June 10, 2012

Giant pumpkin's great expectations

Lucas Dion of Waterboro nurtures what he hopes will become a giant – and profitable – pumpkin.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories looking at what it takes to grow a giant pumpkin. The stories will follow Lucas Dion, 16, in his first attempt to grow a giant pumpkin at his home in Waterboro.

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Lucas Dion plants a giant pumpkin seedling in his backyard in Waterboro.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Lucas gets a hand from his father – and fellow pumpkin aficionado – Jim Dion.

Additional Photos Below

Related headlines

NEXT IN THIS SERIES: Lucas Dion tackles the complicated process of hand-pollinating the giant pumpkin plant, taking care that insects and the elements don't contaminate the process.

JOIN THE CLUB

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED in growing giant pumpkins, there is lots of detailed information on the website of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, mainepumpkins.com. There is specific information about how to grow the pumpkins and when to perform specific tasks, plus areas for asking other members questions. There is also information on how to join MePGO for an annual fee of $15. Membership includes two newsletters a year and free seeds through the annual seed giveaway.

IF YOU WANT

to join but don't have a computer, write to: Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, c/o Joe Gaboury, 324 Plains Road, Readfield, ME 04355.

WATERBORO - There are lots of things to be amazed about when considering giant pumpkins.

After all, they can grow to be 1,000 or more pounds, sometimes gaining 30 pounds a day.

But for Lucas Dion, the thing that amazed him the most -- the thing that made him want to spend half a year or so trying to grow one -- is that people will pay money for them.

Last year, Lucas' dad, Jim Dion, grew a 400-pounder on his first attempt. He took it to a pumpkin contest in Sanford and ended up selling it to someone from the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest to be used as a decoration at that annual giant pumpkin party. The selling price was $250, plus a $50 prize won at the Sanford contest.

Lucas, 16, is on the high school wrestling team, and works occasionally at a Dunkin' Donuts. So $300 for growing a pumpkin seemed like a pretty sweet deal.

"When I heard how much he got, I thought, 'I could do that,' " said Lucas, a junior at Massabesic High School in Waterboro. "I like being outside anyway, doing things outside."

As he talked, Lucas was in between pumpkin-planting tasks. It was a humid day in late May, and he and his father decided it would be a good day to plant the giant pumpkin seedling.

The seeds had been purchased from another giant pumpkin grower, so they came out of a giant pumpkin -- meaning they came from the right stock. He paid about $1 apiece for the 10 or 11 seeds.

"I think they came from a 1,300-pound one," said Lucas as he spread compost by hand on the spot where he was aiming to plant.

Jim Dion learned the specifics of growing a giant pumpkin last year when he joined the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, headed by veteran giant grower Al Berard of Sanford. Dion picked the brains of Berard and others in the club to learn the secrets of giant pumpkin growing.

To hear growers talk -- and to read the pages and pages of information on the association's website, mainepumpkins.com -- it's a delicate and complicated thing to get a pumpkin to grow to its maximum weight and beyond.

For instance, on the day Lucas planted his pumpkin, his father gave him some small stakes to prop up the leaves.

"If the wind gets at the leaves, it can do some damage. You don't want these leaves blowing around," Dion told him.

Lucas had begun his giant pumpkin odyssey in early April by planting his seed in a plastic bucket of soil and then creating a "grow room" for it in his bedroom. He put light bulbs as close as possible to the soil for light, and he wrapped an electric blanket around the bucket for warmth. He kept the light and heat on the plant for about 16 hours a day.

He watered and tended the seedling until the day he forgot to lock his bedroom to keep out the family's dogs, Sophie and Dixie. The dogs tore up the bucket of soil, sending dirt everywhere.

So Lucas can say with a straight face: The dogs ate my giant pumpkin.

Luckily, Jim Dion is growing giant pumpkins again, and he had some "backup" seedlings growing in other parts of the house. So he gave one to Lucas, and that's the one Lucas ended up planting.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Lucas looks on while his father, Jim, waters Lucas’ giant pumpkin seedling. At some point, Jim Dion says, the plant may need 50 to 70 gallons of water a day.

  


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