Andy Wolf showed up to the Great Pumpkin Farm Sunday in his pickup, pulling a trailer and a ton of pumpkin.
That's right. Singular, as in one pumpkin.
Standing proudly with his two children next to their giant orange fruit, the farmer from Little Valley didn't just take home top honors and $4,500 in cash for this year's heaviest pumpkin at the annual festival in Newstead.
Wolf also set a new state record: 1,971.5 pounds, or just shy of the one-ton mark. This is the second time that he has taken that honor, after holding the record in 2005 and 2006.
He plans to try again next year to keep it up. But he knows that title could be temporary, as more farmers are growing larger pumpkins. "I'm assuming this might only last until next year at this time, but it's fun to be back on top," Wolf said. "I've got a record to defend, I suppose."
Wolf's pumpkin will stay on display at the fall festival for about two weeks, and then he will try to sell it. Giant pumpkins are usually not so good for eating or making pumpkin pie, as their high water content makes them taste bland. But some buyers want the seeds for growing their own, while others would use it for marketing purposes, or even for carving sculptures, since the walls of this pumpkin are probably a foot thick.
And if he can't sell it, "I'll keep it and stick it in the front yard and get the seeds out after Halloween," he said. "I'll be happy to just look at it until then if that's the case."
Wolf has been growing giant pumpkins for nearly 20 years, since 1999. He first saw the weigh-in contest as a kid, "thought it was neat," and then got some seeds from a high school classmate who was already growing pumpkins. "I dipped my toe in it, and found out how addictive it is," he said.
Today, he grows about nine or 10 a year in the backyard of his 15-acre property. Each plant is enormous – about 30 feet by 30 feet in size, or 900 square feet – because "it takes that many leaves and that many roots to funnel all that energy into getting something this big," he said.
Growing giant pumpkins may seem like a science, but Wolf said there's no real secret to it anymore. Farmers rely on "selective breeding," using and crossing seeds from other giant pumpkins to see which ones work the best. There's typically 500 to 600 seeds in a giant pumpkin, more than enough for sharing.
"I'm sure that probably plenty of people will try the seeds from this pumpkin, and I'll probably try them next year and cross them with seeds from my friends in other states," he explained. "Hopefully this thing is loaded, because I'm sure I'll be getting some requests for them."
The rest depends on managing the plants, watering them properly, and trimming the vines to the right size.
But a giant pumpkin is hard to move. Wolf uses an engine chain hoist to lift his pumpkins and deposit them on the flatbed trailer. Then he had to worry about getting it out of the garden and driving it 90 minutes to Newstead without a crack.
Still, he encourages anyone who is interested trying it to go online and find a grower who will offer seeds and information. "If you can grow a good garden, you can grow a giant pumpkin. It's just taking things to an extreme," he said. "Some of it is specific to these plants and some of it is just good gardening."
This is the 22nd year for the weigh-in, but one of the lightest in competition. Only six pumpkins were entered, as the spring and summer weather took a harsh toll on many area pumpkin-growers. One farmer suffered hail three times.
"It was a tough growing season," said Great Pumpkin Farm owner and operator Kelly Schultz. "A lot of the big growers that grew a lot of the champions over the years, they lost them all. When we got all that water, a lot of them got flooded out. It was just a strange year."
But while the contest was light on entries, Schultz didn't mind.
"You always want more, but I'd rather have the state record and have had only one, than have 20 and not get the state record," said Schultz, who also owns and runs the sprawling antiques dealership and auction house next door. "So we're very, very satisfied. And the growers that brought them, they're growers that bring pumpkins to us every year, so we're very happy that they ended up with something."
This is the second time that the state record has been set at Schultz's pumpkin farm festival, which also briefly held the world record in 1996. That's when it touted a 1,061-pound pumpkin – the first gourd to ever reach 1,000 pounds.
Of course, that's ancient history
. Not only is Wolf's pumpkin nearly twice that size, but farmers in Europe have exceeded 2,500 or even 2,600 pounds, he said.
Wolf beat out Karl Haist of Clarence Center, who won in each of the two previous years, with 1,964.5 pounds last year. This year, Haist's pumpkin measured in at 1,789 pounds, garnering $2,000 for the farmer. "He's not used to being in second place, but that's pretty close," Schultz joked during the awards.
Jeremy Robinson of North Tonawanda came in third, with 1,604 pounds for a $1,250 prize, followed by Jim Hazeltine of Delevan at 1,016 pounds for fourth place and then Dave Duboy of Warsaw with 811.5 pounds. Hazeltine took home $800, while Duboy won $600.
Donald Nowak of Newstead rounded out the rankings with his sixth-place finish, at 486.5 pounds. He won $500.