By Michele F. Mihaljevich
HOLLY, Mich. – When Mark Clementz decided to grow his first giant pumpkin in 1996, he had no idea where it would lead.
Over the years, he’s held state and national records for largest fruits and vegetables and he’s created a website designed to share information about his passion with others. Clementz also has a YouTube channel with about 500 videos and nearly 28,000 subscribers.
It all started when his uncle showed him a newsletter promoting a contest that promised $50,000 to the first person to weigh in a 1,000-pound pumpkin. Someone did win the prize, but it wasn’t Clementz. His first giant pumpkin weighed 525 pounds and he was hooked.
“It’s very rewarding and I’ve got to warn you, it’s very addicting,” he explained. “Once you get started, you want to keep making improvements.
“Growing these pumpkins will make a 50-year-old man, a 30-year-old man, it’ll make you 10 years old again. It’s like Christmas to a child, the anticipation and suspense of what you’ll have at season’s end. I have actually found the fountain of youth in this giant pumpkin seed.”
Since his first effort at growing a giant pumpkin, Clementz has raised state champion pumpkins of 2,043.5 and 1,947.5 pounds. In 2014, he grew a long gourd to 138.5 feet, then a U.S. record and a quarter inch from the world record. He also has the no. 2 watermelon of all time – at 260 pounds – in Michigan. He’s raised several state champion tomatoes.
His interest in gardening began in 1970 when he was 9. “I saw an ad in the back of a comic book to sell seeds for the American Seed Co. for 25 cents a pack. It was the honor system. You sold the seeds and then sent them the money.”
When he was a teen, he worked on a farm owned by his aunt and uncle. In 1973, his mother bought a small farm north of Holly. “I had a quarter-acre garden,” Clementz recalled. “For a junior high kid, it was a lot of garden.”
In addition to offering tips on his website – www.worldwidegiantgrowers.com – Clementz sells seeds from giant fruits and vegetables. His YouTube channel may be linked from the site. He also has seeds for sale at www.worldclassgardening.com.
Phil Groenewold, who has purchased seeds from Clementz, had the largest pumpkins at the Indiana State Fair in 2018 (1,250 pounds) and 2019 (1,137 pounds). Groenewold, of Dyer, Ind., has grown giant pumpkins since 2016.
“I got my green thumb from my mother,” he explained. “In 2015, I thought I’d try growing some pumpkins in my backyard. It just went horribly wrong, with disease, mice, bugs and bad weather. I had one two-pound pumpkin. I felt defeated and realized I needed to learn more about it.”
Groenewold turned to the internet, where he found tips on growing pumpkins. He also found the videos Clementz had posted about raising giant pumpkins. “I was intrigued,” Groenewold said. “I thought it was so cool. I had to try it.”
That first year, he grew pumpkins that reached 1,278 and 972 pounds. “I never would have guessed I could grow pumpkins that large in my first year. It’s very challenging and very heartbreaking at the same time. They can split open from too much rain or too much fertilizer.”
Groenewold plans to be back at this year’s Indiana State Fair to compete in the giant pumpkin contest. He one day hopes to beat the state record for largest pumpkin, which is now 1,781 pounds.
Clementz said pumpkins, watermelons, gourds and tomatoes aren’t the only fruits and vegetables that can be grown large. Growers also raise giant onions, potatoes, radishes, cabbage heads and turnips, he said.
Giant watermelons have a good, sweet taste but their texture is mushy, Clementz stated. Watermelons ripen on the vine; they ideally need 60-80 days. “To grow larger, giant watermelons stay on the vine 100 days, well past the maturity date. They’re on the vine so long they start to get overripe.”
As for giant pumpkins, some people cut them up and put them in deer bait piles, he added.
Clementz said those wanting to grow giant pumpkins should be sure to keep insects off them, whether by organic or chemical means. Seeds shouldn’t be planted in hard clay. He uses sand in his garden to break up the clay.
“Most growers are tight-lipped about their secrets,” Clementz explained. “In the past, you couldn’t squeeze any secrets out of them. But with the internet, well, you can’t keep a secret on the internet.”
More information about raising giant pumpkins may be found on the Indiana Pumpkin Growers Association website, https://ipga.us/.