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September 21. 2013 8:35PM

Giant life cycle

As its chance at the spotlight nears, a giant pumpkin shares its life story


Aug. 29: After two months of care and feeding, the giant pumpkin is about ready for competition. (COURTESY)


Giant pumpkin grower Steve Geddes' 1799.5 Daletas makes its appearance on June 22. Courtesy photo 

While many New Hampshire giant-pumpkin growers struggled this season, Steve Geddes of Boscawen managed to grow three. (COURTESY)

I should be happy to have survived such a dismal growing season, but I can't help dwelling on the fact I'll never hold a world record.

Between the heavy rains and the extreme heat, many giant pumpkins like me didn't survive this growing season.
My grower, Steve Geddes, a 56-year-old retiree who lives in Boscawen, says a lot of times this "growing thing'' depends a lot on luck. But the season did take its toll on the size of giant pumpkins this year.
Oh, I should introduce myself; you can call me "1799.5 Daletas." Though Steve doesn't do this, he says some growers give their giant pumpkins nicknames. While growing in the patch, though, we officially go by the weight-and-name combinations that signify two things - the weight of the pumpkin we got our seed from and the name of the person who grew that pumpkin. My seed came from a 1,799.5-pound pumpkin grown by Steve Daletas of Oregon.
I'm not alone out here in Steve's home garden; "1756 Lancaster," out of Massachusetts, and "1465 Westcott," out of New York, have been growing alongside me this season.

While some other giant-pumpkin growers lost all their pumpkins this year, including Jim Beauchemin of Goffstown (poor guy), we managed to survive.

Mr. Beauchemin was New England champion in 2005, with a 1,314-pounder, but this year, "it was just too wet over the season, and I lost everything," I heard him say. "I have nothing for the first time in 15 years. ... We had over 10 inches of rain in June. In July, that was followed by six consecutive days in the 90s," and then with the humidity, the pumpkins were unable to dry out, so disease set in, he said. "This is the worst growing season for a long time for the giant pumpkin."

Steve said other growers' gardens were saturated with rainwater, and roots couldn't get any oxygen. My soil - I mean Steve's soil - is different in that it allows water to drain better, which was beneficial this summer.

Steve was candid about his success: "A little bit of it is luck. Part of it's I have pretty lousy soil. It's very sandy. I have no heavy clay down below. I'm always envious of the other growers; they have such lovely soil. But this year, it just backfired."

Steve started growing me in a greenhouse in March; he says the longer a giant pumpkin can grow, the bigger it can get. He likes to plant outdoors early, too, in April. To protect me and the other guys from cold spring weather and frost, he covered us with portable greenhouses and used heating cables to keep the ground at 70 degrees. Ahhh, now that's cozy.

Then he watered us every day, at least 100 gallons a day for each of us.

He spent time pruning my vine, nipping any other pumpkins in the bud.

And, well, not to give you TMI (too much information), pumpkin growers are always looking to the next generation, and the genetics of my seeds are dependent on whom I pollinate with, so my female flowers were covered to protect me from any natural pollination. (Pumpkin plants are monoecious, meaning they produce both the female flower as well as the male.) Steve chose which male flower I would pollinate with. This year, he traveled to a garden in Merrimack to collect male flowers for this process. (Am I blushing?)

Steve's very attentive, by the way. Every day, he measures us. Front to front, ground to ground, side to side, my whole circumference.

He has a mathematical way of getting a good guess of our weight.
Just so you know, Steve has only been growing giant pumpkins for six seasons. He says he always thought it was silly to grow something without intending to eat it, but then a co-worker gave him a giant-pumpkin plant, and watching it grow in his garden changed his mind.
"Once you have a giant pumpkin growing, after they are about 20 days old, they will quite often grow 30 to 40 pounds a day for four to six weeks," Steve said. "There is nothing out there that does that. It's incredible to see. It's so close to science fiction to observe it. It's like something out of a science fiction movie."

Now, I know I'm a big girl, but because of the weather this year I didn't do as much growing as I wanted to, and I can't help feeling inadequate. I have a lot to live up to. Last year, Steve held the world record - for a full 24 hours - for the heaviest giant pumpkin. It weighed 1,843 pounds.
The next day, though, a 2,009-pound pumpkin in New Jersey grabbed the world record away from him.
But like I said, I should be happy to have survived at all, right?

This week, it's showtime. On Thursday, Steve will pick one of us to take to the Deerfield Fair for the weighoff that night. Then, one of us will go to the Maine Giant Pumpkin Association's weighoff in Sanford, Maine, on Saturday.

After that, it's off to the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts for one of us. That fair will be held Oct. 5.

We have to take turns going because these competitions only allow giant pumpkins that haven't been weighed yet.

Then, if I'm lucky, I'll go on display at the Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Weigh Off on Oct. 19 and possibly be weighed in the already-weighed category.

You see, Goffstown is my last chance to get out and see the world.

And with the low number of giant pumpkins this year, maybe I'll get a chance to race in the Goffstown Giant Pumpkin Regatta. I would have to be gutted and painted and decorated to match my team's theme, but that's a small price to pay for a shot at glory before ... the end.

Oh well, that's just the circle of life, right? That's the circle of my life, anyway.

mpierce@newstote.com



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