From these seeds, mighty pumpkins grow

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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At 1,285.5 pounds, Keith Goodrich’s giant pumpkin set a record for the largest ever grown in Placer County at last October’s Auburn Community Festival. Now the Meadow Vista green thumb is giving others a chance to follow in his footsteps. Seed packets from his 2010 behemoth are available for free at the Auburn Journal. Goodrich, who has participated in the contest for the past five years, credits a combination of things for his success. “Last year the weather was ideal in our area — not too hot and not too cold,” he said. “And preparing the soil is probably the most important thing.” It’s vital to test the soil to determine what amendments should be added and at what rates. “After the soil is amended, test it again,” he said. “That’s what I did last year.” Genetics plays a very important role, too. The seed for his festival winner came from a 1,200.5 pounder cultivated by a world-famous grower in Napa. Goodrich starts the seeds indoors, then transplants them when warm weather arrives. For his elevation, that’s mid-May. “If you live down in the Newcastle to Auburn area, you can start later. It is a warmer season there,” he said. “Up in the hills in Meadow Vista, start earlier, then I put a cold frame over the young plants to protect them on cold nights.” He recommends starting multiple pumpkins “because some won’t make it.” “A lot of them will split,” he said. “At the peak of the growing season, they are putting on 30 to 40 pounds per day. At that rate, (splitting becomes a real concern).” And, “You never know which ones will put on the growth the fastest and have the best shape,” he added. Once the seeds are in the ground, your job is just starting, according to Auburn resident Randy Warren, who has had entries in the giant pumpkin contest since the Auburn Community Festival started in 1997. “To get a big pumpkin, you can’t really let one day of the summer — or more than a couple of days — go by without attention to the plants. It’s not casual gardening to get something big.” Warren’s garden produced a 1,149-pounder in 2009, setting a new festival record that year. His daughter Audrey has also produced festival winners, including a second-place in the youth category in 2010. It’s a year-round effort at the Warren household, from cover crops in the fall to harvest a year later. Last year’s fourth-place festival winner Steve Fry put in a cover crop of peas and vetch over the winter this year “There’s nitrogen nodules on the roots,” said Warren, who is Fry’s cousin. “It’s organic matter and nitrogen being added to the (growing mix). We mow (the cover crops), then plow, then rototill. Before you till, you might bring in some more organic matter. You also want to add carbon to the organic matter.” Warren cautions against planting the seeds too early at lower elevations. “My plants seem to only want to grow so long,” he said. “If I start before the middle of May, it’s too early and my plants are done early.” Pruning and watering are daily tasks, Goodrich said. “(In my garden) it’s all automated but needs to be monitored,” he said. “You can actually induce too much growth and (increase the) vulnerability for splitting. (You’ll also need to do) frequent fertilizing — but slow and steady.” Goodrich suggests novice giant pumpkin growers do their homework first. The Internet offers a wealth of information. He particularly recommends Reach Gloria Young at ----------- Free giant pumpkin seeds Selection includes seeds from Keith Goodrich’s 1,285.5 record-breaking pumpkin and Steve Fry’s 775.7-pounder Get them at the front desk of the Auburn Journal, 1030 High St., Downtown Auburn