JEFFERSON — It’s the great pumpkin, Edwin Pierpont.

Pierpont, 47, of Jefferson, is a five-time state champion pumpkin grower. At this year’s Damariscotta Pumpkinfest, his 1,832.5-pound pumpkin squashed his own 2010 record of 1,471.

For reference, a common jack-o’-lantern is about 15 to 30 pounds. The largest-ever pumpkin in the United States was 2,528 pounds and grown by Boscawen, N.H.,native Steve Geddes. The largest in the world was 2,621 pounds and was grown in Belgium.

Pierpont, sitting on the porch of his East Pond Road home on a rainy Tuesday, told the Kennebec Journal that growing pumpkins takes a lot of time and a collaborative community of growers bouncing ideas off of each other.

The pumpkin is now on display at Spears Farmstand in Waldoboro, where visitors marvel at the gigantic gourd. Pierpont said he gets manure from the Spears farm in exchange for them being able to show off the pumpkin after the competition. On Thursday, the plump pumpkin sat lonely on a rainy day. Manager Jessica Barbour said the store uses the pumpkin in its advertising as a tool to bring people in.

“It’s a huge thing because of the (Damariscotta) Pumpkinfest,” she said. “Kids especially, their eyes get so big looking at it.”

Top: Edwin Pierpont and his daughter Paris, 15, with his record-breaking pumpkin earlier this month in Damariscotta. Bottom: The same pair in a photo from 2010, which depicts Edwin’s previous state-record-setting pumpkin that was 1,471 pounds.

After the pumpkin finishes its victory tour, Pierpont said he will extract the seeds and send it to his compost pile. He said he has never thought about eating it, but people have told him they have a low sugar content and don’t taste very good. Unlike a jack-o’-lantern, which produces a large amount of by-product from cleaning out the cavity, Pierpont said his prized pumpkins produce just about a quart of innards.

Pierpont began growing pumpkins with a whimper in 2007 when he got his first Atlantic giant pumpkin seed from Pinkham’s Plantation, a Damariscotta-based garden supply store.

“I put that in the ground and by the end of the weekend the cucumber beetles had destroyed it,” he said. “They gave me another one and that year I grew one 894 pounds.”

Since then, Pierpont learned more tricks of the trade and added nearly half-a-ton to that weight. He said he studied online and did soil tests to tinker with the pH, or acidity, of the soil.

Pierpont’s preparations have already started for the next growing season. He said he sent soil samples to a firm in Iowa and used the results to determine which type fertilizer to put down before winter.

Behind his home, a half-acre of dark, damp brown soil sits vacant after producing three massive pumpkins and a similarly-large squash, which also set a new state record after weighing in at more than 1,306 pounds.

Pierpont said the limits of pumpkin growing are being pushed because knowledge of the genetics and techniques has improved and the community growers in Maine are largely collaborative and share tips and tricks amongst themselves. He said Maine growers will likely close in on 2,000-pound pumpkins soon.

“They’re putting more time into it,” he said. “If you don’t put the effort into it, you aren’t going to get that last 400 pounds.”

Pierpont plans to use seeds from three different pumpkins this year, including one from his own state record-breaking pumpkin and one from Geddes’ U.S. record-breaker, which he used this year to grow his record-breaking pumpkin. Pierpont said he’s been in the growing community for long enough that he can send seed requests to “pretty much anyone.”

“I never pay for any seeds,” he said. “There are auctions you can buy (seeds at) and those auctions are a good thing that are there to help the sport. It’s very rare you hear of anyone making money off of seeds. Yes, they sell the seeds but it goes to benefit the weigh-off the following year or club activity to help the sport.”

Pierpont said he begins planting his four seeds in April, sometimes needing to use lightbulbs and greenhouses to keep the seeds warm enough. He said the fruit will grow for up to 120 laborious days, in which the fruit can grow up to 50 pounds a day. That sort of growth requires a lot of water, up to 125 gallons per day. For Pierpont’s four plants, that’s 600 gallons a day, which he takes from his farm pond.

Despite a dozen years of experience, Pierpont said he has no idea what next year could bring. He said there were too many variables, such as weather, to accurately predict an outcome for next year’s batch of pumpkins. He said a vine system can be so well set-up that growth can get out of control and actually split the pumpkin, which would disqualify it from competitions.

“I used to race (cars) and I kind of compare it to racing,” he said. “When you have an engine built … to get the most extreme power out of it, there’s always a chance of it detonating. It’s the same with these.”

Edwin Pierpont’s pumpkins and squashes are seen on the way to the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest weigh-in earlier this month. His record-setting pumpkin weighed in at 1,832.5 pounds.

Rapid growth, Pierpont said, comes from keeping only one fruit at the end of the main vine. Pierpont compared the pumpkin’s vine system to a road map and the main vine is the interstate. He said after the plant grows enough, the vine shoots out from the pumpkin and begins to look like a Christmas tree, growing male and female flowers and sprouting more roots and leads. The female flowers eventually form into pumpkins, while the male flowers are needed for pollination. Pierpont said he hand-pollinates the pumpkin with a few sets of male flowers that he leaves on the vine, but he carefully monitors how much secondary growth saps valuable energy from the prized fruit.

Pierpont said his plants require 800 to 1,000 square feet of space to grow. In that space, he digs trenches for the vines and buries them every other day. He said leaves indicate where different roots will grow and those roots need to be buried to maximize their contributions to the main vine.

“Everywhere you see a leaf in there, it will sprout a root top and bottom,” he said. “The bottom ones tend to root themselves because they set on the dirt, but the top ones won’t unless you put a little soil on them.”

That work, Pierpont said, ramps up in late June, when his wife, Bobbie, becomes a “pumpkin widow.” He said tending to the pumpkins, like any hobby, is a balancing act between his children’s activities and his full-time job as a machinist at Bath Iron Works. He said his family is a big help to him at times, especially when the pumpkin needs to be lifted on to a nylon mat because the bottom would rot on the wet soil.

“I’m in there from the time I get home until it gets dark, five hours every night,” he said.

After the pumpkin has been picked, Pierpont straps it into a harness to have it officially weighed. According to competition rules, pumpkins can only compete in one competition, which prevents one grower from winning all of the competitions with one successful fruit.

He said he won $2,500 for having the biggest pumpkin at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and an extra $1,000 for setting the state record. He said Damariscotta’s weigh-off is one of the most lucrative in the state, but growers generally only make “a little bit of money” off of the competition.

Asked what makes him such a good grower, Pierpont said it was the effort and time that he puts into the hobby.

“You gotta have the right seed, the right soil and the knowledge of what to do with it,” he said. “If you don’t have the time, you’re not going to break records.”

 


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