Pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere, and not a bite to eat.
Paul Reinken of Warren has about 600 pounds of pumpkin in his backyard but he's not going to get a single pie, roll or cookie out of it.
Reinken was hoping to grow one 500-pound pumpkin this year, his first in the big pumpkin arena, but he's happy with two at 300 pounds. "For my first year, that's pretty good," he said.
Photo by Brian Ferry
Paul Reinken of Warren poses with one of his two 300-pound pumpkins. Reinken is embarking on a mission to raise the largest pumpkin he can. Three hundred pounds is just the start.
He won't know exactly how big they are until he takes them the inaugural pumpkin festival at Port Farms in Waterford on Oct. 16.
The pumpkins are about 100 inches in circumference. That measurement and the combined over-the-top readings show that his pumpkins should come in close to 300 pounds.
"It starts with the seed," he said.
Thanks to Ron Gage of Meadville, Reinken had the right start.
He planted 861 Gage and 958 Gage seeds. The naming convention starts with the weight of the pumpkin and ends with the last name of the grower.
In May, he put the seeds in a box with some heating pads in the bottom. They won't sprout until temperatures are at least 80 degrees he said. So, starting them inside the house is a better idea in this climate.
On May 17 he had sprouts and moved them outside.
He used some old windows to create "makeshift greenhouses" for the pumpkins. "When you get them outside, you have to keep them warm," Reinken said. "Once they really start growing, the vines grow up to a foot a day."
Diseases, insects, and mammals can threaten the plants.
Rabbits aren't much of a problem for pumpkins and Reinken's fence keeps out deer. He keeps an eye out for groundhogs, mice and squirrels.
He uses insecticides, carefully applied not only to the tops of the leaves, but also the undersides. "I sprayed them two to three times a week," he said. "The thing with insecticides, you can't stick with one. You have to alternate them."
Reinken also varied the fertilizer he used, sometimes applying a commercial fertilizer and others a "tea."
"Every week I would make compost tea," he said.
He alternated compost and horse manure as the basis of the "tea" adding a "couple handfuls" to a five-gallon bucket of water and letting it steep for 24 to 36 hours. He used an aquarium pump to circulate the water.
"I strain it, then spray it all over the plant leaves and stem," Reinken said.
The soil under the pumpkins includes a hefty portion of horse manure, so his crops are accustomed to that fertilizer.
The amount of chemicals used in growing the pumpkins makes them unsuitable for eating. "These are non-edible," Reinken said. "You spray so much on them you can't" eat them.
The pumpkins were watered by ground soaking hoses on a timer set to water for 38 minutes at 4:15 p.m. every day. Sprinkling can leave water on the leaves at night, increasing the chances of certain diseases, he said.
All of the efforts add up to about two hours of pumpkin-related work a day.
Reinken admits that his hobby is unusual.
One particular aspect of the work that brings raised eyebrows is the pollenation process.
Pumpkin vines grow male and female flowers. The female flower eventually becomes a pumpkin, if pollen from a male pumpkin flower reaches it.
Big pumpkin growers don't take chances with nature.
When Reinken saw a likely female flower growing at the right spot on the vine, he put a zipper baggie over it to keep out bees.
He then took the pollen from male pumpkin flowers and sprinkled it over the female flower.
"You know exactly what the genetics of your pumpkin's going to be," he said.
Then he put the baggie back on, just in case.
"You're going to know within about five days if that's going to start growing," Reinken said.
Once he had the pumpkin he wanted, he got rid of all the competing pumpkins on that vine. "You want all that energy and all of the nutrients to go into that one," he said.
The biggest pumpkins can grow 40 pounds a day. Reinken's were closer to 10 pounds a day.
The world record pumpkin topped 1,700 pounds.
"Next year I'd like to be at 1,000 (pounds)," Reinken said.
"If you want to go big, you have to get smarter about it," he said.
To learn about growing big pumpkins, Reinken got four books via inter-library loan and researching on the Internet.
He plans to expand the pumpkin patch, getting closer to the suggested 700 to 1,000 square feet per pumpkin.
Reinken also plans to install a more sophisticated watering system and use a rainwater collection system to cut back on his pumpkin related water bills.
Some of Reinken's enthusiasm is wearing off on friends and associates. He said he expects at least a handful of Warren residents to join him in the realm of big pumpkins.
According to Warren County Penn State Cooperative Extension Office Director George Wilcox, there are no official records for Warren County's largest pumpkin. The Warren County Fair keeps track, but because it is so early in the pumpkin season, the record is barely over 100 pounds.
Wilcox suggested a local festival held during the fall could incorporate a pumpkin contest in its festivities.