How do you move an Atlantic Giant pumpkin that weighs hundreds of pounds? Slowly and carefully.
After placing a sling around the pumpkin he grew at his garden west of Pocatello, Cliff Warren, a member of the Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers, cranked it up slowly with a chain hoist he built. After backing his Honda Ridgeline under it, he lowered it and was ready for the growers’ weigh-off Saturday at Thanksgiving Point in Utah.
“Driving down the interstate, passersby always slow down to take photos and give me a thumbs-up,” said Warren, who has grown blue ribbon winners for nearly two decades. “Giant pumpkins make people smile for so many reasons. They generate a sense of awe and are interesting to look at. Managers at car dealerships, banks, and hospitals buy them as a talking point.”
His ginormous 611-pound pumpkin, nicknamed the Big Kahuna, placed seventh at the growers’ weigh-off. The first place winner tipped the scales at 1,608 pounds.
“I’m always happy to be in the top 10 there, especially this year with freezing temperatures in June,” he said. “I only had one that survived the weather. Some of my friends in Utah lost all theirs. Most people memorize birthdays, but I can’t help but remember the nights it froze – June 9 and June 21, the first day of summer. You cover the plants but can only do so much.”
An avid gardener and electrical engineer at On, Warren, 54, began raising giant pumpkins in 2000 after his sister gave him a book about them. He usually grows several and picks the two largest to enter at the Eastern Idaho State Fair and the Utah growers’ contest.
Last year, a Salt Lake City business owner bought his 763-pound pumpkin for $763, a deal brokered by a Utah grower and friend.
“An artist carved a detailed city scene in it,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Warren said October is a prime time for giant pumpkin growers worldwide.
“During the next three weekends most of the world’s pumpkins will be weighed,” he said.
Nearly all the results will flow through two websites: www.bigpumpkins.com and the Utah growers’ Facebook page.
“Our Utah growers’ page has more than 1,100 followers, with many from around the world,” Warren said.
Entertainment after weigh-offs
After weigh-offs, the entertainment begins “with regattas, drops, surfing competitions, you name it …” Warren said.
The Utah growers organize several events in October including the 9th Annual Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 19 along the north shore of Oquirrh Lake near South Jordan. Competitors wear costumes and row their hollowed-out pumpkins.
Two years ago, Warren scooped out his 992-pound pumpkin – the largest he has grown – donned his Yankees baseball cap and christened his entry 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.
Another popular Utah event, the 11th Annual Ginormous Pumpkin Drop is scheduled at noon Oct. 26 at HeeHaw Farmers near Pleasant Grove. Even elephants are entertained with giant pumpkins. Growers donate their crop to the Hogle Zoo for Feast with the Beasts from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 28.
Warren said every growing season is different, and he likes the anticipation and suspense of wondering how his pumpkins will finally do on the scale.
“They’re such a challenge to grow. You try to keep them between 50 and 85 degrees. Depending on the weather, you have to adjust how much you fertilize and water them.”
Warren said whatever his pumpkins weigh each year is fine.
“There’s camaraderie among growers. We all like to see each other succeed and share seeds.”
In late November, he will harvest seeds to grow more prize winners, then spread the pumpkin on the garden for compost to feed next year’s giants.
Until then, the pumpkin is in his front yard “for the neighbors to enjoy.”