Seeds of greatness – The art and science of growing giant pumpkins |

Seeds of greatness – The art and science of growing giant pumpkins

With shades of Ichabod Crane and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Tom Wilson’s pumpkin patch is a thrilling place to be this time of year. He is growing giant pumpkins, the biggest of which promises to be over 600 pounds – a prize winner, he expects, at the upcoming Auburn Community Festival.

“It takes a backhoe to lift it up,” said the 57-year-old Grass Valley merchant marine, who has become pumpkin happy ever since friends introduced him to the giant gourds four years ago. Measuring 136 inches around a stem as large as a forearm, he said, “You can’t begin to get your arms around it.”

He has others too, from 500 pounds to a mere baby of 300, all still growing.

The world championship supposedly is held by an Oregon man for a 1,300-plus pound behemoth.

The art and science of growing giant pumpkins is big. “You could call it a hobby,” said Wilson. “It’s become quite popular in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.” Growers like himself gather in Elk Grove each February for dinner and a seed raffle that includes seeds donated from growers across the country.

“It’s a lot of work, babying these things for five months,” he said. It begins with preparing the soil with lots of manure and additives, such as kelp, calcium and potassium. “You have to make the pH in the soil right.”

In mid-May, the seeds are usually planted. Then, there’s the tending: burying vines to protect them against wind and giving them a chance to absorb nutrients, and of course, lots of watering.

At the point that they’re basketball size, he makes a decision as to which pumpkin on the vine has a chance to grow the biggest and sacrifices the others. This potential prize winner is then set on plywood to make sure it doesn’t rot or get misshapen.

At the Auburn Festival the weigh-off starts at 10 a.m. with a forklift taking pumpkins to the scale. Two years ago, his teenage daughter got fourth place in the youth competition with her 427-pound pumpkin. Last year Wilson got seventh place with his 561 pounder; he said the winner last year was 948 pounds.

“I hold the Nevada County record because I was the only one from the county who entered.”

He hopes that one day more people in this county will grow the giants.

Wilson harvests each pumpkin the night before it is to go to the festival, thus capitalizing on its peak moisture content. Once the pumpkin has had its day in competition, he donates it to a school for display.

What, no turning it into a bunch of yummy pies? Nope, these aren’t edible, it seems.

But they can be carved. Now wouldn’t that be a jack-‘o-lantern worthy of the ghost of Sleepy Hollow?


To learn how: “How To Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins” by Don Langebin, a series of 3 books: 1-800-985-7878 or on the web at

Atlantic Giant pumpkins seeds available through this outlet.


The Auburn Community Festival is Oct. 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at Recreation Park near the fairgrounds in Auburn.

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