Some pumpkins born to be massive

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Kakabeka Falls, Ont, — Ben Johnson knows a really big gourd when he sees one.

But even Johnson, who has grown some of the largest pumpkins around at his Kakabeka Falls hobby farm, tipped his hat this week when the world-record for the largest pumpkin ever weighed was set in California.

Still, Johnson didn’t sound at all surprised by who won — a 43-year-old south-eastern Minnesota man who, according to an Associated Press report, has been growing extra-large pumpkins for 30 years.

“Travis Gienger,” Johnson said Wednesday without a moment’s hesitation.

Like elite hockey players, giant gourd growers the world over tend to know who’s who in their field and keep track of extraordinary feats and weights.

Gienger’s gourd tipped the scales at the event at Half Moon Bay, Calif. at nearly 2,750 pounds, breaking an earlier record set in 2021 by an Italian grower, The Associated Press reported.

That’s about twice the girth of Johnson’s winning entry earlier this month at an annual pumpkin weigh-off at Belluz Farms near Thunder Bay.

Technically, pumpkins are categorized as fruit because they begin as a flower. So how do some become so ginormous?

“It’s mostly genetics,” said Johnson, adding that to grow a prize-winning specimen “takes a lot of water.”

Johnson plants his seeds in early May. After eye-balling a pumpkin that shows potential, Johnson says he’ll spend the summer watering it daily and applying a light fertilizer.

When the weather warms up, a pumpkin destined for greatness — both literally and figuratively — can pack on 40 to 50 pounds per day.

In 2019, Johnson managed to get one gourd up to more than 1,750 pounds. Another one this year weighed in at more than 1,570 pounds, but it was damaged and therefore didn’t qualify for competition.

That’s the tricky part. Pumpkins entered in contests must arrive intact; even a crack or wide bruise can cause it to be disqualified.

Which makes Gienger’s world record seem even more impressive, considering he had to haul his prize gourd nearly half-way across the U.S.

Johnson said he may make a slightly shorter trek next year to a big pumpkin contest in Stillwater, Minn., a small city south of Minneapolis. That’s provided he can grow a gourd in the range of 2,000 pounds. To accomplish that, he might try using a greenhouse.

“I’ve already been looking at soil samples,” he said.

Like trophy-sized lake trout, giant pumpkins aren’t that great to eat. The walls alone might be a foot thick.

So-called “pie pumpkins” are miniature by comparison, perhaps less than five pounds.

Johnson said he doesn’t have time to grow the smaller varieties, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate them.

“I love pumpkin pie,” he said.