Don't Be a Riverboat Gambler With Your Seeds! By Wayne Hackney
Orginally published in the N.E.P.G.A. Newsletter - March, 1996
"Growers who only plant seeds from 800 and 900 pound pumpkins are no better than riverboat gamblers," according to Don Fleming. There are many gambles when it comes to growing giant pumpkins. Weather, disease, splits, and seed selection are just four of the many gambles that a grower must take. It is important to minimize the amount of gambles that you take. One of the first chances that a grower takes is the selection of seeds. How can you increase your odds of success? Lets take a look.
The CARDINAL ERROR that many novice and veteran growers make is to plant unproven seeds. It is a great temptation to chase and plant the seeds that come from the largest pumpkin each year. More often than not you will find that the seeds from the largest pumpkin will produce plants that won't set fruit, pumpkins that split, pumpkins that switch to green in color, plants that grow pumpkins in the 400 pound range, etc., etc., etc. In order to minimize seed selection failures you must plant proven seeds. What is a proven seed? At the end of the season, take the twenty largest pumpkins grown and find out what seed was used to grow each one. Now you have a list of the proven seeds from the previous year. These are proven performers and are much more valuable than the seeds from the top twenty list this year. Next look for a pattern. Maybe one seed was responsible for producing 6 of the top twenty pumpkins. Another seed grew 4 in the top twenty. And a third seed produced 2 in the top twenty. I would try my best to find the three seeds that grew 60% of the year's giant pumpkins. Once you have narrowed down the list of proven seeds, look closer at the success rates of the proven seeds. A seed that produced the largest pumpkin in the world may have produced no other big pumpkins. Let's say that 100 of those seeds were tried by various growers. One success in 100 attempts is only a 1% success rate. I would call that seed a big gamble. On the other hand, you may have a proven seed that produced two 800 pounders, four 700 pounders and six 600 pounders out of 50 attempts. Twelve big pumpkins out of fifty attempts is a 24% success rate. This seed is 24 times more likely to produce a big pumpkin than the seed that produced the world record holder. It will be difficult to assess the success rates of all of the top twenty seeds in the world but if you determine the proven seeds each year, usually 2 or 3 seeds jump out as the best of the proven performers. Plant those seeds if you can find them. Don't get me wrong, it is important to collect seeds from the big ones each year but wait until they have a track record before you try them. New Englanders typically have small patches with one or two pumpkin plants, so there is no room for seed gambling. If you have a big patch with 6 or 8 plants it may be fun to take a gamble on a seed that has a good genetic background but keep your gambling to a minimum. Howard Dill stated in a recent phone call the following: "Take a plant that has two pumpkins on it, one is a 900 pounder and the other is a 500 pounder. If you offered me seeds I would prefer seeds from the 500 pounder." Many of the seeds from 800 and 900 pounders seem to get played out, with poor performance the following year. Let's say that your patch next year will have 4 plants but you do not have access to proven seeds. What should you do? Under no circumstances should you ever plant 4 unproven seeds of the same type; they might all be a bust. You must diversify your seed selection. If one is a dismal failure and another is fair, you still have two other performers going. Remember to use diversification of untried seeds only if proven seeds are not available to you.
There are all types of Dill's Atlantic Giant seeds out there. Some are large, some are plump and compact and a few are white. A very large sized seed does not necessarily produce a large pumpkin. Howard will often choose a smaller compact seed over a large one. Most of Dill's Atlantic Giant seeds are brown but a few have a white seed coat. This is not necessarily good or bad. Just as some people have blue eyes and some have brown eyes, the color of the seed coat does not imply strength or weakness. DO NOT EVER PLANT A SEED THAT DIDNíT COME FROM AN ATLANTIC GIANT. A Big Max or a Prizewinner is a nice pumpkin but they do not have the genetic weight potential of the Atlantic Giant.
This time of year growers become anxious and long to get back into pumpkin growing action again. The month of March is still too cold and wet to be going out and turning your patch into a sea of mud. THE PUMPKIN SEASON HAS ALREADY BEGUN and your mission is to determine the best seeds and find a few. Seed selection is just as important as the soil preparation that you will be doing when the warm weather arrives. Go out and grow a big one.