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

2016 Annual Report for FNC16-1035

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

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


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, 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 are eager to revisit the project in 2017.


Objectives/Performance Targets

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 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 and the labor hours for the direct seeded plot was 14 hours up to the point when the plots were treated in the same manner. Both plots received equal water and sunlight.


While the first year of our project was largely unsuccessful, we did learn some valuable information that we will take into account next year. For example, the seedlings grew rapidly and were probably past their ideal time for transplanting by the time the soil was warm enough to plant. Next summer, we will start the seedlings two weeks later in order to produce smaller, sturdier plants to transplant to the field. A small percentage of the seedlings succumbed to wilting, which was alleviated by the use of a fan. We will use a fan continuously after the plants germinate next year. The most obvious factor is that our deer fencing was inadequate. Next year, we will use 7 foot tall plastic deer fencing to enclose the entire growing area.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The “pumpkin project” garnered a great deal of interest within our small, rural community. People are interested in learning how to grow local products organically. Visitors to our community farm were interested in learning about the research aspect of the project. We had over 400 visitors. The intern who worked on the project was fully immersed in the research and took pride in taking careful notes.