Text by Frances Dowell, photos by Randi Byrd
And then there were two.
When we last visited Randi Byrd’s pumpkin patch, she was down to three plants, having lost one to stem damage (assailant unknown) and another to survival of the fittest (i.e. Randi plucked that sucker right out of the ground to make room for the healthier plants to grow).
Who knew that, only moments after our last report, the vine known as 1522 Terry would also stumble along the road to the State Fair? A powerful storm moved through the region on the night of June 23rd, and in the morning the damage to the plant’s leaves and stems compelled Randi to say goodbye to yet another competitor. As she wrote in her diary, “Sometimes blessings don’t come in the packages you expect or want. Last night’s rounds of intense storms may have helped me make decisions about which plants to keep this year. As if I was in control (ha!). Grateful for the ones that made it through. Creator’s lesson of the day, Chapter 500,000,000. It’s never just about a garden!”
But the 24th also brought good news: a baby pumpkin on Terry 1577!
By July 2nd, the leaves on the remaining plants measured 25.5”. The growth isn’t surprising, given the amount of rain central NC has seen in the last few weeks. But the rain is also causing problems. On July 4th, Randi wrote, “Dear rain, I appreciate you. However, this raining every single day business is starting to seep into my brain cells and turn them into bloated mushy bubbles, plus this is not helping with the sexy pollination flower time. Just sayin’!! You’re totally messing up the bowchicawowwow with the Byrds and the Bees.”
The vines are bearing fruits and flowers, but pollination has yet to occur. Finally, after weeks of fretting, the happy announcement is made: “First pollination of the season, July 12! Let’s hope she sets. Grow baby, grow! Female 1577 Terry crossed with Male 1724.5 Steil. PS: The female on the Steil looks like she may open tomorrow.”
She doesn’t, and the next few days are tense.
July 13: No change on the Steil female. Hoping she’ll open tomorrow, but I’m leery she’s stopped. Luckily there’s another one forming further out. So far so good with the Terry I pollinated yesterday.
July 13: Heat advisory. Randi covers up plants.
July 14: The female I thought would open on the 1724.5 Steil hasn’t (got fried), but this one looks very promising! I put a tarp over her tonight and will add a fan early before work tomorrow. Fingers crossed!
And then, on July 15th, we got what every pumpkin enthusiast has been waiting for: smokin’ hot pumpkin sex. The really good news? There’s a video.
If you’ve never seen pumpkin pollination, lock up the children and have a look. Early on the morning of the 15th, Randi takes over the job herself. Up before the bees, she plucks the pollen stamens from several male plants and rubs them over the females’ stigmas to make sure that the stigmas are covered in dewy, yellow pollen.
It works! The tiny pumpkins on the Steil main vine have slowly begun to grow.
July 17: They’re growing ever so slowly, but that’s better than some, so I’ll take it! I ain’t complainin’!
But as is ever the case in competitive pumpkin growing, all does not go as planned …
July 18: Neither pumpkin has grown. Sadness. Will pollinate another on the main vine of the Steil in the morning and will await a promising female on a secondary of the Terry hopefully soon.
July 19: Pollinated on the 1724.5 Steil main vine. The flower only partially opened. This seems to be the case for all the females on this plant. Using frozen water bottles, a reflective shade tarp, and a fan today to keep her cool.
But hope springs back to life in the form of a pumpkin that’s definitely starting to chub up:
July 19: She’s alive and growing … definitely bigger than yesterday. OMG it’s a miracle. I was not actually expecting to see this good news. Now if I can just keep her that way!
July 22: 3 DAP (days after pollination), 6 in circumference. Doesn’t look like much now, but she’s growing! Getting through this weekend’s heat wave will be critical. I removed the lobes and flower this morning to avoid mold. If she can get through to next week, things will really get going quickly!!
July 22: She’s still kickin! Gonna have to run the drip line irrigation tonight for the first time in several weeks. It goes from being a swamp out there to being bone dry now. Also seeing powdery mildew. Surprise, surprise.
July 25: 10.2”! She’s picking up speed. 96-95 degrees expected this week. No stress at all. LOL.
And so the race continues. The larger pumpkin on the 1724.5 Steil vine is growing daily while a smaller pumpkin is hanging in there. Meanwhile, Randi is waiting to see if a female flower on the 1577 Terry is as promising as she hopes. Stay right there on the edge of your seat—big things are happening in the pumpkin patch and the State Fair is less than three months away.
Randi Byrd is Community Engagement Coordinator for UNC’s American Indian Center, who serves NC’s Tribal Nations and urban American Indian organizations through the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network. She’s also an avid giant pumpkin grower. Here at NCFood, we’re chronicling Randi’s quest to grow a 900+ pound pumpkin for the North Carolina State Fair as well as her efforts to show people that gardening doesn’t have to be intimidating or a full-time job.