From Halloween straight through to Thanksgiving, people are PUMPED for pumpkins this time of year. And, increasingly, the pumpkins THEMSELVES are pumped. Bill Geist has the proof.
Autumn is the season of the pumpkin, which is honored in a variety of ways at fall festivals celebrating the bountiful harvest.
But just how bountiful do you want to get? Extreme gardeners are showing up with giant mutant ¾-ton monsters.
You can almost see them grow - 35 pounds a day during the height of the season. It can take a village to pick a pumpkin these days, or lots of friends with heavy equipment. For members of the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, for whom fall is the time for picking and prize-winning.
One big reason for the explosive growth in size is biogenetic engineering. In one case, the grower appears to have crossed an Atlantic giant pumpkin with a Buick.
"What you do is you kinda tap it like that and the pollen will gently fall on the female," president of the group, Ron Wallace, told Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist. "Pumpkin sex."
They're crossbred to the point that many of them don't really look like pumpkins anymore, rather more like sickly-colored, deflated basketballs.
"It's not a beauty contest," Wallace said. "It's for weight. We like our pumpkins mean and rugged and nasty."
In Pumpkinland, growers speak their own numerically-based language.
The most sought-after seed in the world is the Wallace 1068. This means it came from a 1,068 pound pumpkin grown by Ron Wallace. Kept under lock and key, it's priceless.
Using a 1068, Wallace broke the 1,500-pound barrier and the world's record. His father, Dick, is a champion grower, too.
"I saw tears once on Ronnie and I had them at the same time and that's when he broke the world record last year," he said. "Other than the birth of my two sons, that was the happiest day of my life."
Ron was named Grower of the YEar by the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth. What's his secret?
"We use a lot of fish, kelp, humic acid. The humates help open up the soil for microbial activity," he said. "Add any potassium or calcium, adjust the ph. You know, we'll do all that in the fall. And then during the season we do tissue tests."
At times it seems you really need Ph.Ds in chemistry and botany to grow competition pumpkins, although it's not all pure science - the pumpkins like to listen to talk radio.
"It really boils down to just hanging in there and getting up with the sun every morning, getting dirty," said Susan Warren who wrote a book on pumpkins. "Doing the hard work. It really boils down to that. I think for anything, not just pumpkins, sweat equity and make it happen."
Joe Jutras, a fellow club member, is rumored to have a huge pumpkin.
"It's a beautiful pumpkin - if this pumpkin can go heavy there aren't many people that can catch it," he said
And the Jutras thump test told him this could be a winner. He'd soon find out at the Topsfield, Mass. fair, the oldest agricultural fair in the country.
Ron and Joe, friends and rivals, arrived with their pumpkins in a stealth truck with no back windows. These are celebrity pumpkins. Longtime pumpkin fans couldn't believe their eyes. They seem shocked, stunned as they beheld Joe's pumpkin. And the weigh-off began before a capacity crowd.
But then Bill Rodonis from New Hampshire brings forth a humongous specimen grown from a Wallace 1450 that Dick gave him, and sets a new world's record.
But Joe Juntras's 1,689-pound pumpkin wins the day, and raises hopes that we may one day see a one-ton pumpkin.
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