Tualatin Life’s Pumpkin Contest!

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Have you ever thought about Growing a Giant Pumpkin? Here’s how to do it:

Tualatin’s West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is known nationwide and for good reason. The event boasts some truly magnificent sights, including thousand-pound pumpkin boats racing down the Lake at the Commons. Thousands gather each year to join in on the fun, and the event has grown exponentially since its first iteration in 2004. The event was started by the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, a gardening association whose members are able to grow some truly out-of-this-world giant vegetables, from pumpkins to whopping 9-pound tomatoes. In its 15-year run, the festival has gained national attention and has been covered by National Geographic, Country Living, and OPB, to name a few. Though the event hasn’t been able to go on for the past 2 years because of the pandemic, we’re anticipating it’s triumphant return this October. What better way to celebrate than by hosting a contest?

This year, Tualatin Life will be hosting a contest to see which readers can grow the biggest giant pumpkin from their very own backyard (Don’t worry, we’re providing detailed instructions below). Interested readers will be given 2 free giant pumpkin seeds courtesy of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, and the top 3 finalists will be entered in the Terminator Weigh-Off the day before the Pumpkin Regatta. The 3 finalists will receive prizes, including $50 and a bag of Pumpkin Regatta swag for third place, $150 and a bag of Pumpkin Regatta Swag for second place, and a whopping $250, Pumpkin Regatta swag and hand blown glass pumpkin by artist Andy Nichols (courtesy of the City of Tualatin) for the first place winner. 

If you think you’ve got what it takes (and we think you do), sign up on our website. Visit tualatinlife.com/pumpkin-contest to fill out a contact sheet, and we’ll send you a coupon that you can redeem for 2 giant pumpkin seeds available at Tualatin locations including the The Garden Corner, and Juanita Pohl Center. To ensure your pumpkin seed has plenty of time to grow by the Terminator Weigh-Off in mid-October, start the process between mid-April and early May. Now, let’s get to pumpkin growing!

Planting Your Seeds:

Start the growing process inside by planting your pumpkin seed in a peat pot or a seed tray. Pumpkin seeds do well in nutrient-rich, balanced soil like peat moss. Keep the pot in a warm environment around 75° to 85°F (though it’s not required, a seedling heat mat can ensure your seeds stay at this temperature). When your seed starts to sprout leaves (germinate), it’s ready to be planted outside. Your seed should germinate within about 1-2 weeks.

Prepare a plot of garden soil in your backyard – the bigger the better! It is not uncommon for professional growers to devote 500 to 1,000 square feet or more to a single pumpkin. Weed the area to ensure that your pumpkin grows in a healthy environment. Opt for an area in your garden that gets plenty of direct sunlight. Once you’ve prepared your garden bed, plant your pumpkin plant. If you’re planting both, allow for at least 10 ft. between the 2 seeds. 

Check the soil each morning and water so that the soil is always moist (not drenched). Make sure to water the soil, not the pumpkin plant or its leaves, to avoid damaging the plant or encouraging disease growth. To effectively water the soil, use a garden hose and keep it ground level as you water. Alternatively, install a drip irrigation system. Be sure to water in the mornings to allow the soil to soak up the water and avoid staying soggy.

To protect your pumpkin plant from winter chill and frost, install a cold frame or a mini-hoop house over the area. This functions as a mini-greenhouse to keep your pumpkin plant warm. Cold frames, hoop house kits, and mini-greenhouses are all available for purchase at your local home improvement store or online. You can also make a simple protective barrier yourself with 4 wooden stakes and 4 ft. of clear 6 mil plastic sheeting. First, lodge the 4 stakes into the soil in a 4 ft. wide square surrounding your pumpkin plant. Then, lay the plastic sheeting over the stakes and staple it in place with a staple gun. Once the weather heats up and there is no chance of frost, disassemble your cold frame or hoop house to avoid overheating the pumpkin. 

Tricks to Make Your Pumpkin Giant:

When starting out, you’ll notice flowers and small fruits start to bloom from the vines. Once you’ve got 2-3 small pumpkin fruits growing on the vines, pluck any extra flowers so that they don’t take away nutrients from your pumpkins. Once one of your pumpkins gets slightly larger than a baseball, remove the rest of the fruits with pruning shears. This allows the plant to put all of its energy and nutrients towards growing one giant pumpkin. As flowers and fruits continue to grow, remove them with your shears. 

Throughout the growing process, you’ll notice roots sprout from the pumpkin vines. Bury these under a 2-3 inch layer of soil. This will allow the roots to take hold in the ground, giving your pumpkin a sturdier foundation. Once the secondary vines (vines that sprout from the main vine) reach about 8 ft. in length, trim them with your pruning shears so that they don’t continue to grow. Letting these vines get too long may take away some of the nutrients that your pumpkin needs to get bigger.

Add fertilizer to your soil to make sure your pumpkin plant is getting plenty of nutrients. For the best results, choose specific fertilizer for different stages of your pumpkin’s growth. In the first 2 months, sprinkle a thin layer of nitrogen-rich fertilizer over the soil like fish emulsion, manure, and compost. In months 3-4, sprinkle a thin layer of phosphorus-rich fertilizer like bone meal or mushroom compost. In month 5 and the weeks leading up to the Terminator Weigh-Off, sprinkle a thin layer of potassium-rich soil, like greensand or alfalfa pellets. Continue to weed the area throughout the season, as weeds can impede your pumpkin’s growth (and we want a giant, after all!). 

Once your pumpkin gets about as large as a basketball, it’s time to reposition it so that the fruit is perpendicular to the vine. Though most pumpkins don’t start out in this position, remaining at a 90-degree angle to the vine for the rest of the season will ensure optimum growth. First, wait until the afternoon, when your pumpkin plant is most flexible. Then, slowly ease your pumpkin into the new position. Make sure to do this as carefully as possible to avoid snapping the stem (it may be worth it to reposition the pumpkin bit by bit over the course of 2-5 days). 

As the pumpkin grows past basketball-size (and into giant pumpkin territory), consider hanging a sheet directly over the fruit or purchasing a shade tent to protect it from direct sunlight. The hot sun has a chance of causing your fruit’s skin to harden or overheat. The shade will allow the pumpkin skin to stay cool and soft, which encourages further growth. 

Transporting Your Pumpkin:

Depending on the size of your pumpkin, moving it out of your garden may require some extra help. Luckily, we’ve got a few suggestions. If your pumpkin is under 500 pounds, enlist a group of your strongest friends to roll the pumpkin onto a large tarp. Then, carry the pumpkin on the tarp to a truck bed to transport it. Alternatively, use a wooden pallet instead of a tarp for a sturdier foundation. If your pumpkin is particularly giant, Tualatin Life can help by renting a truck and enlisting some volunteers. 

Now go forth and grow the giant pumpkin of your dreams! May the best pumpkin win. 

Prizes:

First Place:

$250 Cash, a collectible Glass Blown Pumpkin, and a Giant Pumpkin Regatta “Swag Bag.” In addition, the Grand Prize winner will receive an entry into the official 2022 West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta Terminator weigh off.

2nd Place:

$150 Cash and a Giant Pumpkin Regatta “Swag Bag.”

3rd Place:

$50 Cash and a Giant Pumpkin Regatta “Swag Bag.”

  1. Sign Up: Register to receive your free Giant Pumpking Seeds (courtesy of Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers) at tualatinlife.com/pumpkin-contest. Entry data will ONLY be used by Tualatin Life so we can keep in touch with participants throughout the year. Your personal data will not be used for marketing or shared with others.
  2. Pick up Your Seeds: Upon registration, we will email you a certificate good for a packet containing two (2) Giant Pumpkin seeds that you can pick up at either the Garden Corner or the Juanita Pohl Center during normal business hours.
  3. Grow your pumpkin as large as you can between now and October 10.
  4. Weigh Your pumpkin: Representatives from Tualatin Life will verify top weight pumpkins. 

Official Contest Rules:
For the complete, official rules,
please visit: Tualatinlife.com/pumpkin-contest.

For more tips on growing an award winning pumpkin, visit www.pgvg.org or gpc1.org.