Originally published Sept. 20, 2017
By Ciscoe Morris, former In the Garden writer
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 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.
These 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.
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 to prevent the skin from drying and cracking.
Harvesting these monsters is a painstaking process, as well. At the Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival, 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.
At the 2016 festival, the biggest pumpkin, weighing in at 1,500 pounds, was disqualified by the judges because it was discovered to have a tiny pinhole. The champion that year weighed in at 1,165 pounds and was grown by Dick Kilburn of Anacortes.
One last warning: Don’t brag about the size of your pumpkin until you’ve harvested it!