October 4, 2011


The Great Pumpkin :Competitive vegetable growers are closing in on an elusive goal--the one ton squash (Brendan Borrell, October 2011,  Smithsonian magazine)

Since the 1980s, giant pumpkins have tripled in size, thanks to strategic breeding and a new cadre of hard-core growers with time on their hands and dirt under their fingernails. (From April to October, Werner spends six to eight hours per day tending his garden.) Also, advances in soil science and technology have helped growers advance the frontiers of horticulture. Thomas Andres, a squash expert at the New York Botanical Garden, has predicted that the first 2,000-pound--one ton--pumpkin will appear in 2014.

Despite Werner's dedication during the summer of 2010, he knew that a victory in the October pumpkin challenges would be far from certain. He would face the country's best growers at the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh-Off. In 2009, a schoolteacher named Christy Harp took home the title with a monster weighing 1,725 pounds. Stelts, who broke the world record in 2000 with a 1,140-pound pumpkin, had a couple of promising spheroids growing in his terraced patch an hour away. Werner was growing a few coveted seeds from a 1,421.5-pound pumpkin Stelts had harvested in 2009, but growers in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states had also obtained those seeds at club auctions or through trades.

The Ohio Valley contest, Werner's local weigh-off, is one of more than 80 competitions in the "Great Pumpkin Belt," which stretches across North America from Washington State to Nova Scotia. This is prime pumpkin territory--offering 90 to 120 frost-free summer days, but cold enough in winter to keep plant diseases and pests in check. The weigh-offs are friendly competitions, but they're also a form of citizen science, with growers meticulously graphing their pumpkins' growth curves and sharing success and failure with their peers.

"By God, if we can get a pumpkin up to a ton, imagine what we can do to somebody's vegetable crop," says Stelts, president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, which oversees official weigh-offs. "What we are doing will be reflected on the dinner table of America."

The path to prizewinning pumpkins can be traced, improbably, to Henry David Thoreau.

Giant pumpkin Prize pumpkins have tripled in size in the past three decades. Tim Parks, of the Ohio Valley growers club, harvests his 2010 contender.

Greg Ruffing / Redux

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Great-Pumpkin.html#ixzz1ZoPp2cdW

Posted by at October 4, 2011 7:29 AM

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