Giant Pumpkins "Go Heavy" This Halloween

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"It's thrilling but a little scary to a degree as well, because that's when they'll split [open]," Beauchemin explained.

Growing a champion takes discipline during the long season.

"You're basically locked in for the summer, you're not going too far," Hoomis said. "You don't like to leave them, because a lot of things can happen."

Gotta Be the Seeds

You don't become a heavy hitter with seeds from just any leftover jack-o'-lantern. Champion pumpkins come from championship stock. Most serious competitors use the "Dill's Atlantic Giant" seed variety, produced in Windsor, Nova Scotia, by pumpkin legend Howard Dill.

Dill is a former world-record holder. His 1979 champion pumpkin weighed in at 438.5 pounds (199 kilograms)—a mere dwarf by today's standards.

"A few people started getting seeds from Howard," said Hoomis of the growers association. "It was probably like eight or ten guys to begin with.

"Now just because you've got a bunch of backyard growers who are cross-pollinating, sharing seeds and information, we're closing in on [growing a pumpkin that weighs] 1,500 pounds [680 kilograms]."

Friendly Rivals

The world record has fallen annually in recent years. The current champ is Larry Checkon of North Cambria, Pennsylvania. He won with a 1,469-pound (666-kilogram) gourd at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh-Off in October.

Competitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Germany attract thousands of growers.

"Once you grow a thousand-pound pumpkin once or twice, you're kind of recognized as a heavy hitter," Beauchemin, the New England record holder, said.

The increasingly crowded field includes many friendly rivals. Every spring growers from all over the world attend a Canadian seminar where people talk about pumpkins, play poker for valuable seeds, drink beer, and generally have a good time.

"The pumpkins are great," Hoomis said, "but over the years we've met hundreds of the nicest people."

Beauchemin says that aspiring champions will find plenty of experts willing to help them get started.

"We work together instead of against each other," he said. "Obviously you want to win at the weigh-off, but during the season we help each other. By helping each other, we all get better."

Crowd-Pleaser

Competitive growers aren't the only people fascinated by giant gourds. Pumpkin displays and weigh-offs are huge draws for fairgoers.

"Fair organizers say that the two questions that they are always asked are 'Where's the bathroom?' and 'Where is the giant pumpkin?'" Hoomis said. "And not necessarily in that order."

Shape, color, and aesthetics have no importance, which is a good thing, as most giant pumpkins lack the shape and form of their smaller relatives.

Weight is the only quality a champion pumpkin needs to possess. Heavy rinds make heavy pumpkins, but those aren't always apparent at a glance.

"We always leave the three biggest ones for last," said Hoomis, who runs the nationally heralded weigh-off at the Topsfield Fair.

"Chances are that they will be the heaviest. But out of those last three the smallest one could be the heaviest."

The last chance to see Beauchemin's champion pumpkin is drawing nigh. This Saturday it will become New England's largest jack-o'-lantern—just in time for Halloween.

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