There are football coaches and pitching coaches and Lamaze coaches and life coaches and coaches for just about everything under the sun. This year, I got myself a pumpkin coach.
Lest you immediately get a mental image of a squat little Disney fairy godmother waving her wand to produce a carriage suitable enough to haul Cinderella off to the ball and happily ever after, rest assured that Bainbridge resident Jim Domo is not a bibbity-bobbity-boo sort of guy. However, he annually wields his magic to produce pumpkins that, while not able to cart off Cinderella and her poofy ballgown, might make a nice home for a whole castle full of singing mice. And nice guy that he is (nobody who grows pumpkins can be nasty), he agreed to take on the challenge of helping me achieve my life long dream of growing my own pumpkins.
We started off with some basic truths about pumpkin growing. You need lots of room. Right off the bat, I knew I was in trouble, at least for growing giant pumpkins. Jim’s garden is about the size of my living room. Mine is 8’ x 4’. So I extracted a promise from my husband that he would not mow anywhere there were vines. This helped enormously since my plants escaped like toddlers from their playpens as soon as they had a couple of leaves.
Then, there’s the issue of seeds. I had saved some from a particularly nice pie pumpkin I’d purchased last year. Jim added to my stash by providing me with a handful from his 2008 specimens, weighing around 750 – 800 pounds, cautioning me that I would probably only use one or two plants and as a first-timer, might only get some in the 50 lb. vicinity. Hmm, I thought. Maybe we ought to declare a moratorium on any mowing!
I started my pie pumpkin seeds fairly early in April in the house. I actually waited too long to plant the giant ones. I was out of town and wanted to make sure they were watered, etc. Big mistake. They never really did get going with any degree of energy. My pie pumpkins, however, took off like crazy as soon as I transplanted them in my garden.
Then came the tricky part. You have to know the difference between a male and female pumpkin flower. This had always puzzled me. They sure looked the same to me. But, Jim told me, the female flower is very different, when you got up close and personal, and only by going out every day and checking, can you be sure when one shows up. When I finally took the time to look, it was pretty evident, even to me. But since the female flower only blossoms for one day, the chances of fertilization is an iffy thing. I resorted to taking a Q-tip with me and “playing bee.”
“I actually pick the males and bring them in the house,” Jim told me later. “In the morning, I take a paintbrush and a glass of wine and transfer the male pollen onto the female flower.” A twinkle in his eye says he might be joking about the glass of wine, but maybe not. It sounds like a good idea to me.
Only a few days after the bee thing, I discovered green bulges on the bottom of two of the female flowers. Heady with excitement, I relayed the information to Jim. “Houston, we have pumpkins!” I chortled. Jim agreed.
A sudden fear struck me. What about the numerous deer who traipsed through our property. Would they be in the mind for a bit of pumpkin appetizer? I grabbed some netting that I often used to keep birds off the raspberries and other things, and draped it over my babies. I also shoved a piece of Styrofoam underneath to keep out critters who came up through the ground. I have to admit I didn’t have the energy around my project that Jim has. I didn’t fertilize or debug--pretty much left well enough alone. But soon, without the fertilizer and extra water or interference from Bambi, they progressed from marble size to golf balls, to tennis balls, and onward.
Meanwhile, Jim was reporting progress in his own garden. His two “babies” were already topping 30 pounds! At one point, he covered them with fabric to keep off the sun, which might dry them out and cause them to crack. And they grew, and grew, and grew.
Giant pumpkins are an obsessive sort of thing. Just Google the phrase and see what comes up. Or ask Jim’s wife, Mary Kay.
To make a long story short, we both recently harvested our pumpkins. I was surprised to discover how hard it is to cut through a pumpkin stem. Plus, both stems had sent out roots into the ground which required a bit of tugging. Jim actually uses this phenomenon, covering his vines so they’ll grow roots for additional nourishment. Right now, mine are sitting on our front step, waiting for their next starring role, which will be in a pie shell with real whipped cream on top. Maybe some pumpkin muffins, too. That’s about as far as they’ll stretch.
In front of the Domo house sit his five pumpkins, three of which he only discovered after pulling up the vines. He had to construct an elaborate tripod and pulley system to get them out of the patch behind his house and into the front yard. The largest weighed in at 925 lbs and captured tenth place at the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Dublin, OH. But half the fun of growing pumpkins is turning them into glowing jack-o-lanterns, and this is where Jim’s pumpkins are headed. Trick or Treaters trekking up Jim’s driveway each year are probably a bit startled, and perhaps a Cinderella or two will begin dreaming of rolling off in it to find Prince Charming.
Next year. “You’ve caught the fever,” Jim tells me. I think he’s right.

No comments: