The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Brianna Wray
the Times 

Gardener's Grove: Grow Challenge

Biggest pumpkin and/or watermelon gets a prize!


February 13, 2020

Ali Baba Watermelon

WALLA WALLA-Sheltered from the recent downpour of rain, I'm staring out the window taking approximate measurements to draw up plans for the garden. This may very well be the best part of gardening: the kinetic energy around the hope for the future. As flood waters recede from Walla Walla and Columbia counties, we're ready to move into the next season.

A lovely reader, Carl Teller of Starbuck, has kindly challenged me to grow the biggest pumpkin. A challenge gladly accepted, then promptly forgotten. Well, not forgotten so much as instantly mistaken.

Ordering seeds is entirely too much fun. There are beautiful photos of fruits, flowers and herbs that seem like absolute must-haves. One should probably do the seed buying step after the planning stage, but I got excited. Somehow, instead of ordering pumpkin seeds, I chose giant watermelon seeds. They're in a similar category for me, both plants are big and neither one had I considered growing before.

The scale of the Ali Baba watermelon versus the human in the seed catalog made it a sure winner. No doubt I'll grow the biggest one, I thought, as I clicked away. At $3, they didn't break the bank.

The typical yield is 12-30 pound melons with hard, light green rinds. The light color makes them resistant to sun burning which was the determining factor for me because my garden gets full, blazing sunlight. For Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, this is a best seller.

Having finally realized the error, I went back online to order the proper seeds. "Premium" Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, to be exact, for $7.50. These were pricey, the most I've ever spent on a single seed packet, guaranteed to have at least five seeds inside. Ultimately they made it into the shopping cart because there were over 65 reviews written by people from Wisconsin to Texas and up through the Northwest who attest to its hardiness and mold resistance.

By giant, they mean pumpkins that weigh 500-1000 pounds each or more. "Lovely, giant, pale pink to deep orange pumpkins can weigh over 1000 pounds, and do so every year, with some select fruit reaching over 2000 lbs!"

This variety was introduced by the late Howard Dill of Nova Scotia in 1978.

Perhaps my eyes were bigger than my garden. In the hubbub, I also ordered something called mango melon (also known as vine peach). It's supposed to be great in pie. We'll be the judge of that!

Using graph paper, I can block in rough approximations of garden space by starting with familiar landmarks.

Our house, a rental, has quirky elements to it that reflect the previous renters and the owner, who lived here for many years as well. There's a castle in the far back corner and that is my cornerstone landmark. It would be wonderful if it functioned as garden storage, but as of now the structure is more of a spider factory than anything else. I like to grow sunflowers in front of it. Last year, late in the season, I made an attempt at corn on the north side of the castle. They were lost to an early frost. I'll try that again, but sooner in the season this year.

Now that I've got both seeds (and a few several more) on the way, I want to expand the challenge. Still, in an attempt to learn from my cantaloupe/cucumber debacle last year, I'll be separating all the vines with taller plants like peppers and tomatoes as I undertake the garden expansion. Wish me luck!

Other seeds that found their way into my cart were little finger carrots, baby bok choy, mini bell peppers, bullnose peppers, zinnias of the purple prince and polar bear varieties, scentsation nicotianas, purple peony poppy, and a dahlia mix. In addition to my overzealous shopping, Baker Creek also includes free seed packets with every purchase.

What I missed on my list was corn, and I'm considering bringing in tomatoes. That, of course, requires taking canning seriously. We shall see.

Carl Teller challenged me and I'm inviting you to join the fun. Grow the biggest pumpkin, (or watermelon, or both)! Share your seed selections and garden goals with


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