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Kitchen Gardening

Enough Pumpkin for 1000 pies

Growers from coast to coast are spending every gardening minute tending their crops of 'Cucurbita maxima' in an effort to grow a pumpkin that weighs over 1700 pounds.

Giant pumpkins need at least 130 days to grow and require nearly constant care the entire time.
Photo/Illustration: John Pendleton

Magic Pumpkin Seeds

When I opened the envelope that arrived last week, I felt a little like a character in the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. The small packet contained two large seeds with the potential to overwhelm my garden.

But instead of beans to grow a giant beanstalk, the envelope contained seeds to grow giant pumpkins. Each of these seeds is nearly as big as a quarter and they’re meant to grow pumpkins that will tip the scale at more than 1000 pounds.

In Zone 5 where I live, seeds with the genetic know-how for growing pumpkins the size of a mini Cooper, need 130 days to grow. So they have to be started in January, then lovingly tended in hoop houses through the spring, protected from hail during the summer and then transported in pickup trucks to the official weigh-off in fall.

While it’s too late for me to grow giant vines with gigantic fruit this year, hundreds of other growers across the country are spending every gardening moment trying to grow a pumpkin of epic proportions.

The winner gets World Record bragging rights and a modest cash prize. Christy Harp, a high school math teacher from Jackson Township, Ohio, grew last year’s record setter. Her pumpkin weighed 1,725 pounds.

Now that’s a Great Pumpkin!

All these pumpkin growers owe a big thanks to Howard Dill, an amateur seed breeder from Windsor, Nova Scotia. He’s the one who developed the ‘Atlantic Giant’ seed and helped move the sport forward by giant leaps and bounds.

Every grower takes a different approach to growing the giants. Some remove the seed coat before germinating and others use special soil. Seeds are often started in greenhouses with special misting systems and heating coils.

New scientific advances almost guarantee even bigger pumpkins in the next few years. Growers are experimenting with inoculating soil with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, using nitrogen-fixing bacteria additives, trying high-yield natural foliar nutrients and applying other extreme agriculture techniques.

If giant pumpkins aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty of time to tap into your competitive gardening spirit and try to grow a 1,200 pound squash or maybe a 7-pound tomato.

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