I knew I was in trouble when the spots appeared.
It was about 10 weeks into my pumpkin-growing experiment. As my 4-year-old cousin succinctly put it: “Your pumpkins look sick.”
But I should back up and start from the beginning. In late April, I wrote a story about Nature’s Wonders Greenhouse on Western Reserve Road, which was founded by Frank Augustine and Bob Neapolitan.
While there, I asked about some empty garden plots. Augustine told me those were set aside for the pumpkins he was growing. Curious, I asked him for more information on how he grows the giants I see each year at the Canfield Fair.
He kindly showed me his plants, told me how he filed the edge of the seed gently with a nail file and planted it in a pot inside the greenhouse. Then, to my surprise, he gave me four seeds and said: “Try growing these.”
Now, some background on my farming abilities: I’ve tended to several gardens and took an agriculture class in college, but I had never grown a pumpkin.
So, I took the seeds home, filed them and stuck each seed in its own pot. I was very proud of myself when three of the four sprouted on the porch of my West Side home. Once they grew about 18 inches tall, it was time for a transplant. I moved them to my parents’ Boardman residence, which has a fenced-in backyard and would protect my plants from nibbling deer.
And they grew! Or at least the vines did. They stretched out 10 then 20 then 30 feet. They bloomed. I watched for pumpkins.
Eventually, a pumpkin appeared on two of the plants. The third is still pumpkin-less. It seemed so late. They weren’t putting on the weight that I thought they should be — and then these spots appeared. It looked like some kind of insect hit them.
Alan Gibson, treasurer for the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers, told me the biggest problem likely was pollination.
“Yours probably weren’t pollinated. There are male and female flowers on them. The female flowers have the start of the fruit or vegetable behind the flower,” he said.
“As soon as they bloom, the bees will pollinate them, but it can take them two or three weeks for the bees to find them and to get there,” he continued.
About a month too late, I learned I was supposed to pollinate them by hand.
Gibson suggested peeling off the flower petals around the male flower and waiving it around the plant to hand-pollinate.
There were other tips I learned from the growers at the Canfield Fair: Bury the side vines but not the main one. Make sure they were shaded. Prune the plants.
I did have a bit of luck, though. Another pumpkin appeared near the end of one vine that already had produced a dud pumpkin. It’s about the size of a basketball, nowhere near the giants on display at the Canfield Fair, but it should be enough to make a nice jack-o-lantern.
I called Augustine a few days before the fair. His pumpkins had fared better than mine, but he wasn’t entering any at Canfield this year. I told him I had one that was doing all right, but the rest of my efforts produced dismal results.
He told me not to worry about it and that I could always try again next year.