

February 2013 - Hot Peppers

February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes

February 2013 - Greens to Grow

2012

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results

July 2012 - Compass Plant

July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave

June 2012 - Okra

June 2012 - Potato Onion

May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden

May 2012 - Vintage Veggie Fest

March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin

March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project

February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers

February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature 

January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

2011

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review  

August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview

August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour

July 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden

July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes

June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple

June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing

May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes

April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview

March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

2010

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review  

August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color 

July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes 

June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

2009

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review  

September 2009 - Tomatomania Review

July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems

June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization

June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience 

May 2009 - Tomatoes General

May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases

May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing

April 2009 - Tomatoes General