THIS IS THE third and final story in a series looking at what it takes to grow a giant pumpkin. The stories followed Lucas Dion, 17, of Waterboro this year as he made his first attempt to grow a giant pumpkin.
SANFORD – Just a few more days, and Lucas Dion’s giant mission would have been completed.
And he might have been $100 richer.
But the 17-year-old instead learned some hard lessons about growing giant pumpkins — namely, that the task is not as easy as it looks.
“I probably could have taken care of it more and maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” said Lucas dejectedly as he sat on top of his 185-pound pumpkin on Sept. 22, just before it was officially weighed at the Harvest Daze pumpkin contest in Sanford. “I didn’t put in as much time as I should have.”
Yes, Lucas’ pumpkin did get up to 185.5 pounds, not bad for a first try. In fact, if his pumpkin had qualified for the contest, he would have won $100 in the youth division.
And that was his goal, after all. He decided to grow a giant this year after seeing his dad, Jim Dion, sell his 400-pound pumpkin for $250 in 2011, and also win a $50 contest prize for the same pumpkin. “When I heard how much he got, I thought, ‘I could do that,’ ” said Lucas, a senior at Massabesic High School, earlier this year.
And he almost made it. His pumpkin grew rapidly and was still on the vine, looking pretty good, in mid-September.
But then around Sept. 18 — just days before the big pumpkin contest in Sanford organized by the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization — something bad happened.
Jim Dion was walking past Lucas’ pumpkin patch on a hill outside the family home in Waterboro when he noticed “something wasn’t right.” The pumpkin seemed to be “sitting a little low.” So Dion slid his hand under the pumpkin and felt what every giant pumpkin grower dreads — rot.
“It’s right here, I can stick my finger right into it,” said Lucas at the Sanford contest, sticking his finger into a dark spot on his bright orange pumpkin. “If you can stick your finger all the way in, you’re disqualified.”
A few feet from Lucas’ pumpkin sat his father’s, which had a series of linear gashes in it. Like Lucas’ pumpkin, the deformities in his father’s pumpkin occurred naturally. But the gashes in his father’s pumpkin were not deep enough to get him disqualified.
In fact, Jim Dion’s pumpkin weighed in at 311.5 pounds, enough to win him a $50 gift card to a seed company. But not enough to gain the attention of buyers from other pumpkin fests, who were looking to buy giants weighing more than 500 pounds.
(The Sanford pumpkin weigh-off, by the way, was won by Ed Giarrusso of Rhode Island, whose giant tipped the scales at 996.5 pounds.)
So what went wrong with Lucas’ pumpkin?
Al Berard, one of the leaders of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, is the guru of giant pumpkin growers in southern Maine, and a man the Dions sought out for advice on their family’s giant pumpkins.
He says giant pumpkin “failures” are often caused by the pumpkin’s own rapid growth — often as much as 30 pounds a day — which causes splits and cracks in the plant and the pumpkin. Too much watering or moisture, as well as plant or soil disease, can cause fatal problems too, Berard said.
Berard estimates that fewer than 50 percent of first-time growers are able to get their pumpkin “to scales,” which means successfully completing the growing and getting the pumpkin to a weigh-off or contest without rot or other problems.
Jim Dion himself lost a giant or two this season, but he was growing more than one. Lucas had more than one on the vine during the summer, but only one survived into late September.
Once Lucas saw the rot on his pumpkin, he figured his shot at cash was done, and he wanted to move on. It was his father’s idea to get it weighed at the Sanford contest anyway, to see what might have been if the pumpkin had been healthy.
“Just a few more days and he would have been sitting pretty,” said Jim Dion. “If we had taken it to a contest last weekend, he would have won something.”
Lucas was pretty busy during growing season. He wrestles, plays baseball and worked on a farm during the summer.
Looking back, he feels like he probably didn’t spend enough time with his pumpkin patch.
“Maybe I could have fertilized it more, just taken care of it more, maybe rototilled the soil,” said Lucas. “But hey, it’s only a pumpkin.”
When Lucas was sitting near his pumpkin before the Sanford contest, another grower came up to him and asked if he kept his pumpkin dusted with sulphur to help it grow.
Lucas shook his head no, to which the other grower responded, “Living dangerously, huh?”
Would Lucas try again, knowing what he knows now?
“Maybe,” he said. “If I have the time.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: