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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Jack-ed up: How to grow your own ginormous gourd

These pumpkins are ex-seed-ingly large and stem from impressive stalk.

There is nothing quite like seeing a pumpkin that weighs more than a cow, and is about the same size. These enormous pumpkins are exhibited around the globe, from the Kyogle’s Giant Pumpkin Festival in Australia, to the River Prairie Ginormous Pumpkin festival in Eau Claire, Wis. 

Each of the giant pumpkins has a pedigree akin to that of a show dog. At festivals, they’re carefully wheeled around by volunteers and cradled in the arms of a forklift to be weighed.

How, and why, do people grow these behemoth squash? It all starts with the seed. A single seed of a champion pumpkin, which weighs over 2,000 pounds, can be bought at auction for up to $1,600. Luckily, procuring a giant pumpkin seed doesn’t have to break the bank; growers will often share their seeds, and the de facto choice for giant pumpkins — Dill’s Giants — can be bought for as little as a dollar.

Once you’ve planted your seedling, it’s important to consider which plant is going to pollinate your pumpkin. You want to find a pollinator pumpkin with equally impressive pumpkins in its family tree. Every pumpkin has a pedigree, found on websites like PumpkinFanatic.com, that detail the lineage of the seed and the pollinator plant. These lineages can go back almost 50 years, and display the weight and winnings of each member in your pumpkin’s “family”.

Giant pumpkins need a lot of water and nutrients to grow. At peak growth, your pumpkin will be putting on over 30 pounds a day. The nutrients needed to bulk up so quickly are transported through the stem, which is small enough to wrap a hand around. 

Jessica Savage, a botanist at the University of Minnesota, took it upon herself to figure out how these massive pumpkins were able to get so big so fast. The secret behind these giant pumpkins' ability to grow? They have more transport vessels than your average pumpkin. This means that they are able to quickly transport sugar from the leaves and water from the roots to support their rapid growth rates and impressive bulk. 

Taking care of your giant pumpkin is where the real work comes in. Any sign of rot, cracking or softness can disqualify your poor pumpkin from competing, so it’s crucial to check in with your pumpkins daily, shield them from the elements and feed them high quality plant food in order to get them to truly enormous sizes. 

You could also consider giving them little kisses or words of encouragement. 

While growing a giant pumpkin takes a lot of work, care and luck, it’s a rewarding venture. Like many other festivals across the state, the River Prairie Giant Pumpkin Festival awards cash prizes to its winners. The grand champion of the festival is awarded $4,000, alongside a giant, bright orange wrestling belt emboldened with the title “Squash Master.” Imagine — with proper cucurbit care, you too could be the Squash Master!

Go forth and grow giant pumpkins, or simply find a chance to marvel at one of the ginormous, orange beauties.

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