POCATELLO — Clifford Warren, of Pocatello, and other giant pumpkin growers maximize the entertainment value from their mammoth vegetables throughout autumn.
“There’s always something they’re used for, from going on stage at a high school concert to being a boat or dropped from a crane,” Warren said. “Some growers donate them to feed the elephants at Hogle Zoo.”
Warren, 53, an electrical engineer at ON Semiconductors, said his co-workers ask him about his unusual crop.
“They know it’s my crazy hobby,” he said. “I’ve always been a gardener and am competitive, plus giant pumpkins just make people smile.”
He is displaying his 692-pound Atlantic Giant pumpkin — the blue ribbon-winner at the Eastern Idaho State Fair — in his front yard to entertain his neighbors.
His 763-pound pumpkin placed 10th at the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-in Sept. 29 at Thanksgiving Point but failed to return home for display.
“I sold it,” he said.
A broker helps contestants sell their pumpkins for as much as $1 per pound.
“Managers at car dealerships, banks, and hospitals buy them as a talking point for customers and patients,” he said.
Warren grows several Atlantic Giants each year, picking the largest ones to enter the Blackfoot fair and the Utah weigh-in.
“You can enter a pumpkin in only one contest,” said Warren, a member of the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers.
He calculates his pumpkins’ weight by measuring three different lengths and using a formula.
Warren is sending two of his behemoths to Utah for the Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
After hollowing out the pumpkins and turning them into boats, competitors row them and race along the north shore of Oquirrh Lake near South Jordan, Utah.
Last year, after placing second at the Utah growers’ contest with his 992-pound pumpkin — the largest he has grown — Warren hollowed it out and rowed it in the regatta.
A New York Yankees fan, he wore a baseball cap for his costume and named his pumpkin the Yankee Clipper.
“It’s best to have a pumpkin with a fairly flat bottom because it’s easier to row than a round one,” he said. “Our daughter Elise had more of a knack for it and took over.”
Although he is unable to compete this year due to a scheduling conflict, he said, “I wanted to send the pumpkins, so people can enjoy them.”
A week after the regatta, another entertaining giant pumpkin event is scheduled.
The 10th Annual Giant Pumpkin Drop starts at noon Oct. 27 at HeeHaw Farms near Pleasant Grove, Utah, south of American Fork. Pumpkins are hoisted 175 feet and dropped for a cheering crowd.
The Utah growers post their pumpkin antics on YouTube.
While Warren focuses on growing great pumpkins, his wife, Sondra, tends to about 100 jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
“In October, we put them in the backyard and invite our children, grandchildren and friends and neighbors to pick out a pumpkin for Halloween,” Sondra said. “It’s a big event for our neighborhood, and we serve refreshments.”
Sometimes people ask how many pies she bakes from the giant pumpkins.
“They don’t have a lot of flavor, so I make pies from my small jack-o-lantern pumpkins,” she said.
Others are curious about why Warren started raising giant pumpkins and what his growing secrets are.
Warren credits his sister with planting the idea for his crazy hobby.
“She gave me a book about growing giant pumpkins in 2000, and it took off from there,” he said.
Two years later, he started entering them in the fair.
“Basically, you use good gardening practices with suitable soil and the right amounts of moisture and warmth.”
To keep the pumpkins in the ideal temperature range of 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, he covers them at night with blankets and sprinkles them with water during hot weather.
“We joke he tucks them in every night,” Sondra said.
He fertilizes weekly with fish emulsion, seaweed, and humic and fulvic acid, being careful to not allow them to grow too quickly.
“If they grow too fast, it might lead to the pumpkin splitting,” he said. “If a pumpkin cracks, it can’t go to a weigh-off. It could go to something like the drop, but only if it lasts that long.”
Once a pumpkin is cut from the vine, “whatever it weighs, it was worthwhile to grow,” he said.
To transport his pumpkins, Warren uses a sling and a chain hoist attached to a sturdy 16-foot-tall tripod.
After Thanksgiving, the Warrens harvest seeds to grow more prize winners.
“Then we spread the pumpkins on the garden or use them for compost, so they feed next year’s giants,” Sondra said.