Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pumpkins!

From the New York Times
As they get bigger, these super-size vegetables take on the unfortunate appearance of terribly obese humans, stretched beyond the capacity of their skins. They can be lopsided, collapsed-looking, with flattened bottoms, as if unable to support their weight.
No matter. The bigger the better, in the giant pumpkin world.
In the winter, these local growers can be found in Mr. Jutras’s woodworking shop, building mini-greenhouses for the pumpkin seedlings, which must be planted in early May, in warm ground.
They start their seeds indoors, toward the end of April, in a sterile mix that has been inoculated with fungi, which set up a symbiotic relationship with plant rootlets, helping them to absorb nutrients and fend off any diseases as the pumpkin plant develops.
The plants go outside into the mini-greenhouses as soon as the baby plant’s first true leaf appears. Once the main vine has grown to the edge of its greenhouse’s wall, it’s time to remove the protection of the house, though lightweight covers made out of spun plastic are usually ready at hand if nights turn cool.
Then comes the mad race to keep up with vines that can grow three feet a day, coursing over the 750 square feet of fertile loam ideally allocated to each plant. The vines are buried, to encourage roots to grow, drawing more nutrients out of the soil to feed only a few favored fruits to ripen on the main stem.
Each pumpkin plant drinks 60 gallons of water a day. Growers love the kind of hot, dry season they just had — because they can control the water, rather than watch helplessly as a deluge pours down. Too many pumpkins have split because of too much water, bursting a grower’s dream.
Miracle-Gro used to be the magic ingredient. Now, it’s sea kelp and secret ingredients for compost tea. And mycorrhizae — the symbiosis between fungi and plant roots — is on the lips of the champions these days. “We inoculate our potting soil to get the seedlings off to a good start,” Mr. Wallace said. “Imagine your whole garden just one happy campground of mycorrhizae, bringing nutrients to that pumpkin.”

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