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Growing giants

Local man grows big pumpkins

September 26, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

EDINBURG - Todd Brownell of Edinburg has a couple of giants on his property.

They are not big, hairy brutes who smell the blood of Englishman. Rather, they are giant pumpkins.

Brownell, who took them to Cooperstown this weekend to take part in PumpkinFest and have them weighed, said the measurements for both indicate they should be more than 1,400 pounds.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Todd Brownell of Edinburg uses a tape measure to take measurements of one of the giant pumpkins in his garden on Sept. 19.

"I didn't have too much experience before I started [growing giant pumpkins]" he said. "I was committed to learning what I needed to know."

Brownell started growing regular pumpkins about four years ago. A member of a hunting club, he already had experience growing plants, such as clover. His foray into growing regular pumpkins went well, with members of the club taking the pumpkins home.

While using the Internet and books to learn more about growing pumpkins, Brownell said, he stumbled onto information about growing giant pumpkins.

"I decided I could do it," he said.

Last year was his first attempt at growing a giant pumpkin. That one weighed more than 1,000 pounds.

His goal for this year was to have at least one weigh in at more than 1,500 pounds. As of Wednesday, he was hopeful that would happen.

Three things

For anyone interested in growing giant pumpkins, Brownell said, there are at least three things too keep in mind - genetics, proper soil and good weather.

He said there is a growing group of people across the country who are focusing on those factors and raising giant pumpkins.

Brownell keeps a running diary of his growing experiences at the website, www.bigpumpkins.com.

In his diary, Brownell writes about battles many gardeners will probably find familiar: fighting the aphids attacking his pumpkins, covering and uncovering the pumpkins with blankets or tarps to protect them, and weeding his growing area.

Of course, he also takes time to mention the less serious stuff, such as a recent tour of their pumpkin patch on Sinclair Road.

"Patch tour was a success! Weather was great, apple cider, donuts, & cookies. Many friends & family & neighbors all came to see the Giant Pumpkins! Many pictures were taken by all! 120 people showed up throughout the day total! Not bad," Brownell wrote in his diary Sept. 19.

When it comes to growing giant pumpkins, the seeds are extremely important, Brownell said.

An online search of giant pumpkin seed retailers - including www.howarddill.com and www.pandpseed.com and www.hollandsgiants.com - shows seeds range anywhere from $3.95 to $50 depending on the size of the pumpkin the seed came from.

There actually are auctions of seeds online, he said. People are interested in getting specific seeds from certain giant pumpkins. In some cases, people are actually trying to cross seed types.

"It's kind of like throughbred horses," he said.

Brownell said growers are generally going for the heaviest pumpkin possible. The weight of a pumpkin can be dramatically affected by how much water it retains. While they go by measurements as an indicator, he said, until it gets weighed, a pumpkin may be heavier or lighter than expected. So, people cross seeds similar to the way they breed horses, trying to produce the most ideal offspring possible.

Of course, soil is important as well.

According to a fact sheet on growing giant pumpkins from Ohio State University Extension - ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1646.html - giant pumpkin vines require about two pounds of nitrogen, 3 pounds of phosphorous and six pounds of potash per 1,000 square feet of growing space. Adding organic matter, such as manure, also is important, as that helps establish good soil tilth.

"Pumpkins have a certain appetite, and it's important that they get fed what they want," Brownell said.

According to the fact sheet, giant pumpkin seeds should be sown individually and started indoors in 12-inch peat pots about the end of April. The plants will be ready for transplanting when the first true leaf is fully expanded. Each plant will need about 2,500 square feet of growing space in a garden.

Utah growers

In Utah, two men trying to grow the biggest pumpkin in the state have spent a couple years on achieveing their goal.

A year ago, they tilled 100 tons of manure and mulch into the ground. They installed an irrigation system, built a shed and put up security cameras.

This spring, they planted carefully selected pumpkin seeds.

As the pumpkins grew, they were shaded with tents. This keeps the sun off, so the hulls stay soft as they grow, and protects the fruit from hail.

Each man started eight plants, sprouting carefully chosen Atlantic Giant seeds. They selected the best pumpkin on each vine and cut off the rest.

Most of the eight fell to weather, disease or disaster, but as of Monday, Tyler Quigley had two left and Matt McConkie, both of Green Mountain, Utah, one.

Quigley's two pumpkins, each growing on its own 750 square feet of ground, are 600 and 900 pounds. McConkie's lone survivor estimates out to 1,100 pounds. The current record in Utah is 1,104 pounds.

"There's no secret in growing them," McConkie said. "We put hefty amounts of manure in the soil, so it's all organic as far as feed goes."

Plus, they spray the growing pumpkins with emulsified fish meal and seaweed, which has natural growth hormones.

Brownell said he hopes his pumpkins will approach the state record, which is more than 1,600 pounds. While his pumpkins had not measured that heavy, if they come in heavier than they measure, he said, he has a chance.

Brownell said he learned things last year he decided to use this year. Now, he already has ideas he will apply to growing giant pumpkins next year.

"The thing to remember is that it is a big commitment," he said with a laugh.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

 
 

 

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