For some, pumpkin season conjures up visions of Halloween jack-o'-lanterns; for others, lattes are all they have on their minds. But for professional giant pumpkin growers, it’s competition season.
Last month, we saw Illinois’s Gene McMuller set a world record for North America’s largest pumpkin, winning the Cedarburg Wine & Harvest Festival in Wisconsin with a 2,145.5-pound orange gourd. He only held the record for a few weeks. On October 10, at the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off, Ron Wallace reclaimed a title he’s held before with a pumpkin weighing in at 2,230 pounds—the second largest pumpkin ever measured in the world.
It’s no shame handing your title over to Wallace; he’s a legend among those who grow giant fruits and vegetables—a hobby that about 30,000 people enjoy, according to Andy Wolf, president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. In some ways, Wallace deserves credit for the largest pumpkin ever grown too—that 2,323-pound mammoth grown in Switzerland was bred in part from one of his seeds.
So what does it take to grow a pumpkin the size of a small car—you know, besides a big backyard? Starting with the right seed is important, and Wallace’s seeds have sold for more than $1,000 in charity auctions. Wallace hand-pollinates as well to make sure bees don’t mess up all his hard work. From there, it’s just a lot of long hours tending to the crops, up to 40 hours per week, all year long. "For growers who are competitive, it's year-round. They're studying, they're researching, they're building greenhouses, they're looking at genetics," Wallace told the AP. "Most competitive giant pumpkin growers aren't taking summer vacations." Who needs to spend time at the ocean when you have a giant orange whale at home?
As far as rules are concerned, competitive pumpkin growing seems to have a lot in common with ’90s baseball. "You can do anything. You can tinker with professional plant hormones or whatever fertilizer you think's going to give you an advantage," Wolf said. "The only thing you can't do is somehow doctor the actual fruit." That’s important to note, because things like holes, cracks and rot can disqualify your gourd.
But then, of course, some things are out of your control—primarily weather. Pumpkins can grow up to 45 pounds a day, most of which is water weight, meaning rain is good for competitors. Wallace grew his record-breaking pumpkin in Rhode Island. I’m guessing they got a bit of rain this year.