Originally published on June 18, 2020.
Choose the sunniest location in your yard. To grow plenty of large-good quality pumpkins, you need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight a day. That means your garden space is not in the shade for 6-8 consecutive hours.
You may choose to start your pumpkin seeds in small cups or plant them directly into your garden. Either way, plant the seeds half to one inch deep. The individual plants can be spaced between 4-6 feet apart in your garden.
Ideally, pumpkins should receive one inch of water per week. If it does not rain, you will need to water your plants. Water vegetable crops like pumpkins at the base of the plant. Plants drink from their roots. If you wet the foliage, you can increase the risk of disease spreading. Disease is very prevalent in Louisiana pumpkin crops. Try not to wet the foliage when watering.
Plants obtain their food through a process called photosynthesis. A combination of sunlight, oxygen and water help the plants make their food. However, plants thrive if you also fertilize them. Fertilizer for plants is like a vitamin for you.
When a farmer is going to plant pumpkins, he or she will apply fertilizer to the ground before planting. This is called Preplant fertilizer.
The LSU AgCenter recommends applying 80-90 total pounds of Nitrogen (N) per acre for an optimum pumpkin crop. Normally a farmer would take a soil test before planting. You may or may not want to do this. Depending on your soil test results, the LSU AgCenter also recommends applying a total of 50-150 pounds of actual Phosphorus (P) per acre and 100 to 200 pounds of actual potassium (K) per acre for optimum yields. The amount of P and K that you add to your soil depend on your soil test results. For instance if you are low in P and K apply the lower amounts. If you are medium to high, apply the higher amounts. If your soil sample says very high for P and K technically you do not need to add these elements.
Now wait…. You aren’t planting an entire acre. You may also be thinking, “How do I measure fertilizer?” There are many kinds of fertilizers available. 13-13-13, urea, animal manures, composts etc. What you need to know is the amount of N-P-K in each. Note: whatever type of fertilizer you chose, the company often places three numbers on the bag. These always represent in the same order N, P and K or N-P-K.
I need to tell you one more thing before we start calculating fertilizer. The total amount of P and K are usually applied as the preplant fertilizer for most vegetable crops. But nitrogen is always broken down into preplant and side dress applications. Side dress applications are applied to the side of the crop once they start growing. In the case of pumpkins, side dress applications are usually placed when the plant begins to bush and again when the flowers come on right before or as the plants begin to vine out.
So ideally, we will put out 50 pounds of actual N per acre before planting and incorporate the remaining 30-40 pounds later as the crop begins to grow.
Let’s use 13-13-13 as an example. Triple 13 or 13-13-13 is a nice cheap and easy to find source of fertilizer. The 13 stands for 13%. Remember how we said you need actual pounds? What the company is telling you is that this product contains 13% nitrogen (N), 13% phosphorus (P) and 13% potassium (K).
If I need 50 actual pounds of actual N to go in my 1-acre garden, then I need to put out more than 50 pounds of 13-13-13 because it is only 13% N. So, I’ll take 50/0.13 = 384 lbs. of 13-13-13 for 50 lbs. of actual nitrogen. Seeing how much this is, it makes sense that a farmer growing many acres would want to choose a fertilizer with even more nitrogen in it.
**Does this mean you need to go out and get 384 pounds of 13-13-13? NO! You are not planting an entire acre for this contest. So how big is your area?
Let’s say you have one row in a garden. Measure the width of that row from the center of where you stand on one side of it to the center of where you stand one the other side. See Figure 1.
Now how far apart are you spacing your plants? You have five seeds. Did all five germinate? Did you plant them 4 feet, 5 feet or 6 feet apart? Or did you use a different spacing? In the example in Figure 1. The contestant had all 5 seeds germinate. Her plants were spaced 5 feet apart on a row that is 4 feet wide.
So, to determine her garden size she would multiple 4 feet (row width) by 25 feet (row length) which equals 100 sqft. We know an acre is 43,560 sqft. So you take 100/43,560 = 0.0022 acres.
384lbs of 13-13-13/ 1 acre = xlbs/ 0.0022 acres ? X = 0.88lbs for your plot. To make it easy, this gardener would round up to 1 pound of 13-13-13 and apply it evenly to her row. She would incorporate it into the top 3-5 inches. Water in the fertilizer or let it rain. Then wait 3-7 days and plant her seeds or small seedlings if she first grew them in cups.
So how much P and K did she put out? Yes, the answer is 50 pounds of both of these too using the 13-13-13. Depending on the soil test results this may be enough P but not enough K. You’ll need to use something like a triple super phosphate (often called TSP) (0-45-0) to get more phosphorous out without adding more nitrogen. Or you can use muriate of potash (0-0-62) to get more K out without adding more N or P. There are also other choices. You chose.
However, if you are not taking a soil test. We know you at least put out the equivalent of 50lbs of both P and K per acre using the 13-13-13. Again. The choice in fertilizer is yours. Remember you will also need to put out more Nitrogen when the plants begin bushing out or right as they start to vine. Recalculate to figure out the remaining amount needed for your garden size.
The key is to think like a farmer. Apply what you need and not any more. Farmers care for their land and do not want to ruin it or the environment around them. They also care about making a profit. How expensive are the fertilizer choices you have? If you are trying to win the record keeping award, tell us what you used, how much and in your records show us the math you did to come up with how much to apply. Also, if you are trying to win the record keeping award, take photos as your plants grow. Let us know what insects and diseases you saw.
The most important insects you need to watch out for in a pumpkin crop are worms, snails and slugs. These little creates will wreak havoc on your foliage and leaves. We DO NOT apply insecticides before seeing an insect. Wait until you see an insect, make sure it is a bad insect not a beneficial insect and then decide how you will control it. We also want toconsider how many insects are out there… just a few and you squished them? Or many and they are going to start damaging your crop?
Worms on pumpkins can be controlled with insecticides that have the active ingredients: carbaryl (like Sevin), Bt an organic microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis (like Dipel dust), or pyrethroid insecticides (many options).Snails and slugs are controlled with baits. Apply them in the early evening and to be safe around pets, use products where the active ingredient is Iron Phosphate (like Sluggo).
Diseases are very prevalent in pumpkin crops. Diseases are often controlled by fungicides. But fungicides only work as a preventative. They do not cure diseases; they only slow the spreading of disease. Therefore once your pumpkins start vining out you can choose to start spraying fungicides. They are usually applied every 10-14 days. Make sure, if you spray fungicides that you are choosing ones that have pumpkins on the label. Also note the FRAC code on the bottle. Farmers do not keep sparing the same fungicide over and over and over again. They rotate between active ingredients and FRAC codes. The FRAC code tells you how the fungicide works (its mode of action). If you keep using the same fungicides that work in the same exact way over and over again, the diseases can build up tolerance or resistance and then that product no longer works. You are just wasting money.
If you start to see insects or diseases or have any other problems with your pumpkin crop. Let your agents know. They can help you find the answers to what is going right and wrong with the crop.
You have been provided with Cinderella pumpkin seeds. These pumpkins are not going to grow into 200 lb. pumpkins, but they can get quite large. The main reason we chose them is that they are pretty disease tolerant and generally do well in Louisiana. We are not living in ideal pumpkin growing country, so we need extra hardy pumpkins here.
Good luck and most importantly have fun. We can’t wait to see what you grow. And even if you do not win this contest… think about how amazing your front door will look this Halloween and Thanksgiving season, with all of your locally grown pumpkins!