By DAVID GREEN
Growing by an average of 10 pounds a day, this pumpkin just wouldn’t stop expanding.
But then again, that’s what’s expected from this variety. Even the seeds of the Atlantic Giant are...gigantic.
Reaching the 711-pound finale was no easy task, said Beth Tuckerman, program coordinator at the Parr Highway Correctional Facility.
“They’re like big babies,” she said, and they’re very susceptible to disease.
Seeds for the Parr facility pumpkin patch were donated and planted May 8. Once in flower, the blooms were carefully hand pollinated to maintain the genetic integrity of the plant. A record of the genetics proves to be valuable information to other growers.
The pumpkin was “born” July 4 and reached its maximum size 69 days later. Other growers were consulted for advice about disease prevention and how best to address disease that arose during the summer.
Tuckerman said her crew of four workers learned a lot of gardening techniques from others, including information applicable to crops other than pumpkins.
The vine requires a careful layout in the garden to prevent stress on the stem. Eventually the crew members had to decide on which single pumpkin to place their focus. That was a tough choice, Tuckerman said, because there was no way of knowing in advance if the best choice was being made.
Once it was mature, a harness was rigged to lift the monster via a forklift to a pallet so it could be displayed at various locations around the county.
Howard—as the pumpkin is known, named for the seed donor—is worth about $700. Once they exceed 350 pounds or so, giant pumpkins are generally sold for about a dollar a pound. Large specimens are often sought by stores, hotels, and other businesses for display purposes.
The seeds of giants are also valuable. A typical price is $20 for a single seed, but select seeds can fetch several hundred dollars each.
Tuckerman aims to sell Howard’s seeds to earn money for the Parr facility’s Christmas project. Each year some area families are “adopted” and helped with the cost of gifts, food and other needs.
Although it was a thrill to grow such a gigantic pumpkin, Tuckerman said the real value of the project is the way it grabbed the interest of residents at the facility.
“It was a great experience,” she said, particularly for one member of the pumpkin team who made it his pet project.
He was quick to give a daily report about the growth and the color change as the summer progressed, and his enthusiasm was contagious. Soon others not involved in the project were asking for updates.
It’s a tremendous amount of work to come up with a pumpkin this big, but come next spring, there may be some more Atlantic Giant seed going into the ground.
• A new champion was crowned this year. Last year’s record of 1,502 pounds was broken in September when Joe Jutras of North Scituate, Rhode Island, grew a 1,689 pound monster.