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How to Grow a Giant Pumpkin

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Beni Meier's record-holding 2323.7 pound pumpkin. (Thomas Kienzle/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

How many Pumpkin Spice Lattés could you make with a 2,323.7 pound pumpkin—the current record holder for the world's largest pumpkin? 

That's a trick question: pumpkin spice has nothing to do with pumpkins. But, even so, why would anyone ever want to grow such a big pumpkin?

The answer is, roughly, because we can. Over the past 10 years the definition of what one could consider a “giant” pumpkin has exploded. In 2000, the world record was 1,140 pounds. In 2014, it's more than double that.

Yet in reading Nicola Twilley's dive into the weird world of giant pumpkin growers for the New Yorker, the question of why one would want a 2,000 pound pumpkin gives way to an even better one: how does one make a 2000 pound pumpkin?

In Twilley's telling, growing gigantic, record-breaking pumpkins is much like raising prize-winning thoroughbreds. Talking to Carol O'Meara, a horticultural entomologist, writes Twilley:

“The genetics are important,” she told me. “These growers trace the genetics back like they would a purebred animal.” Beni Meier’s record-smashing pumpkin was bred from a Wallace 2009 seed taken from Ron Wallace’s 2012 pumpkin Freak II, which was the first to weigh more than a ton. The seeds from Meier’s pumpkin will likely sell at auction for more than a thousand dollars each.

Everything is done by hand, including pollination, which requires a certain, delicate touch: “No whomping on her with your stamen,” said O'Meara to Twilley.

The pumpkins wear blankets. They get special nutrient-rich elixirs or experimental bacterial concoctions. Some growers even toy with other techniques, she says: “grafting two vines onto a single plant in order to double the nutrients reaching the fruit.”

Giant pumpkin growers are pushing and pushing, racing towards the limit of maximal pumpkin. Where they'll stop, nobody knows.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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