They don’t look like the picture-perfect pumpkins you see in the grocery store. Some look like punched-flat lumps of white dough, others like deflated orange basketballs. Some are mottled green, others veined brown.
And they stand waist high.
They’re the giant pumpkins from Sunday’s 21st annual World Pumpkin Weigh-Off at the Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence.
One of them belongs to Jim Hazeltine of Delevan and his 4-year-old daughter Vivian. He doesn’t have enough land to grow the monstrous vegetables on his own property, so his boss lets him do it on his. Twice a day for the last five months, dad and daughter would make the three-mile trip to care for the pumpkin, which could grow as much as 45 pounds per day. Vivian would pull the weeds, then feed them to cows on the property.
“I did everything what daddy tell me to do,” she said proudly.
The 140 days Vivan spent working on the pumpkin made up a big chunk of her young life.
“That’s all she knows at this point is pumpkins,” Hazeltine said.
Their hard work paid off. With a pumpkin weighing in at 1,554 pounds, the Hazeltines came in second place, winning $2,000.
“We win, daddy!” Vivian said, wearing an orange participation ribbon and jumping into her father’s arms.
Another contestant, Diane Snyder, loves growing flowers but doesn’t know anything about growing pumpkins, she said. That’s her husband’s thing.
“I’ve never met a plant that argues with me,” said her husband, Floyd “David” Snyder.
But this year, she gave it a try.
When they hauled her pumpkin to the weigh station, it came in at 1,029.5 pounds – enough to take 10th place out of 20 entries.
Then it was David’s turn. His weighed 1,022.5.
Diane wasn’t sure what dazzled her more – growing a more than 1,000 pound pumpkin on her first try, or beating her veteran husband.
Don Nowak of Akron has ridden past the Great Pumpkin Farm for years seeing advertisements for the pumpkin weigh-off. This year, he decided to get in on the action.
Most contestants grew several pumpkins, then entered their largest one. But Nowak’s pumpkin patch is just 20 feet by 15 feet, so he put all his eggs in one basket and doted on a single pumpkin. With the drought, he said he was constantly watering, but at least he didn’t have problems with fungus, which too much water can bring. With lots of internet research and much trial and error, he grew a 351 pound pumpkin.
“These guys know a lot more than me, but I’ll learn,” he said.
Until then, he has an idea for a very impressive Jack o’lantern he plans to carve with his chainsaw.
Tim Geiger of Clarence is learning from an old veteran, Andy Scalise of Jamestown, whom he calls his pumpkin coach. Scalise has traveled as far as England to watch pumpkin competitions, has seen pumpkin seeds sell for as much as $600 and has been known to trade bourbon for seeds from record-setting pumpkins. He has a greenhouse at home, grows his pumpkin right on top of a scale and keeps log books charting his pumpkin activity to the hour.
His pumpkin weighed in at 1,233, snagging him ninth place.
“For me it’s all about the friends you make, the guys you meet doing this,” he said.
Geiger ran into some bad luck. His largest specimen ended up splitting open – a common risk for big pumpkins – so he ended up bringing a much smaller one which was not heavy enough to place in the top 10.
Each year, Karl Haist is the one to watch. He has won several times in the past, including last year, and set a state record. He pulled out the win again this year, with a 1,964.5 Atlantic Giant.
So what’s his secret?
He does a soil test in the spring, tests the pumpkin’s tissue, fertilizes with chicken manure from Kreher’s farms and uses liquid nutrients from Growth Products. After a day working as a bus mechanic for Clarence Schools, it’s just nice to be outside tending to the pumpkins, he said.
“A lot of work and a lot of watering,” he said. “My water bill’s gonna be a doozy.”
His winnings should help defray the cost. His first place prize brought him $4,500.