Fourteen years ago, the world's largest pumpkin weighed in at 1,140 pounds. That's an impressively-sized pumpkin, but it doesn't even come close to sizing up to the newest monster crop of the last decade, the largest of which weighs more than twice that at 2,323 pounds.
Writing in the New Yorker, Nicola Twilley takes on the question of what's behind the leap in giant pumpkin size. Part of it, she explains, is just good genes, but there's much more at work in getting a pumpkin to tip the ton mark:
With the genetics in place, growers devote the rest of their efforts to care and feeding. Pumpkins are covered in blankets at night to keep them warm so that they can start the process of photosynthesis as soon as the sun rises. The fruits are also placed in fine sand, which prevents them from developing stretch marks during growth spurts. "Then there's some of the little extra things that they feed to the plants in order to 'juice' them," O'Meara said.
" 'Juicing,' 'pumpkinroids'—you can call it what you want," Stelts said. "We're using a lot of good organic stuff." Stelts gives his plants a compost "tea," which he brews, twenty-five gallons at a time, by mixing molasses, seaweed, fish emulsion, and grass cuttings he receives from local landscapers. "I put a lot of mycorrhizae in there," he explained, referring to fungi that form mutually beneficial relationships with plant roots. Other growers add Azospirillum—a bacterium that helps plants absorb more nitrogen—and spray calcium and carbon dioxide directly onto the leaves. Growers often work directly with microbiologists to test new NASA-derived products and experimental growth hormones before they're brought to market.
But, with pumpkin size booming, is there a natural limit beyond which we can't expect to grow them? You can read about that and more over at The New Yorker.
Image: Nick Ares.