By DOUG GRAVES
CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — The giant pumpkin weigh-in at this year’s Circleville Pumpkin Show, Oct. 17-20, drew plenty of admiration from the thousands who gathered at the heart of this small city south of Columbus.
Many spectators begged the growers for just a few secrets of their success, but most victors kept to themselves. After all, the grower of the largest specimen received $1 per pound and a five-foot-tall trophy.
“This is the largest pumpkin that I’ve grown,” said Darryl Crosby, who finished second overall this year with a pumpkin weighing 1,216 pounds.
He started with just five pumpkins, losing two to disease. The drought nearly put an end to the other three. “Without rain, most growers were in a lot of trouble,” he said. “I got my water from a nearby creek, so I was all right.
“I found it’s best to have the soil tested before you even try it, and my strong advice is to not over-fertilize or your pumpkin will actually blow up. It’s actually a science. You need the right amount of water, right fertilizer and you need to keep the deer away.”
Tony Large finished 13th with his pumpkin. The squash hit the scale at 818.5 pounds. He raised one last year that weighed “just” 328 pounds.
“I got into this when a friend of mine did this, so when I moved out into the country just outside of Circleville, I had more space and tried it myself,” Large said.
Brenda Thompson swears by the seeds rather than the soil science. She said she’s grown pumpkins that weighed more than 800 pounds on several occasions, but didn’t have the transportation needed to get them to the show the past three years.
“I believe it to be the seed more than anything else,” said Thompson, who vows to enter next year’s show. “Sure, you need lots of water, protection from the elements and a good soil base, but seeds from previously-grown large pumpkins are a must.”
Dr. Bob Liggett, this year’s winning grower with a specimen weighing 1,315 pounds, says there’s a lot to look at when growing enormous pumpkins.
“A lot of people get too much nitrogen in their soil, which makes the stems tall and the leaves big, and when the wind blows it breaks the stems,” said the 11-year winner. “Secondly, most people don’t use enough calcium.
“Right now, when these people head home they should start working on next year’s pumpkin patch. They should soil-test and start adding those amendments to bring everything up to the maximum levels. You also need to add calcium and sulfur. At this time of year it’s best to add manure, till and break down the soil immediately. If you wait until spring to do this you’ll take nitrogen out of the soil.”
Liggett, a retired doctor who practiced and resides in Circleville, said he was fortunate to produce such a large fruit in a year where drought plagued so many crops.
“It was the heat more than the drought, though,” he said. “We had five days of 100-plus-degree heat and since the leaves of a pumpkin are so full of water the heat can destroy the plant.”
In the end it was Crosby who offered the “best” advice to anyone wanting to tackle the job of growing giant pumpkins: “Don’t do it. I used to fish and hunt, and (then) I didn’t have time to do those sorts of things because all my time and energy went into growing this pumpkin.”
After Liggett and Crosby, the top seven finishers included Tony Vanderpool (1,141 pounds), Rob and Laurie Valentine (1,076), Cecile and Teresa Weston (1,072), Paul Huffer (1,044) and Ken Speakman (1,024).