October 11, 1996
Web Alert: Porky Pumpkins
Tip Scales at 1000-Plus Pounds
By NANCY STEDMAN & STEVE DITLEA o the
four-minute mile and the eight-foot high jump, add yet another legendary
performance barrier, shattered just last Saturday: the 1,000-pound pumpkin.
For fans of gargantuan gourds, the wonder is that it took so
long. In 1994, when Herman Bax of Lyn, Ontario, grew a prize-winning 990-pound
Atlantic Giant pumpkin, it seemed likely that the 1,000-pound mark would fall
quickly -- especially since record-sized fruit of this hybridized plant had
nearly doubled in weight during the previous decade. But then in 1995, Paula
Zehr of upstate New York won top the year's honors with a mere 963- pounder.
When would improvements in seeds and growing techniques result in the half-ton
Paula and Nathan Zehr from Lowville,
N.Y., set a new record last weekend with their 1,061 pound
Credit: Associated Press
Befitting such a blend of nature and technology, the news that not
one but two giant pumpkins had tipped the scales above the magic 1,000 level
was spread first via Web sites created and maintained by enthusiastic growers
attracted to this weighty pursuit.
"The fascination is in the experience of watching a plant grow so
fast -- 20 to 30 pounds a day," said Dan Gardner, whose World
Class Giant Pumpkins site is accurately billed as "the Internet starting
point for learning about World Class Giant Pumpkins." On Saturday evening, from
weigh-off data posted on his site for one of the competitive associations, the
Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Results page, the world learned of
the 1,006-pound pumpkin, as big as a kitchen stove, grown by a 64-year-old
retired gardener, Bill Greer of Picton, Ont.
To fully appreciate the hard work and high stakes involved in the
competitive world of giant pumpkin growing, browsers may want to linger at
Gardner's site, which the Appleton, Wis., electrical engineer created a year
ago to provide pumpkin information on the Internet. Here he offers a lengthy
news feature from the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, titled 1,000
Pounds or Pie, by Michael Vitez; links to The Travels of a
Pumpkin, a brief tale of Herman Bax's 990-pounder; and to Barry DeJong's '94 Diary, the epic struggle to raise a
945-pounder -- as well as to Gardner's own online diary complete with photos of
Dan's Pumpkin, which weighed in on Saturday at 291.5 pounds.
"A lightweight, it barely escaped being the runt of the show," Gardner said.
Shortly after midnight on Sunday, East Coast time, word was
posted on the Atlantic Giant Pumpkins Web site: "Paula and
Nathan Zehr from Lowville, N.Y., entered a pumpkin which weighed 1,061 pounds."
The new record holder won its thirtysomething growers a $50,000 prize at the
Great Pumpkin Farm, near Buffalo, where it will remain on exhibit until
Halloween. Meanwhile, the 1,006-pound Canadian pumpkin is being shipped to
California for a fall festival celebration. (Mainstream media lagged on this
fast-breaking news; for instance, CNN Interactive's Web site didn't post its
story Half ton pumpkin wins contest until late Sunday
Howard Dill with his 1981 world record
pumpkin. This 493.5 pounder held the world record for 4 years while Howard won
an unprecedented 4 consecutive World Championships.
The Atlantic Giant Pumpkin site, chock full of information for
devotees of the orange pachyderms,<!??> includes Frequently
Asked Questions on Atlantic Giant Pumpkins and secrets of Atlantic Giant Growing Techniques, detailing the germination,
pollination, fertilization, care and watering (pumpkins are 95% water) needed
for a barrier-shattering behemoth. The site is maintained by Duncan McAlpine of
Seattle, a Boeing engineer whose own Atlantic Giant weighed a mere 208* on
Saturday, but was nevertheless honored with the title of "ugliest pumpkin" in
McAlpine's pumpkin pages are actually part of a larger gardening
site seeded by his original home page, which was produced to promote the
Mt. Tahoma Rock Garden Society. Now his Web pages are
organized according to the divisions of his home garden, diagrammed on
The Pacific Northwest Climate Garden page. Still, giant
pumpkins are clearly his favorite flora; just look at his page of Atlantic Giant Pumpkins Clipart, with 47 downloadable files of
colorful pumpkin graphics collected from around the Net.
Potential converts to the giant pumpkin way can even
view Giant Pumpkin Trading Cards commemorating champions of
past years, posted by an Ontario grower, Gus Saunders, whose Farmer Gus' Ottowa-St.Lawrence Pumpkin Growers Home Page includes
his picture, with the caption: "Farmer Gus says 'I never met a pumpkin I didn't
Anyone sharing that sentiment should go directly to Howard Dill's Giant Pumpkins page where Dill, "The Pumpkin King"
who has been hybridizing Giant Atlantics for the last 16 years, offers his
prize-winning seeds for sale.
The Pumpkin King's Web site is festooned with a cartoon of a little
boy surrounded by dozens of pie pans, exclaiming: "Oh mom! not pumpkin pie
again!" While many giant pumpkins grown for competition will end up as compost,
growers looking to use the fruit of their labors in something other than pie
can also find alternatives on the Net on a page devoted to 45 Fun
Recipes for Pumpkin.
Following are links to the external Web sites mentioned in this
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