A growth rate in excess of 30 pounds a day is usually an indication of some sort of glandular problem. It’s the sort of pound packing that lands an average Joe on a secluded desert ranch for six months eating baked chicken and spinach.

But for pumpkins, that sort of accelerated plumping is a source of pride. And for growers, nurturing a pumpkin from small seedling to corpulent fruit is an undertaking that errs into the extremes.

“It generally consumes eight hours a day on weekends and four hours a day during the week,” said Bill Clark, founder and former president of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Association and co-founder of the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta. “It’s putting up small greenhouses, warming up the soil, taking care of the seedlings, staking vines, pruning, then come pollination time in late June or early July, hand pollinating.”

It’s pure TLC all summer long. “That’s how they get big,” said Clark.

It’s the sort of backyard attention that might get a significant other jealous. After all, a wife might think it’s been years since someone’s gone out of his way to warm the soil underneath her or cheered at the news that she gained 60 pounds over the weekend.

But 400-, 600- or 1,200-pound pumpkins don’t just happen. They have to be nurtured by nutrient-rich soil, shielded from stress, shaded under sheets and fed massive quantities of water, liquid seaweed and fish fertilizer.

“They get treated better than our kids,” joked Clark. “They don’t do what they’re told. They eat like pigs. And just when you think they’re under control, they go and do something.”

Clark’s human offspring were behind his initial foray into large fruit growing in 2003, when he decided to try growing bigger pumpkins for his kids in his neighbor’s backyard garden in Bristol.

The growing moved to Pinkham’s Plantation in Damariscotta, where owner Buzz Pinkham grew a big-pumpkin interest of his own. One day, Clark was thumbing through the giant pumpkin grower’s bible, “How-to-Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins II,” when he happened upon a photo of Wayne Hackney of Winchester, N.H., paddling across a lake.

He was in a pumpkin.

“Buzz took one look at that and said, ‘We’ve gotta do that,”‘ Clark said.

To which Clark replied, “I’ll grow it. I’ll build it. But I’m not getting into it.”

That year, they snuck down to Damariscotta Harbor with their first motorized pumpkin boat and tooled around in the water, intriguing passersby to wander down to the shore to catch a glimpse of whatever that was.

The following year, three pumpkin boats were launched. The spectacle drew more than 100 people simply by word of mouth.

It only made sense that Clark and Pinkham should launch a festival around the idea. Thus, in 2007, the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta was born.

The annual festival, which runs this year from Sunday to Oct. 11 in Damariscotta and Newcastle, elevates pumpkin appreciation to a new level. Think 200-foot crane pumpkin drops onto a decommissioned car and a 100-foot air cannon called the Big Ten Inch Pumpkin Chucker that’s been known to hurl a 10-pound pumpkin over a mile.

Unlike their well-meaning pumpkin brethren in neighboring towns, Damariscotta pumpkins don’t deflate quietly on the front porch of a family home. Instead, they fly. They explode.

And they float.

The annual regatta, a festival highlight held this year on Sunday, Oct. 11, boasts two pumpkin-boat categories: paddle boats and motorized boats.

Paddleboats are hollowed-out pumpkins weighing generally between 450 and 600 pounds, according to Clark, and are maneuvered using a paddle. The larger motorized pumpkin boats are affixed with 2.5- to 6-horsepower outboard motors held up by a piece of construction that looks like a toilet seat. Carpet scraps are laid inside to keep things from getting too slippery, and pipe covering is used to edge the deck.

“We pretty them up,” Clark said. “You make as much of a seat as you can make. But there’s really not a lot of room in a 700-pounder.”

Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. “I tell people, ‘Go forth and do whatever you want to do with this thing.'”

Some folks paint the pumpkins, build floats or attach pumpkin-boat-sized sails. And while Clark has had a hand in many of the regatta’s boats in years past, he hopes more folks will start growing and building their own to race.

And what, some bakers might wonder, becomes of giant pumpkin innards?

“Compost!” said Clark. The stuff unfortunately doesn’t make for good pies. “And of course, we save the seeds.”

The better to start all over again next year.

For more information and a schedule, visit damariscottapumpkinfest.com.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

[email protected]