Pumpkin Seed Germination

Right. So after warming the peat pots overnight, I was ready to plant my seeds indoors last Friday. I have 200+ seeds from last year’s pumpkin and selected eight. I’ve read that the size, shape, and color of a seed doesn’t matter as long as it’s dry and clean and uncracked, but I picked some nice round fat ones anyway. I gave them the bounce test: if you drop a seed onto a tabletop, it ought to bounce back up. Otherwise they’re kaput. (The bounce doesn’t need to be dramatic. It’s simply a way of weeding out any totally pitiful seeds.)

Side note: last year’s seeds were carefully cleaned, dried, baggied, ziplocked, and stored in a cool, dark box over the winter.

Now a giant pumpkin seed’s shell is often thick, and you want the moisture getting in for germination as quickly as possible; the longer they’re damp in the dirt, the better chance they have of rotting. Two things help: pre-soaking and filing. I began by soaking the seeds for an hour in a quart of warm water mixed with a pinch of humic acid and a tablespoon of fish/seaweed emulsion:

Then I filed the edges of the seeds just enough to thin the outer layer. Never file at the pointy end of a seed, where the embryo is vulnerable. The filed edges allow moisture to penetrate more easily, and it also helps the shell crack off once the seedlings have emerged.

I planted the seeds point-down in the peat pots, which I prepared the previous day. Seeds were planted .5 inches beneath the surface.

The warmth and moisture in the baggie-covered pots led to fine white mold in the first 24 hours, so I removed the baggies and scraped the mold off the surface with a spoon. I haven’t had a problem with it since.

After 72 hours, seeds began to emerge. On Tuesday morning, they were up enough for me to carefully remove the shells. It was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, and the plants were able to get a few hours of sunlight at the window. This morning, all eight are up and looking good.

The first leaves are called cots or cotyledons. They store the early plant’s food reserves and begin photosynthesis. They’re often pale at first but quickly turn a bright, healthy green after receiving sufficient light. They eventually wither away once the true leaves develop.

I’ll be putting the plants under bright fluorescent light today, where they’ll remain (except on days when I can get them a few hours of sun) until they outgrow the pots and I’m ready to transplant the most promising plants into the patch. Here they are, five days after planting:

Previously: Pumpkin Seed-Planting Prep

Pumpkin Seed-Planting Preparation

I placed the pop-up greenhouse in the pumpkin patch today to warm the soil over the coming weeks. Here’s what I did at the future transplant location:

1. Dug a trench one foot down so the deeper, colder layers of soil will also warm

2. Added mycorrhiza for root health, etc.

3. Added some water with humic acid and Rootshield

There were plump earthworms right beneath the surface, which I love to see since they’re so good at breaking down the composted leaves and aerating the soil. Here’s the greenhouse in position over the future transplant site:

More excitingly, I prepared the peat pots for indoor seed planting tomorrow. I:

1. Wet the peat pots so they wouldn’t wick moisture from the growing medium (and dry things out too much)

2. Filled the pots with seed starter mix. I dampened the mix with a solution of 1/2 gallon water, 1 tsp. Rootshield, and 1/2 tsp. humic acid, making it all just damp enough so it clung together when I squeezed it. Too much moisture leads to rot. I also added some mycorrhiza to the mix.

3. Put baggies over the pots to retain moisture and set them on a heating pad to pre-warm overnight

There are eight pots, awaiting tomorrow’s seeds:

Previously: Pumpkin Season 2011 Begins

Pumpkin Season 2011

Gearing up for this year’s big pumpkin. Two years ago, I grew a 160-pounder. Last year, the pumpkin weighed 314 lbs. This year I’m aiming for 500 lbs.

I tried planting winter rye in the patch as a cover crop, but I seem to have planted the rye too late and its growth was unimpressive. I’ve torn it all up and left it in the patch to rot with the mulched maple leaves, which the worms really love. In addition, I’ve begun adding humus/manure by the bagful. I’d love to get a proper truck delivery of manure but our backyard is inaccessible and I’m required to haul 40-lbs. bags from the car to the patch. It’s slower but makes for a good workout.

Walmart, as always, is the best place to obtain cheap shit: $1.29 for a 40-lbs. bag of humus/manure is hard to beat. I’ve added 400 lbs. to the patch and will add another 400 this morning.

I’ve also placed my first order at Extreme Pumpkin Store:

1. Bag of worm castings, ideal for the initial planting site

2. Bag of mycorrhiza, a beneficial fungus that increases the root system’s nutrient and water intake

3. Humic acid, for health

4. Neptune’s Fish and Seaweed fertilizer, truly marvelous stuff and the main ingredient in my fertilization efforts

5. RootShield, an organic defense against common pathogens

I still have soluble kelp from last year; it supports germination, root development, overall vigor. And though I tried (and failed) to grow 100% organically in 2010, I’ll be using one pesticide because nothing else seems to stop the dreaded squash vine borer, which nearly destroyed my entire plant last season. More on that pest, and that poison, in coming months. Used correctly, the pesticide isn’t harmful to children, pets, or even the local honeybees. And we’re not going eat the pumpkin, since these particular hybrids have been bred for size and color and definitely not for flavor.

I’ll be putting up the mini-greenhouse this week to begin warming the ground where I’ll eventually plant the seedlings. And I plan to start germinating indoors on May 1.

I will use seeds from last year’s pumpkin (aka King George III), whose parent was a 763-pounder grown in Vermont by John Young, who was kind enough to send me a seed.

King George III, 314 lbs., grown in 2010:

Maple Syrup: Two Ounces of Victory

More on that maple syrup business. So the bucket kept falling off the tree, and then the banged-up bucket had a leak and oh, precious sap was lost to us forever. I went to Walmart, or as they say in certain circles, The Walmarts, and got us an aquarium siphon, which I duct-taped to the tree spout and, IV-like, connected to a tupperware container on the ground. Worked great.

We had plenty of sap to boil on Saturday. I took the chimney off our backyard chiminea, capped it with a BBQ wok to let the smoke escape through the holes, and boiled up the sap in a cheap-o roasting pan from Goodwill. All went well until, hours later, I reached the critical moment and paid the price of insufficient research.

See I was thinking it’d keep evaporating and thickening until it looked like syrup, but syrup’s only thick when it’s cold. When syrup’s hot enough to boil, it’s runny…hardly syrupy at all. Now there I was, stirring up the foamy golden syrup, and when it seemed the right consistency I took it off the fire and just like that, the whole supply expanded like a puffy, sugary mushroom and immediately hardened. My spoon wouldn’t move and the “syrup”, aka burnt maple sugar, bonded to the pan so intensely that it’s still there now, like a cloud of sweet cement, in the pan, in the garbage, on its way to the landfill, where it will assuredly remain until our sun expands and swallows the Earth and all the sap in all the maple trees will boil and flow, like the long-forgotten tears of humankind.

But the next day…the nextday, I collected another half-gallon of sap and boiled it up inside, and stopping when the sap had just the ever-so-slightest syrupy consistency, wha-la. Maple syrup. Very light amber, its flavor more candied than expected, but delicious and immensely satisfying. Two whole ounces of it. We’re hoping to collect more sap before the weather’s too warm. But next year, next year we’ll be ready.