Marge grew quite large
At the height of summer, each family dinner began with the question, "How’s Marge?"
In late July and early August, the answer was, "She’s gaining almost 30 pounds a day."
As a family, we decided to grow a giant pumpkin this summer primarily because we had a big pile of horse manure that looked like it could grow anything.
We ordered Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds from Howard Dill Enterprises in Nova Scotia for $4 each. April 27, we planted the seeds in sterile potting soil under a grow light; a seedling appeared May 1.
By May 15, the largest plant was ready to be placed under a shelter in the pumpkin patch, on a farm near Salem Corners belonging to Ann and Derwin Hammond.
Drs. Charlotte and John Rydberg own the horses and the needed farm equipment on adjacent acreage. Their children, Ann Marie and Danny, served as our cheering section.
My husband, Chuck Salisbury, and I worked where needed.
The ground had been covered with 12 inches of the aged horse manure and amended with potting soil where the seedling would be planted.
Heat tape was nestled into the soil around the seedling’s roots.
July 1, we chose a female blossom 10 feet from the main trunk and fertilized it with a male blossom.
In just nine days, "Marge" — short for "Large Marge" — grew to baseball size and we started propping up the vine with pieces of Styrofoam so the pumpkin stem could grow straight as the pumpkin expanded and the stem end lifted.
The young pumpkin’s yellow skin was so tender, every touch scratched it. Miniscule scratches became big scars by the time Marge grew big enough to lean on.
At first, we used a little patio table to shade the baby pumpkin.
One of the weaknesses of giant pumpkins is their skin’s tendency to crack as they mature because they grow so fast. To mitigate this, pumpkin growers shade the fruit and some also give the pumpkin extra calcium supplements to toughen the skin. Some growers pour milk around the vine; we ground up calcium supplement tablets, mixed the powder with water and poured it near the roots closest to Marge.
One evening I could lift the pumpkin; the next morning, I couldn’t. The stem had grown so fast overnight that it curved dramatically downward because I didn’t elevate the vine enough. Oh, no!
Suddenly, the slope in the garden was too steep, the stem angle and weight of the pumpkin could break the vine.
I frantically built a terrace with sand and square plastic grates. I hauled buckets and buckets of sand from the winter sand pile and sifted it through a colander so it was fine enough to touch Marge’s tender skin.
By Aug 1, we were all astonished by her size. Ann renamed her Magnificent Marge.
Weekly, we measured Marge’s circumference and, using a spreadsheet, estimated her size. During her fastest growing week, she gained 28 pounds a day. (Competition pumpkins must gain 35 to 45 pounds a day during their hay days to reach the 1,500-1,800 pound range now needed to win state and national competitions.)
We harvested Marge on Oct. 7. Her final measurements gave us an estimated weight of 979 pounds. We ordered a special sling to cinch around Marge so we could lift her onto a pallet for transporting.
She now rests in the Rydbergs' barn until the rest of our family visits for Thanksgiving. Then we will put her out for the wildlife around the barn.