February 19, 2012

They might be giants

Growing big, competition-sized pumpkins is huge right now – not to mention hard, year-round work.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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At the peak of the season, giant pumpkins – which start from special seeds – may gain 30 pounds a day.

Courtesy photo

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Al Berard of Sanford has been growing giant pumpkins for 23 years. For first-time growers, getting a 500-pounder would be a good effort, Berard says. His own best effort was a pumpkin weighing more than 1,100 pounds.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


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.

"With prizes being $1,000 or $2,000, things like that do happen," said Lopresti. "I've heard of growers in other states that have been sabotaged."

In March and April, the seeds get mailed out to members. Then growers germinate their seeds indoors, usually in March.

Berard plants his seed in a paper cup full of potting soil, then puts it in a cooler or box with a drop light, for both light and heat. He waters it twice a day for three to six days, until the seed sprouts.

Then he'll move it to a larger container like a coffee can for a couple of weeks, putting the container on a windowsill by day and under fluorescent lights in the basement by night.

Hopefully, he'll transfer the plant to his garden around mid-May. After that, it requires almost daily care, including watering, fertilizing and putting up stakes to support the plant.

In June or July comes the pollinating of the flower by hand -- definitely not by bees. The pollen needs to be "100 percent pure" said Berard, so bees cannot be trusted.

The pumpkin plants have two flowers, Berard said. One has the pumpkin in it and is known as the "female" flower, while the other has a stem and is known as the "male" flower.

Growers have to watch the female flower carefully and be ready to do the pollinating on the morning it opens. After the female flower has pollen in it, it needs to be tied with string or rope so that bees or other contaminating elements don't get in.

The pumpkin starts gaining enormous amounts of weight around August, and keeps growing until harvest time.

It requires time and dedication, but not necessarily a lot of experience. With good soil and a willingness to put in the time, there's no reason a first-time grower can't produce at least a 500-pounder in his or her first attempt, Berard said.


Berard got involved with giants about 23 years ago, when his sons were young. They grew pumpkins for Halloween carving, and as they started looking around for seeds, they started seeing advertisements for seeds that would grow 300-pound pumpkins. Then he read about Howard Dill and how he basically developed the art of giant pumpkin growing in the 1970s. He was hooked.

In 2004, Berard was asked by another Maine grower, Bill Clark, to form a pumpkin club, and MePGO was born. The club welcomes new members, and is tentatively organizing a weigh-in event for first-time growers this year.

For the record, Berard's biggest pumpkin weighed in at 1,182. The world record is 1,808.

The world record is broken almost every year, partially because so many more people are growing giants each year.

Pumpkins that big have to be lifted with a forklift -- or a tractor, or a hauling tarp, or any number of inventive lifting devices. And that's one of the biggest reasons to join the club -- you can always asked another giant grower for advice or help.

"Especially with lifting, it's not something you can do by yourself," said Berard.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:



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Additional Photos

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As president of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, Berard sorts seeds and sends them to the group’s 120 or so members. Each member gets seeds from 15 to 18 pumpkins, and it’s up to them to decide which and how many they want to try to grow.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Berard sorts pumpkin seeds that will be mailed to club members. Growers germinate their seeds indoors, moving the plants to progressively larger containers until the weather warms up enough to plant them outside.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Seeds are packaged and carefully labeled. Growers may see a winner somewhere and want to check to see if they have the same seed.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Hefty giant pumpkins must be hauled to competitions.

Courtesy photo


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