Giant Pumpkin the Aim of Washington Couple
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Jack's non-pumpkin-growing job is working as a commodities inspector for the Washington State Department of Agriculture checking Northwest wheat bound for overseas markets. Sherry teaches a combined first- and second-grade class for the Tenino School District.
The LaRues’ rural home, a few miles southeast of Tenino, is located atop a hill. Their 1/3-acre pumpkin garden slopes toward the east, which allows it to receive almost a full day of sunlight and allows for excessive water run-off. The garden is well protected with a fully enclosed high wire fence to keep out animals.
They'll both tell you that their secret to growing giant pumpkins is to "start with good seeds." The LaRues recommend purchasing Dill's Atlantic Giant Pumpkin seeds. Check out the website at www.HowardDill.com. Over the years, Jack has kept detailed records and established a history of the pumpkins they've raised. He's listed the positive qualities and characteristics of the pumpkins including genetics, size, shape, color and skin thickness. From computer spreadsheets, he can trace the family tree of each pumpkin and select seeds from among thousands he keeps stored in plastic compartmentalized containers.
At the height of their critical growing time, Sherry said, "Most of the giant pumpkins will gain between 20 to 25 pounds a day in weight.” She's seen a pumpkin put on 40 pounds in one day under ideal growing conditions.
According to Sherry, the pumpkins are all measured at least once a week. When a pumpkin gains boulder-size weight, it requires both LaRues to tape it to determine its projected weight. Estimated weight is done by a tape measurement from side-to-side (ground to ground), and stem to blossom (ground to ground), and then measuring the circumference (the distance around). These measurements are then fed into a computer formula to come up with a total projected weight.
Hauling a huge 1,000-pound-plus pumpkin to a weigh-off is no easy feat. Picking up one of their behemoths requires a one-ton chain hoist, several 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood, a portable pallet jack with a 6-inch rubber foam pad, and a pickup truck. The pallet is blocked to prevent movement while being transported, and the pumpkin is draped with a soaking wet blanket, covered by a cargo net tarp and tied down securely. When everything is loaded, they head out. If it's located in California, a weigh-off can be a two-day, 800-mile-one-way drive from their home. They can only hope that the pumpkin, or pumpkins (sometimes they'll haul two pumpkins at a time), doesn't dry out and lose too much body weight en route.
Try growing a giant pumpkin in your own garden. Who knows, next year it might be your
giant pumpkin that receives the blue ribbon and oohs and aahs at the county fair.
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