Bill Verchere's Pumpkin Diary

This page is  about my adventures
in my first year of growing giant pumpkins,
- how I got hooked on this insane hobby,
- plus a few photos.

"Website of the Month" - Take 5 Magazine, October, 1998

Me at the weighoff


How it Started...

Duncan McAlpine gave me a few seeds and goaded me into trying to grow a bigger giant pumpkin than he did. His best was a mere 150 lbs, and, since many first time growers raise 400, 500, and 600 pounders, I accepted the challenge. Heck, I'm a fairly competent vegetable gardener here on Vancouver Island, so why not? Besides, - what the heck does Duncan McAlpine know about growing giant pumpkins?

One small problem, though - there was simply no room in my yard for one of these space-taking monsters. Then my old friend, Gilberte Bailey, (who loves jack-o-lanterns), came to the rescue. She agreed to let me use her back yard for the project. Bolstered by her assurance "not to interfere" when the time came to prune out smaller pumpkins, it sounded like a good idea. There was plenty of room in her yard, she said, providing I "cleaned things up a bit" first. So, I checked out her property - -MY GOD!! - HER YARD! - MY FUTURE PUMPKIN PATCH! was - - a JUNGLE!! - A wild tangle of salal bushes, blackberries, rotting fir stumps, and rocks!

Getting Ready ...

I shake my head now to think of the work that I put in over the winter just to clean up that unholy mess. Days and days of hacking, digging, and sweating. But dreams of a 1000 lb world record pumpkin filled my head! I was becoming obsessed!

Finally, I had cleared a nice 250 sq. ft. patch. (Far less than the 2500 sq ft experts recommend, but it would have to do.) By March I began bringing in soil amendments - bag after bag after bag of peat moss, lime, manure, and compost. Carloads of the stuff! I built a small cold frame, surrounded it with black plastic to keep the soil warm, and now - I was ready to plant!

Planting ...

I'll be brief about this, but I made the usual beginner's mistake of starting far too early. Chopping through the ice is no way to do it. After several aborted starts and a late spring, I finally had 4 transplants in the ground on May 20th. A month later, these were thinned down to the best looking plant.

Growing ...

Experts say that when you plant a giant pumpkin, stand back! They grow fast! How right they are!

Here's how things looked around the beginning of June:Patch - early June

And by the end of June: Patch - late June

The sex life of pumpkins ...

By now, summer had truly arrived. Things were now coming along nicely. The plant kept spreading, and flowers appeared. At first too many male flowers and not enough females. Then lots and lots of flowers - of both sexes! After quick lesson on the sex life of pumpkins, and how to hand pollinate, we soon had a dozen or so pregnancies underway. Pregnancies? - Well, baby pumpkins, anyway.

Here's a photo of my biggest on July 29th: 44
- a "whopping" 44 inches in circumference: ... along with a female flower (I think).

Another view of the patch: Patch - again

Birth control ...

By early August we had cut off all the smaller pumpkins, and were finally left with the 2 biggest and fastest growing ones. (I say "we", because by this time Gilberte was taking more than a passive interest, and, ominously, was becoming more actively involved in decision-making). Now, in case you don't know, the idea is to get rid of all the smaller, slower-growing pumpkins in order to direct all the plant's energy into producing that one big prizewinner! Its tough to do, but necessary. So the tough decision was made - (I'm used to making tough decisions). One of those two remaining pumpkins would have to go!

Emotions ...

But, as you might have foreseen - emotions and sentiment now began entering the picture. Both pumpkins were by now well over 100 lbs, and a great source of pride and joy, (particularly to Gilberte). They are growing close together and seem almost inseparable. In fact, she is now lovingly calling them "Mama" and "Papa", (after her deceased parents). I begin getting a funny feeling about all of this - The great bowling ball of fate is now rolling down my alley! I can now see it's going to be terribly traumatic to even consider cutting one off. - So, the decision is revised - we will go with both pumpkins!


It got very hot here during August, and the fruits (that what they call pumpkins) had to be protected from the sun and from the rain that was sure to come later, so we erected shelters over them:

Sheltered pumpkins

By the end of the month, both fruits were about 175 lbs, and things were going great! No record breakers, but one thing was certain - I would beat Duncan! His one pumpkin was still far smaller than mine. I was so supremely confident that, at Gilberte's further urging, we allowed 5 more late-pollinated pumpkins to grow. We now had 7 good pumpkins growing on the one plant, and I was on my way to glory!

Funny things ...

But a funny thing happened - by early September, "mama" and "papa" had completely stopped growing! What could be the reason? Were the smaller ones taking nutrients away? I suppose so, - but time was now running out - and the small ones were growing rapidly. I had to keep going - the die was cast! My goal now was just to keep everything alive until harvest time. If nothing else, we would certainly have a great Halloween display! And who knows - maybe I could break some kind of record for total weight on one pumpkin plant? I could yet win glory!

Glory be! ...

And so on October 12th, 1996, my first year of growing giant pumpkins came to a glorious end. But no record-breakers, - "Mama" weighed a proud 177 lbs at the Buckerfields Giant Pumpkin contest in Nanaimo, BC, and "Papa" tipped the scales 197 lbs, for a second place ribbon.

Ah!- I'm so proud I am of that ribbon! - Its orange and black, and cheap, and most of the kids got one too, (for all the small jack-o-lanterns they brought in). But that ribbon means so much to me! It represents all that I accomplished in my first year of giant pumpkin growing, (including a small fortune spent on fertilzer). And, - in case you're wondering, - the total weight of all my pumpkins on the one plant was 749 lbs!  That, my friends, is a lot of pumpkin pie filling!

I'll conclude this brief diary with a picture of me with me and "Papa":   Me & pumpkin

And Gilberte with "Papa" and "Mama":     Pict1.gif (30899 bytes)

As for Duncan's final weight? - Well, I'll let you read about it on his page. (He won the "ugliest pumpkin" award). That figures. Right now I'm getting ready for next year, with bigger dreams - growing giant pumpkins is fun!

Take a quick peek at my 1997 Monster Pumpkin

And  my Prize-winning 1998 Giant! - First place winner at the 1998 Saltspring Island Fall Fair!

Questions about pumpkin growing? Look no further than:
Duncan McAlpine's Giant Pumpkin Page
- Here you'll find expert advice, links to dozens of great pages,
and how to join the Giant Pumpkin Newsgroup.

Bill Verchere
Ladysmith, BC Canada