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Cliff's Grower Log -- May 2002

May 1 - Seedlings are looking great. I think the deep green color is due to placing the flourescent "grow lights" within 2 inches of the plants. If the weather holds, I might put them out tomorrow morning. We're looking stormy again, and at issue is getting the protection structures finished.

The 502 Zunino (foreground) rises to give challenge
to the 842 Mitchell (photo April 30)

May 6 - Time for an update after my long weekend!

The plants were bursting out of their pots by the morning of May 2nd, seven and a half days after they were planted. I'd never seen such vigorous plants. These were ready to rock and roll. So, out to the patch they went!

Site number 1 got the 995.8 Carter. The mother pumpkin was red and had a great round shape. This seedling has been one of the most healthy. This site is protected by a hexagon structure made of 6 mil plastic, and has a soil heating cable.

Site number 2 gets the 831 Zunino and the 502 Zunino. May the best Zunino win! This site has a wind protection structure and heating cable identical to site #1.

Site number 3 gets my strongest seedling, the 842 Mitchell, and the 936 Mombert. Site #3 also has the wind protection structure, but no heating cable. Instead, it has a layer of 6 mil plastic covering the soil with cutouts for each plant. It will be tough choosing between these two plants.

Finally, in a satellite patch on the other side of the garden is a 723 Bhaskaran which is currently protected by a "wall-of-water". I definitely wanted to keep the 723 because of its red genes. While I will certainly attempt to grow big fruit with it, it's also being kept around to pollinate several of the others to pass on the great color.

Well, that was May 2nd. Immediately after planting the final seedling, I stood up and received a huge gust of wind. Maybe that was an omen, but I'm not sure if its a good omen or a bad one. The next 30 hours brought a wind storm of 30 to 40 mph gusts. Things settled down on Saturday, but then on Sunday the same winds returned. Now, today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday) we are predicted to have strong winds again. The seedlings would, quite simply, be in Wyoming or South Dakota right now if it weren't for my wind protection structures. So far, they are holding up well! I don't want to see 60 mph again, however.

I wanted to take pictures, but with half my neighborhood in new construction, and loose dirt lying all around, I wasn't too keen on taking my new digicam out into the dust storm.

I did it again! The 502 Zunino was my most exhuberant seedling. It shot up, spread it's wings far, and was ready to soar. Despite the close attention with the grow light lamps, this seedling did not want to stay short and stocky like the others. Its exhuberance may have done it in. Shortly after going into the patch, it felt betrayed by having to leave the warmth and peace in my house. It promptly layed down, and has not been the same since. (Am I starting to sound like Vince?) I'm not sure if this plant will recover. It is still lying around, but now after 4 days it has not lost any color or texture, despite having a "kinked" stem. Meanwhile, I have started another 502 as a backup. The other seedlings are looking fine, but I'm certainly disappointed to loose this one.

A word on soil temp: I want the reader to benefit from visiting this site. Well, at least be entertained... anyway, I wanted to see what my soil temperature was doing. I took the following measurements with a thermometer that I can stick 5 inches into the ground:

Hmmm... this is not what I had in mind. Maybe I should have skipped the cables and gone with clear plastic to warm the ground? Anyway, I need more data and I will collect it. There are a number of factors at work here. In the case of the heating cable, it may depend quite a bit on how close to the cable my measurement is taken. Also, my soil is still very dry. Our irrigation water is not yet available. Stay tuned.

May 7

Today we're predicted to have 30 to 40 mph winds again, with at least one news outlet predicting 60 mph gusts! Low temperature tonight, somewhere between 26 and 31.

I'm ready.
Site 3 in the foreground, site 2 in the middle, and site 1 is closest to the lawn.

I took more soil measurements when I arrived home last evening:

As you can see the cable isn't doing anything for me. But I got a tip from a visitor to my site - what I really need to do is add a layer of plastic to the sites that have the cable. This retains the warmth and moisture, and cuts heat loss due to evaporation. I then added the plastic, and early this morning I took some new readings:

Yes! As you can see, the spots with the cable have actually warmed overnight, while the other spots have cooled! Conclusion: cable heat does work, especially at night, but only if you add a layer of plastic to the top surface of the soil.

May 8 - I hate wind!!!

I really, really hate wind. Having said that, I think I survived the 60 mph gusts just fine. In my local geography my place sits right at the tip of a mountain range where we get exposed to high winds coming from the west and southwest every few days throughout spring.

Ever wonder why we grow potatoes in Idaho? Well, one reason is that your product is underground where the wind can't blow it away. At least that's my theory. And if you freeze, the potato plant will just grow back.

Anyway, we also had a low of 25 degrees last night. Ho hum... just another day in paradise.

Actually, I should say a bit more. Sites 1 and 2 had cable heat and buckets and tarps. They should be fine. Site 3 has me a little concerned. It had a tarp and a "lamp" to provide heat. When I got this done late last night, took a deep breath, and then started worrying about what I'd done. Why not just stick with something you know that works? Anyway, this morning I went out and found that the lamp had fallen to within millimeters of the Mitchell plant. I couldn't have placed it better myself. This must be an omen. I hope the Mombert did OK, I think it did. (I had to leave for work before it was safe to open things up.)

May 9

Two nights ago, Mitchell and Mombert went camping in site 3. Once the wind died down with its subsequent temperature drop, this seemed to work. I'm not sure I want to try it again, however. I don't think we got as cold as the weatherman said. I think it was just luck...

May 13

On Saturday we planted nearly all of the remaining garden, what a lot of work! When we were done we noticed that a large spot was still unused in the center of the garden. My wife said, "you can use that for more pumpkins if you like". So this new area is called the "Patch of Late Arrivals". I've put the still promising 847.5 Christensen there, and also the second 502 Zunino. This second 502 is the one that I started when I thought I had killed the original. Well, the original is doing quite well, thank you, so now I have another. I also have some other red Bhaskarans I started as backups, and they will go out as well. Best of all, once the peas are done in early July, this new patch can merge with "The Mighty Fortress" (the original patch). Of course, the 723 Bhaskaran still labors out in the "Satellite Patch". It is doing well, good color and fairly good growth.

The 842 Mitchell still leads the way in size. The 936 Mombert has some silvery appearance on the seed leaves, and also has a very jagged edge on the first true leaf. It is somewhat bizarre looking. Oh well, as much as I'd like to have a Mombert in my patch, this one will have a hard time overcoming its main competitor for site 3, the Mitchell.

In site 2, the 502 Zunino has come back to life. The 831 Zunino has been slow. I don't know, must be the luck of the draw.

In site 1, the 995 Carter looks average. The first true leaves are curled up on the edges. I don't think its a problem, just odd.

Finally, still on Saturday after working all day a neighbor came by and said, "I've got some old manure, at least 10 years old." "You can have all you want." Of course, I couldn't turn that down! More pictures are coming... I've been too busy working to take pictures. If you know me, that would have to be a lot of work!

May 14

I didn't get to the patch today. This is why.

Presenting James Reed Warren, born 5/14/02, 7 pounds, 5 ounces. Mom and baby are doing well.

May 17

We're finally predicted to get some warm weather over the next few days. We might see our first 80 today. With this change in the weather I'm going to have to start thinking about the next phase of plant protection. Then again, the cool windy weather is very likely to return once or twice before we settle down into summer-like weather.

The 842 Mitchell still leads the way, by a fair margin I might add. It should be ready to lay down in a few days. Next is the 995 Carter, followed by the 936 Mombert and the 723 Bhaskaran (over in the satellite patch). The 502 Zunino started out like gangbusters, but had the setback... its doing better but has lost a lot of ground to the others. The 831 Zunino has also suffered a setback. A few days ago I noticed that the first true leaf had turned black. It looks a lot like frost damage, but none of the other plants had that problem, and we didn't have any frost. At the moment it doesn't look too good. I'm a little concerned for the "Mighty Fortress, Fort 2".

In the Patch of Late Arrivals, I have the 847.5 Christensen, a 554 Bhaskaran, another 502 Zunino, and a 301 Brandt. Right now these are protected by a very low-budget wind and moisture screen... a milk jug with the bottom cut out! (Big-time grower that I am...) I really didn't plan to plant all these. In fact, I told myself over and over throughout the winter that I would limit myself to three plants... NOW LOOK! Lets face it, I'm a hopeless giant pumpkin grower!

May 20

This morning I decided that these plants need a shot of nitrogen (don't know why I came to this conclusion) so I took off the ground cover plastic to get a better look at the soil around the stump of each plant. While doing this I gave the 502 Zunino the slightest bump, and snap(!) off it came. This was the one that had the kink in the stem when I planted it. It turn out that just below the surface of the plastic, the kink had also turned into a "split" parallel with the length of the stem, and it had a fair amount of rot, and was of course quite brittle. The leaves had been looking OK, but were apparently supported by only a small fraction of the living stem. Oh well...

Right now I wish I could take the Mombert out of site 3 and put it in site 2, but I know from experience that it is not wise to attempt a transplant at this stage.

Elise poses outside site 3. Yes, her shoes are on the wrong feet. This doesn't seem to be problem to her.

I then gave the camera to my three year old. I must really be loosing my mind, or at least coming to the realization that its better to raise kids than cameras (or pumpkins). Nah, loosing my mind. Anyway, I found it interesting how she kept me "vertical" in the frame. What an interpretation! I have three budding photographers in the family...

If I could get a pumpkin shaped like my head, well, now that would be something!

May 21

We had winds of 35mph all day yesterday. That's no match for the Mighty Fortress. In the Patch of Late Arrivals, and the Satellite Patch, the buckets and wall-of-waters went back on.

This morning we're getting some much needed rain. Things always seem to grow much better with rain water rather than with irrigation water. Actually, because of a broken pipe, we've been on well water this spring, which is the worst of all. It's very high in pH.

May 22

We had a lot of rain yesterday! A lot for us... cold temps and high wind. Right now my biggest concern is a failed rain gutter system... something I'd rather not have to deal with, but it's a necessity or I will loose the downstairs carpet! Last night at 11:00pm I was bailing out the window wells.

The pumpkins in the Patch of Late Arrivals have to stay under buckets for a second straight day because of the 40mph winds predicted for today. Also, Fort 3 is sagging a bit, I need to retape some spots, but for now I'm at work and they're under buckets...

May 24

I promise, pictures of the plants soon. Actually, only three are worth writing home about, at least right now. The Mitchell, Carter, and Mombert are doing well. Last night was 37... actually quite typical. I didn't have the heart to squeeze the Mitchell and Carter into 5 gallon buckets anymore. But, at least we're finally going to warm up. Maybe the 30's are over? Maybe?

I might need to start something to put in Site 2. I shouldn't have spent all my backups in the Patch of Late Arrivals so soon, but they were due to go out.

May 28 - Born on Memorial Day

Believe it or not, I took a 1064 Mombert and direct seeded it into Site 2 on Memorial Day. Yes, its probably too late to do this in a climate like mine, but I figure its better to plant seeds than just let them sit in little yellow envelopes. In Site 2, the 502 Zunino is deceased, and the 831 Zunino has not been doing well. I do have another 502 doing fairly well in the Patch of Late Arrivals.

I've been alternating the fertilizer, hitting them with a high phosphorous Fertilome water soluble, then some amonium sulphate, and finally some "Alaska Fish Emulsion 5-1-1" that I found at Home Depot. I clearly don't know what I'm doing... ;-)


The 995 Carter on Memorial Day

The 842 Mitchell (foreground) and 936 Mombert on Memorial Day

Here is an example of a "volunteer", a seedling that came up from last year's composted field pumpkins. Notice the long tap root! I think this demonstrates one advantage of direct seeding into well prepared soil.

Finally, a weight gain report. My wife reports that James has gained 1 pound, 3 oz. over the last two weeks. He's going to have to do better to keep up with these guys in August, however.

May 30 - Some thoughts on early season vigor, things to learn from...

I started the year with 7 "select" seeds. Fortunately, I was 100% in germination. But that wasn't the end of the story... some plants are just growing better than others. Of the seven, two are turning into great, vigorous plants (842 Mitchell, 995 Carter), two are "middle of the road" (936 Mombert, 723 Bhaskaran), and should be good plants in the long run. Two have been duds (847 Christensen, 831 Zunino). Right now they are still alive, but the stems are long and spindly, the true leaves are about 2 inches across, and they just look sick. And, one of my original seven (502 Zunino) was so vigorous that it led to its own demise (I may have helped... but this plant grew so fast, it didn't survive the breezy conditions in my patch). Anyway, looking back I should have started with more than seven if the intention is to have three select plants in three select locations in the patch.

A word to the beginner: not all the seeds from a particular pumpkin are identical. They each differ genetically. By how much? That would be a good question that might take some very elaborate scientific effort to discover. But I may have picked out the best of the 842 Mitchell and the worst of the 831 Zunino. Who knows? Or, I have have killed the weak performers with my ineptitude. Anyway, this should not be taken as, "I'll avoid that seed because Cliff didn't have luck with it." I can tell you right now, its quite likely that I'll be using the 847 and 831 next year, with my remaining seed(s) of each. (Unless something really exciting comes along...) In fact, I do have another 502 in the patch. This one is looking OK. It should be a "middle of the roader", but its not going gangbusters like the original.

This is one reason I'm not fond of paying big money for any one particular seed. It may do nothing. If you desire to support a worthy cause such as an auction, I'm all for it. Just don't expect that every seed from a particular pumpkin is going to throw a champion. Or even germinate, for that matter... Then again, some seed stocks have shown a tendency to really perform, but they tend to perform in the hands of a great grower.

Great weather! Well, its going to be 90 today! 90 is generally too hot, but here, when we have 90 in the daytime, that keeps the overnight temps around 60 which is what I like even more.


Cliff Warren