Oh, the things some people will do for their giant pumpkins.
Take Jeff Uhlmeyer of Olympia, who’s been growing goliath gourds since 2009. Just last week, he won the 2021 Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off with a 2,191-pound behemoth. Uhlmeyer named the award-winning gourd Steve, since it is not good to name a giant pumpkin after any family members.
Uhlmeyer, a retired Washington State Department of Transportation pavement engineer, said he used his methodical problem-solving skills to better his harvest.
In order to save his pumpkins from the record-breaking June temperatures that scorched the Pacific Northwest and withered plants on the vine right at pollination time, he constructed a shelter, ran a fan and sprayed down those babies almost continuously.
There’s no room to get cocky in the gourd world, though, he said.
“One thing with giant pumpkins, if you think you’ve got it figured out, you’re going to be humbled,” he said. “Pumpkins are pumpkins. They do what they want to do.”
Like most other serious growers, Uhlmeyer buys his Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seed through an auction.
Before planting, Uhlmeyer carefully tests and balances his soil, adding nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous as needed.
“Good seeds, good soil, good friends and good plant management practices” are the secrets to his success, he said.
Uhlmeyer’s prize pumpkin won him $9 per pound for a total of $19,719. The sport can get competitive, but Uhlmeyer said he couldn’t have become the grower he is without the help of fellow champions Cindy Tobeck, Jack LaRue and other members of the Pacific Northwest Giant Pumpkin Growers (which he said needs new members).
“It’s a great sport and a great community,” he said. “And there’s always more to learn.”