It takes some heavy-duty time and effort to grow a prizewinning pumpkin.

Share story

I’LL NEVER FORGET the year I challenged my co-workers at Seattle University to a pumpkin-growing contest. The prize for the biggest pumpkin was a stash of extra-large peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies, one from each losing contestant.

The pumpkin I grew turned into a real honker, probably weighing in at around 150 pounds. There was little doubt that I was going to win, and I annoyed my fellow contestants by constantly bragging about the size of my pumpkin, and how good those cookies were going to taste.

Imagine my surprise on pumpkin-judgment day, when I sauntered out to harvest big “Gloria” only to find her gone, replaced by a can of pumpkin-pie filling!

Eventually, my cohorts gave my pumpkin back, and I claimed my bragging rights (and the cookies) as the champion pumpkin-grower of the Seattle University grounds.

As proud as I was, I can’t even imagine the esteem you would feel if your pumpkin were crowned the winner at the Seventh Annual Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival, scheduled for Sept. 30 at Christianson’s Nursery in Mount Vernon. Besides the giant pumpkin weigh-offs, this event includes a talk from “The Bat Lady” of Bats Northwest, a pumpkin pie bake-off and much more. There’s even a prize for the prettiest pumpkin, which, you’ll realize, is somewhat of an oxymoron once you’ve seen what these behemoths look like.

As fun as all of these activities are, the pumpkin weigh-ins steal the show. If you haven’t seen one of these humongous pumpkins, you’re in for a treat. The sagging monsters are nothing like the round pumpkins we carve into jack-o’-lanterns. The weight gives them bizarre shapes, and the really big ones have midridge bulges that make sumo wrestlers look like ballerina dancers. There’s a $1,000 prize for the biggest pumpkin, but giant-pumpkin growers don’t do it for the money. It’s all about the prestige of growing the biggest pumpkin in the state.

Champion pumpkin growers earn their bragging rights. It takes an amazing amount of time and effort to grow a prizewinner. Competitors go to great lengths to find the perfect giant-pumpkin seed with the genetics to create a truly huge pumpkin.

To develop great soil with the exact right balance of nutrients, most growers work with private agronomists. Once the pumpkin is growing, it is kept at the perfect temperature, and fed and watered continuously.

Only one pumpkin is allowed to grow per plant, and the vines are buried at intervals to allow for maximum nutrient uptake. Elaborate pads and covers are constructed to keep the pumpkins clean and warm at night, in order to prevent the skin from drying and cracking.

Harvesting these monsters is a painstaking process, as well. Specially built cranes lift the pumpkins into padded truck beds in order to carefully transport them to the weigh-in without damage. During the weigh-in process, the goliath fruits are scrupulously inspected for any cracks or holes to make sure nothing could have possibly been injected into the pumpkin to add to its weight.

Last year, the biggest pumpkin, weighing in at 1,500 pounds, was disqualified by the judges because it was discovered to have a tiny pinhole. Last year’s champion weighed in at 1,165 pounds and was grown by Dick Kilburn of Anacortes.

One last warning: If you’re one of the contestants, don’t brag about the size of your pumpkin until you’ve harvested it!