The biggest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,810.5 pounds. It was planted in the spring of 2010 and cultivated through the summer by Chris Stevens, a pumpkin enthusiast and cross-breeder extraordinaire, from New Richmond, Wisconsin. Stevens’ gargantuan gourd was anything but a fluke found in the thicket. He used very specific agricultural techniques (including pumpkin-tailored crop rotation, selective breeding, and climate control) to beat out his competition—a collective of hobbyists and extreme gardeners from western Minnesota to upstate New York.
“Their crop of choice is the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin,” explains Brendan Borrell in Smithsonian Magazine, “a freak of nature and intensive breeding.”
Although Borrell digs deep into how Stevens and other mega-pumpkin growers nurture the plants from seed to super-squash, pound-for-pound, his explanation of pumpkin politics is the article’s most interesting element. Speculation and competition are rampant throughout the season, but so are collaboration and encouragement.
“There’s probably at least six or seven that have a chance to break the world record,” Werner told Borrell toward the end of the 2010 growing season, sharing rumors about contenders he’d read about at BigPumpkins.com, pumpkin gossip website.
“The weigh-offs are friendly competitions,” Borrell writes, “but they’re also a form of citizen science, with growers meticulously graphing their pumpkins’ growth curves and sharing success and failure with their peers.” For now, the Holy Grail of Gourd is 2,000 pounds, a weight some experts guess will be reached by the 2014 growing season.
Think it sounds like a fanciful obsession run off the rails? Dave Stelts, another large pumpkin grower and president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, sees potentially world changing benefits to their passion. “By God,” he said to Smithsonian, “if we can get a pumpkin up to a ton, imagine what we can do to somebody’s vegetable crop. What we are doing will be reflected on the dinner table of America.”
Why stop at a ton? Or five tons, for that matter? David Hu, a researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Borrell notes, has collected data that suggest pumpkins could structurally—and theoretically—grow to 20,000 pounds. Regardless how large pumpkin hobbyists grow their crops in the future, come fall, we’ll all need to reassess our preconceived notions of what a jack-o-lantern, pumpkin pie, and single-person boat can be: