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A Guide to Giant Pumpkins: An Interview with Mikkal Hodge

Have you ever wondered what it takes to grow a 1/2 ton pumpkin? We did too until we met with Alexandria’s “Pumpkin Man,” Mikkal Hodge.

We sat down with Mikkal Hodge, President of Indiana Pumpkin Grower’s Association and co-owner of Small Town U.S.A. Apples and More, at his family farm to get an inside look at what it takes to grow these giant pumpkins.

Here’s what he had to say about his beloved giant pumpkins….

When did you start growing giant pumpkins?

“It all started back in 2000 when I was around 8 or 9 years old. My parents were renting a house and the landlord happened to have a garden on the property. My parents decided to plant some pie pumpkin seeds and it was a big success! Then over the winter, we decided to research different types of pumpkin seeds and we discovered the giant pumpkin seeds and it’s all history from there. ”

 

What’s the process that goes into growing these pumpkins compared to other varieties?

“The process is completely different. The size is obviously much larger in scale and the conditions to keep them healthy are much more intense. I have spent a lot of time researching the perfect soil condition and that is honestly probably the hardest part – we have to make sure the moisture and pH levels are perfect or else the seeds won’t produce like they’re supposed to.

Another difference in these pumpkins is that I use a layer system that will help me move them later on if need. I lay sand, mill fabric, sand, 3/4″ plywood, sand, and another layer of mill fabric. The mill fabric is slick which allows the pumpkin to slide as it grows. The multiple layers allow me to more easily move it if needed when it gets bigger. The sand helps drain water away and last the plywood helps keep the bottom flat, which is much better for road transport.”

 

How much space is required to grow these giant pumpkins?

“A normal jack-o-lantern size pumpkin takes up between 25-30 square feet to grow whereas the giants can take upwards to 900 square feet. ”

 

Why do you plant them in the shade?

“The fruit are shaded from pollination onward.When they are young I use a white sheet, as they get older I use the tarps. Their skin will sunburn just like ours does, so we use the sheet or tarp to keep the sun off. I also like the tarp as they get older because it also keeps them dry. ”

 

Do genetics play a role in this?

“Genetics are actually one of the most important parts in all of this. We purchased seeds from all over the world. Some of my seeds this year are from Spain, the Pacific Northwest and Tennessee. ”

 

What is the planting timeline?

  • “I start planting the seeds around the 2nd week of April.
  • Roughly around the first week of May they will be taken outside to the greenhouse.
  • We begin pollinating the first week of June.
  • Then they just grow until it’s contest time in late September – early October.”

 

What is the difference between gourds and pumpkins?

“Gourds and Pumpkins are in the cucurbit family which refers to ornamental or climbing plants; they’re sometimes referred to as “vine vegetables” such as watermelons, pumpkins and squash. There are break offs in the cucurbit family: cucurbit pepo and cucurbit maxima.

  • A cucurbit pepo are where the field pumpkins and the jack-o-lantern pumpkins live; these have hard stems.
  • A cucurbit maxmia are what the giant pumpkins are considered. The cucurbit maxima family is one of the most diverse domesticated species; they’re like the cousin to the jack-o-lantern but they get way bigger. The flesh in maximas aren’t good for eating because its really spongy and not sweet at all. This family is known for having a soft stem. “

 

What are your pumpkins weighing in at this year?

“We actually haven’t weighed any of them yet. But the best estimate for the one coming to Great Pumpkin Fest in Fishers is about 1440 pounds.”

 

Do you have any plans for the 2020 season?

“The goal is 2000 pounds. The world record is 2624 pounds by Mathias Willemijns in Belgium.The North American record was set by Steve Geddes in New Hampshire who grew a pumpkin that weighed 2,528 pounds. Indiana’s record is only 1,739 and is currently held by Mark Goodman from Marion.”

 

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