Pumpkin, Dill’s Atlantic Giant

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Quick Overview

PUMPKIN, Dill’s Atlantic Giant – Cucurbito maxima

FULL SUN Introduced in 1978 by Howard Dill of Windsor, Nova Scotia, these pumpkins average 90 lb. but have been known to reach 1000 lb. and more. Dill’s is descended from Jaune Gros de Paris, a French giant pumpkin variety of the 1800s. Henry David Thoreau was the first to grow giant pumpkins in the US in 1857.  The 10-20 ft. vines usually produce 1 pumpkin.  The flesh is inedible.

Plant in late spring after danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to a depth of 6 in. Plant in hills, 4 ft. apart.

When seedlings are 3 in. high, thin, leaving 4 plants per hill. Well-rotted manure or compost dug into the soil where the seeds are to be planted is highly beneficial.

Harvest fruits only after they are fully matured and just before the first frost. Remove from vine leaving part of the stem attached to the fruit. Store in a moderately warm, dry area.

Type Spacing Planting Depth Days to Germination Maturity
Pumpkin 8 in. 1 in. 7-10 125

Pumpkin, Dill's Atlantic Giant

Squash, beans and corn, known as the “Three Sisters” comprised the trinity that was the staple diet of ancient America. Unbelievably, remains of wild or, possibly, cultivated squash have been found in Mexico that date to 9000 BC. Similar archaeological evidence has been unearthed in South America, Central America and northern, North America.

The wild varieties of squash were quite small and unpleasantly bitter tasting.  Ancient peoples were not attracted to these vegetables for food. Instead, it is hypothesized, that ancient peoples collected the squash and dried them to make rattles and instruments for ceremonies and containers for storage and eating. Eventually, the ancient peoples came to appreciate and value the squash seeds which were rich in nutritious oils. After, perhaps centuries, ancient farmers began to select for and cultivate varieties of squash that produced pleasant tasting flesh.

The squash family can generally be divided into two classes – winter squash and summer squash – and fundamentally four species: c. maxima, c. mixta, c. moschata and c. pepo. Of the four species, three represent both summer and winter squash. The maximas are exclusively winter squash.

C. maxima are native to Bolivia and Argentina. They are the biggest fruits on earth.  Some weigh more than 1000 pounds. The first maximas appeared in seed lists around 1830. Today’s giant pumpkins have all descended from a popular French maxima variety known as Jaune Gros de Paris.

C. mixta are believed to be native to Guatemala and some areas of the southwestern United States where they have been cultivated since ancient times. This group includes the winter squash known as cushaws. Mixtas are drought tolerant and their flesh is stringier and less flavorful than other squash.

C. moschata are native to the tropical areas of Central and South America. They grow best in high humidity and warm nighttime temperatures. The plants have very large leaves, long vines, and five sided stems. Butternut squash is a member of this group.

C. pepo is the family of squash that includes zucchini and most of the varieties of summer squash. These squash grow on bushy or vining plants and are eaten in their immature stage when they are still tender. The group also includes many of the pumpkins used for pies and carving as Jack O’ Lanterns. Acorn squash are also part of this group.

Dill’s Atlantic Giant is a Cucurbita maxima. Amy Goldman, in her magnificent book, The Compleat Squash, sums up our completely consuming fascination with the mammoth pumpkins with this quote:

“They’re not fit for human consumption, but that doesn’t matter – we have grown them mainly because they bring joy.”

Cucurbita maxima, the giant pumpkins, are the largest fruits on earth. In the US, the first description of mammoth pumpkins appeared in the late 1820s. Today’s giant pumpkins are descendants of a much beloved French pumpkin, Jaune Gros de Paris. Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau, the Transcendentalist, may have introduced the first seed into the US. Thoreau received seeds from the US Patent Office in 1857 and from these seeds he grew 5 pumpkins weighing a total of 310 pounds. The largest of these 5 pumpkins weighed 123 ½ pounds.

Skip forward 100+ years to 1978. In that year, Howard Dill of Windsor, Nova Scotia, known lovingly as “The Pumpkin King” introduced the Atlantic Giant. After a decades-long amateur breeding effort, Dill produced the quintessential giant pumpkin. An average Atlantic Giant weighs 90 pounds and is roughly 1 ½ feet long by 2 feet wide. The largest Atlantic Giant on record is 1,385 pounds.

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