Investigating the Relative Effectiveness of Seedlings versus Direct Seeding Pumpkins for Earliest and Biggest Yield on a Community Farm

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Cable Community Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Katie Hancock
Cable Community Farm

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Production Systems: general crop production


    We set out to compare two one-acre plots of pumpkins, one planted with seedlings and one direct seeded, in order to determine which method would lead to earliest and largest yields in our northern climate. We planned to adopt an agritourism model to generate revenue and inform the public about sustainable agricultural methods.

    In May 2016, we started 800 pumpkin seedlings, 6 different varieties, using heat mats and grow lights. Germination rates were between 78% and 98%, with four out of six varieties having over a 97% germination rate. The seedlings grew rapidly. Seedlings were “hardened off” the last week of May and planted on 5/31. The direct seed plot was planted on 6/1, using the exact same spacing and mulching. We used a drip irrigation system, although there was plenty of rain so it was used infrequently. The seedlings were slow to take off due to the relatively cool weather. The direct seeded plants emerged within a week. In mid-June, several deer jumped over the fence and damaged approximately 50% of the crop. We fixed the fence by extending it upwards. In late June, several deer broke through the fence and destroyed the remaining crop. The plants never recovered. They were stunted and did not produce any fruit. We did learn from our mistakes and we were eager to revisit the project in 2017.

    In April 2017, we installed deer-proof fencing around the entire growing space.  In May 2017, we again started 6 different varieties of pumpkins, with a total of 720 plants, using heat mats and grow lights.  Seedlings were moved to the field and covered with agribon to "harden off" before being planted on 6/1.  The second plot was direct seeded on 6/2.  It was a cold and wet June, and the transplants showed little growth until the end of July.  The direct seeded plants were slow to emerge and remained small.  Harvest began in early September with most of the crop appearing smaller than expected.  The transplanted seedlings produced a total of 115 pumpkins and the direct seeded plants produced a total of 158 pumpkins, numbers which are too small to make any statistically significant conclusions.  There was difference in time to maturity between the two plots.  Pumpkin sales generated approximately $600 for the Cable Community Farm.  Sustainable farm tours were held weekly.


    Project objectives:

    We had two objectives for the project, one technical and one economic:

    1. Technical: is it better to use seedlings to transplant or direct seed in terms of early ripening and overall productivity?
    2. Economic: how can we provide locally grown, organic pumpkins for our community and generate revenue for our nonprofit organization using an agritourism model?

    Unfortunately, we were not able to assess either question adequately due to the lack of production. We did tabulate the labor hours required for both methods of growing pumpkins. The labor hours for the seedlings was 54 in 2016 and 34 in 2017.  The labor hours for the direct seeded plot was 14 hours in 2016 and 10 hours in 2017 up to the point when the plots were treated in the same manner. Both plots received equal water and sunlight.

    In 2017, the direct seeded plants did produce more fruit than those started as seedlings, but the numbers were too small to make meaningful interpretation of the data.  The sustainable farm tours were successful, with a total of 64 participants over the course of the summer.  Pumpkin sales generated approximately $600 for the Cable Community Farm, which was much less than anticipated due to poor production.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.