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Fruit of the Vine
Shortly after pollination, the female flower at the end of the tiny baby pumpkin will die off. If pollination successfully occurred, the tiny pumpkin will begin to visibly grow. This becomes apparent after just a few days. Your pumpkin's growth will seem slow at first. Within days, you will visibly see it begin a fast, stellar growth towards the record size you are planning for it.
Positioning the Fruit:
Many people have asked me about placing the fruit in an upright position to help it grow more round and smooth on all sides. Placing the fruit upright may accomplish this. But, if you do this too early, the fruit may take on a squatty shape, especially the larger pumpkin varieties. If you choose to do so later in the fruit's growth, you may be disturbing the secondary roots. More importantly, you risk damaging the main vine. This is no small risk, and often results in more harm than good. Whether you are growing "the big one" or a jack-o-lantern, I recommend you leave it alone as much as possible.
For giant pumpkins, it is important to position the fruit on the vine, to keep it from pulling off the vine as it grows. This is an important, yet fairly easy step for growing giant pumpkins. Failure to do so, can cause stem stress, kinks, or even tears on the vine or stem. This can restrict the flow of water and nutrients, and in the worst cases, it causes the stem to split from the vine. The vine is your umbilical cord and should be treated with great care. A small kink or tear may not prove disastrous, but at a minimum, it can lower the final size of your fruit.
Plan fruit positioning in advance. The vine near the fruit should be "loose", and allowed to move upward as the fruit grows. Without a little human intervention, stress problems will occur, as your pumpkin approaches two to three hundred pounds.
In the selection process, a pumpkin fruit with a stem perpendicular to the vine is preferred. This allows the pumpkin to grow away from the vine and not onto the vine as it grows. I like to turn the vine away from the fruit in an "L" shape, others suggest an even more extreme "U" shape. To me, the perfect position is where the stem looks like it is growing in a straight line from the main vine and new vine growth beyond the fruit, takes a right or left turn. After a few more feet of growth, you can turn it back in the direction it was headed, if you prefer. If the fruit is not growing in this position, train it slowly to do so. Plan on doing this over several days. If you move it too much too quickly, you can damage the vine.
General wisdom suggests that no secondary roots allowed to grow two to three feet from either side of the fruit. If the vine is rooted, it can tear the vine or stem as the pumpkin grows and produces upward stress as it pulls the vine upward.
IMPORTANT: If a vine tear develops at any point, there is little you can do. I know of no one who is doing skin grafts on pumpkin vines. If the tear is away from the fruit, cover it with soil and it should produce secondary roots.
Number of Fruit on the Vine:
A single pumpkin plant normally produces two to five pumpkins. Miniature varieties will produce up to a dozen or so. There will usually be several more female fruit, but a some of them will not develop for a number of reasons.
If you are growing the pumpkin for size and weight(giant pumpkins), you will eventually select one pumpkin and remove the rest from the vine. This allows the plant to direct all of it's resources to growing one fruit. Note that a small number of growers keep a second fruit on the vine as an "insurance policy" in case disaster strikes the first fruit. If you only have one or two vines, you may opt to do so, or keep a second fruit on the vine for a longer period of time.
This does not preclude the possibility that you can grow enormous pumpkins, if you keep more than one on the vine. But, the plant is splitting it's energy to multiple fruit.
If you are growing for size, one per plant is optimum. You must also consider the risk that disaster could befall this fruit. The defensive move, is to keep two fruit on the vine, and sacrifice some potential size. You can still produce showcase fruit.
Selection of the Perfect Pumpkin:
If you are growing pumpkins for size, you will ultimately be faced with the decision of which pumpkin to keep on the vine. Assuming you have two or three pumpkins growing and you only want to keep one, here are some decision criteria to use:
Most of the largest pumpkins are grown on the main vine. But, many growers have had success with large pumpkins on secondary vines.
Which pumpkin is growing at the fastest rate? If you are going for weight only, and your third pumpkin is already bigger than the first pumpkin on the vine, the decision is simple. Keep records of the growth rate and pick the fastest growing one.
If you are going after shape, look for the one that is the roundest. If one is slightly long, but round, I recommend keeping this one, as it will usually fill out as it grows. If it is very long however, it could end up quite flat. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Unfortunately, the beholder will need to choose before the beauty has fully developed.
Examine the stem. A long stem is better, as vine and stem stress is less likely later on. A bigger (fatter) diameter stem, is capable of providing more nutrients to the fruit.
If the decision is between beauty or beast.......... well good luck deciding.
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