Hailey Archuleta, from left, Shelby Archuleta and Brisha Archuleta, of Hayden,  learned after the June frost how to grow an enormous pumpkin, squash and tomatoes.

Suzanne Hope/Courtesy

Hailey Archuleta, from left, Shelby Archuleta and Brisha Archuleta, of Hayden, learned after the June frost how to grow an enormous pumpkin, squash and tomatoes.

Deb Babcock: You, too, can grow gargantuan gourds

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Every year around this time, I hear from local gardeners about their success in the garden with plants and vegetables that aren't really suited for our short season and climate. I guess a lot of us are mavericks in the garden and try to grow things outside the norm.

I know I did this year, with limited success - I grew mini-canteloupe and ended up with a couple dozen soft-ball sized melons by the time the hard frost hit the garden. I brought the biggest ones inside to see if they'd ripen up indoors, but no luck so far.

Brisha, Shelby and Hailey Archuleta, of Hayden, had much better success.

They grew a "Jack of All Trades" hybrid pumpkin that weighed a whopping 62 lbs with a girth of 59 inches.

The girls, who are regular contributors to the Routt County Fair each fall, grew Zucchini, "Round French" squash and tomatoes and had a "bumper crop" of pie cherries from their two trees also.

The secret? After they got caught by the June 15 frost we experienced this year, they started over, using Miracle Gro fertilizer regularly and then covering the squash and pumpkins with blankets and tarps once the weather started cooling down at night.

Brisha, 9, and her sister, Shelby, 7, have won about 60 fair ribbons combined, with Brisha winning a reserve champion ribbon. Two-year old Hailey is learning the ropes from her big sisters and is certain to begin entering her produce in the fair soon, too.

So, although warm weather plants such as pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, muskmelons and watermelons grow best at elevations less than 5,000 feet, we can extend the season here with a little extra work.

You can extend our short growing season by starting seeds indoors. Then, when it is time to plant them outdoors (about a week after the average last frost date, June 11), care must be taken not to disturb the roots of the seedlings. Pumpkin is one plant that does not like its roots disturbed. Use a thermometer to make sure the soil at the 2-inch depth is 60 degrees Farenheit before you plant the seedlings outdoors. A location close to the house will help keep the plant warm with reflective heat.

As the seedlings grow, more and more water - as much as 1 1/2 inches more per week - will be needed. As the plants mature, flowers will appear; usually male flowers appear before female flowers, and then insect or hand pollination will need to take place for fruits to be formed.

To help the plants obtain water and nutrients, it is recommended the pumpkins be culled to one per plant once they reach about 10 inches in diameter.

Pumpkins have a tendency to harden prematurely when left out in direct sun, so you might want to construct a shade out of burlap or other lightweight material toward the end of the growing cycle. You'll also want to protect the fruit from a hard frost at the colder fall time of year, because that could cause the pumpkin to soften and rot.

There are many local gardeners, such as the Archuletas, who experience success with pumpkins here. Go ahead and give it a try next season for a colorful fall garden display.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825.

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