and Mike put a pumpkin patch alongside it. He ordered seeds from Canada called “Atlantic Giants,” genetically altered seeds made to grow giant pumpkins. That first year, he was delighted to grow a 150-pound pumpkin.
Each year, his pumpkin patch has grown. Mike laughed as he described this year, when Deb’s vegetable garden got booted to boxes on the deck and his pumpkins took over their yard.
Besides his fair entry, Mike grew another pumpkin this year, about 500 pounds, and offered it to George Burger & Sons, the landscaping supply business on South Mountain Boulevard where Mike gets his gardening products and advice.
“I thought they could put it next to their fertilizer stand,” he said of his second-biggest pumpkin. “They’ve always been very, very helpful to me.”
The seeds that grew this year’s pumpkins came from the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association, which Mike discovered and joined. He planted the seeds in April, in a box in his house, and used grow lights until it could be moved into soil outside in the sunlight.
Growing these pumpkins requires daily maintenance, he said, which he called his stress reliever. The pumpkins must be constantly fertilized and the vines, which grow three or four feet every day, must be clipped and controlled.
“They grow like mad,” Mike related. “It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk.”
He went on that maintaining his pumpkin patch is a family affair. His son, while home from college this summer, helped with the fertilizing and his daughter, who lives in Los Angeles, bought him special fertilizer for his birthday.
Not only do the vines grow fast each day, the giant pumpkin itself grew 30 to 40 pounds a day. By August, Mike knew that he had his biggest pumpkin ever on his hands.
The weather helped this summer, he said, as pumpkins like hot, sunny days and warm nights. “Then you just hope that the bugs don’t get it, and the deer and the chipmunks don’t chew a hole in it,” he remarked.
Mike didn’t have the means to measure his pumpkin at home, but knew it was at least 600 pounds by measuring around the top of it and using a formula to get an estimate of the weight. Other years, he said, he’s hauled his big pumpkins to the quarry in Dorrance where helpful workers have been surprised but willing to help him weigh them.
As Mike’s pumpkin was moved onto a three-quarter-ton pick-up truck for transport to the fair last week, he said, a crowd of friends and neighborhood kids gathered to watch the action. His father, who’s 91, also helped.
Mike’s father was a trucker who grew up on a farm in the 1920’s. He has a small farm now, where he grows summer vegetables, on Prospect Road in Dorrance. It was his father who taught him gardening as a child, Mike recalled.
“We always had a garden in the backyard,” he said. “Taking care of it was just relaxing.”
Mike, who works at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, has made friends with fellow pumpkin growers at the fair, who’re always friendly and willing to share advice and growing stories.
“It’s a fun hobby. You can watch the vines grow every day and the pumpkin will grow inches every day,” Mike concluded. “Every day it changes….I’m hoping next year to grow one even bigger.”