The award-winning pumpkin sitting in Marc Sawtelle's front yard is so big it frequently stops traffic. People driving by pull over to photograph the 419.6-pound whopper, winner most recently of the Pumpkin-thon, an annual fund-raiser for Silver Key. Held for the second time this year at the Bear Creek Regional Park pavilion, Pumpkin-thon participants raise money for Silver Key by taking pledges on the total number of pounds per fruit, measured at a weigh-in. Contest organizer and pumpkin grower Richard Plush says last year 18 growers weighed in, five of them with pumpkins over 300 pounds. This year, out of 14 growers, Marc Sawtelle took home the prize with his record-setter.
When did you first start growing pumpkins for competition?
I used to grow just the regular vegetables everyone else grows, and one year, my sister suggested I enter the pumpkin weigh-off (that used to be sponsored every year by C&C Sand and The Gazette). The second year, I made a serious effort at it, and I've been doing it ever since. I've grown pumpkins that weighed in at 325, 285, 265, but this is the biggest one yet.
What are the necessary growing conditions to produce giant fruit?
Sunlight. You've gotta hope for no hail -- it damages the vines. I've erected a hail-screen cover over my entire patch that encompasses about 90 percent of my garden area.
What are the secrets to your success?
I hand-pollinate them. I pull off the yellow part of the male flower and rub the inside part in the inside of the female flower when it comes out. Then I close that female up with a twistie-tie so the bees can't cross-pollinate from some other plant. Cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupes, they're all the same type plants, so they can breed with each other.
They drink a lot of water once the vines stretch out, so every place where there's a leaf attached to the vine, I bury it, and it'll develop a new root system. This year, I grew just two plants with two pumpkins on each plant. I got a 236, a 220, a 289 and the 419.6'er.
What do you do with a 419-pound pumpkin once it's grown?
Carve it. This one's a real nice shape -- usually they come out flat on one side, but I was constantly turning it. I put Styrofoam under it to keep its shape. The skin's anywhere from 3 to 7 inches thick, so I have to drill a hole with a power drill, then use a hacksaw blade to carve it.
Do you use Miracle-Gro?
I use everything. Organic soil builder, liquid iron, Schultz Tomato Food Plus, seaweed, kelp, zinc. I pour the nutrients on. It ends up costing me $400 to 500 easily to grow a really big one. It gets addictive.