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Growing a giant pumpkin

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Toby Buckland Toby Buckland | 14:45 UK time, Thursday, 28 July 2011

Last summer was my first ever attempt to grown a giant pumpkin. It was filmed for Gardeners' World and not only did the production team set me the challenge of growing one for TV, it had to be big enough to enter the Southampton Pumpkin Festival, held at Royal Victoria Country Park every September.

Boosted by my not entirely shameful 7th place - with the Award for Prettiest Pumpkin and a weight of 18 and a half stone! This year I am having another go.

Toby Buckland's giant pumpkin

You can't just grow any old pumpkin seed and grab a winning rosette. It has to be the progeny of a champion to stand a chance against the weighty competition.

I got mine from two veteran pumpkin growers, the same guys who supplied GW last year. It's called Patten10 - you can find similar on the internet but you need to sow it in early April and have the first fruit set between the fifth and nineteenth of July to stand a chance of getting a prize-winning whopper.

It also involves counting leaves - you need 100 before you allow any fruit to grow, so the plant is big enough to sustain the hungry fruit while it swells.

pumpkin fruit just set

When my pumpkin fruit had just set

The idea is that every bit of energy gleaned from the soil and sunshine is channelled into the one gourd. It's amazing how fast it grows - I reckon 5-10% of its own size a day.

When it's small it's barely perceptible, but now I can actually see the difference between the morning and afternoon. Apparently 24llb in a day is possible. According to my wife, it's like that in the last week of pregnancy but I wouldn't know.

I originally decided to grow a giant pumpkin thinking it would bring with it, monster green manure to help bring the soil back to life and raise the humidity in an old Victorian greenhouse that I am renting. The problem is the growth is so remarkable, that I've found myself being drawn into the geeky super size world of giant veg. I really want the best for the plant. I worry about someone stealing it, or worse graffiting their name on its side.

Really, it's not about the competition (though I have a few wagers around the place) this swollen yellow ball has taken on a life and character of its own. A GW director friend came down recently and looked decidedly perplexed by my enthusiasm and my wife says I am spending too much work time caring for 'that blimming pumpkin'.

However, I am confident I am achieving the ideal pumpkin-life balance mix. I'm just trying help it reach its full potential.  It's not like I'm obsessed, or anthropomorphising it or anything. Anyway, she now has her own twitter account PriscillaPumpk1 and should you want to get in touch, I can tell you she is a fine conversationalist. Quite witty!

Next time... the secrets of feeding watering and pruning.

Toby Buckland is a garden writer and broadcaster.


  • Comment number 1.

    Wow, will you look at the size of that beauty. I'm impressed. I remember last year's entry. After my healthy crop of squashes last summer, I have had no joy this year - the fruits have either rotten off or been eaten by slugs. Also I used last year's seeds do you think that made a difference to my failure?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi I will follow Priscilla's progress and it has made me wonder how much space do I need for growing a big gal like her? I shall look out for what food to feed her and whether the dedication is likely to cause any distress to oneself.

  • Comment number 3.

    The fruits on my pumpkin set and then rotted off and my courgettes are a weird shape too. Have they got some disease or is it just me?

  • Comment number 4.

    SueB If the seeds sprouted they’re fine – lots of squash, courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers have suffered this year due to the cold nights in early summer. Use organic pellets to keep the slugs at bay and as the summer is still young I've every confidence a new crop of fruit will soon set

  • Comment number 5.

    Calben – you’ll need a plot roughly half a tennis court in size and as for dedication-distress you’ll only get that if you try and pick up your prize-winner without bending your knees

    Cold nights (see above) have done for the pumpkin and the courgette sounds like it has only partially been pollinated. This often happens to the first courgettes of the season giving them the look of a partially inflated balloon. No disease to worry about - but I always pick them off as if left they slow the production of new better-shaped courgettes

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks Toby for the advice, I will look out for new fruits. I heard you on Gardener's Question Time recently, hope to hear you on there again soon. Gardener's World isn't the same since you left, I miss your practical advice.

  • Comment number 7.

    18 and a half stone is amazing. I'm now worrying about my pumpkins. I'm sure they're not going to reach the sumo wrestling size of your 18 stone proportions (even I in my 36 years haven't reached that weight yet), but I am now thinking that the make shift support they are climbing up (namely my apple tree) won't be able to sustain the weight of these orange beauties. From the look of your pictures though, it looks like your variety grows along the ground rather than upwards (or is it just due to the lack of light in my garden?). Question: Will the pumpkin plant just one day snap under the strain of its fruit, and if so, is there anything I can do to mitigate this kind of disaster?

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Dan - Years ago in a gloomy garden behind a rented house I trained the stem of a pumpkin up and along the washing line. To stop the stems snapping I supported the fruit in home-made hammocks made from fruit sacks tied to the line. It looked bonkers but worked a treat!
    I like the idea of letting them romp up your apple tree but they will need similar supports. If you're after a really big pumpkin it'll do best if grown along the ground with the fruits placed on a soft bed of straw and with the stalk and stem to one side where they won't stretch over or be crushed by the swelling pumpkin.

  • Comment number 9.

    I enjoyed programme about the pumpkin in fact all your programmes but where are you now please miss you.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Delia - thanks so much, that's really nice to hear. I'm busy starting an online plant nursery down in Devon which I hope to open in the autumn. If you're on twitter you can follow me @TobyBuckland for news of the launch and what happens from there!


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