MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota grower is vying to break a record with his jumbo-size pumpkin.
And if you've ever wondered how hard that could be: You have no idea.
A great pumpkin, or Curcurbita maxima, is a hybrid of culture and science, the result of hours spent spraying the undersides of leaves to fight pests, of tracking down the best seaweed cultivar from Maine for nutrients, of vigilantly squishing vine borers and fending off foaming stumps, all while hoping against hope that the underlying sand and fiber mat has foiled any burrowing creatures from deciding it's really an orange condo.
All of which is for naught if things go wrong on moving day.
"Yes, I have dropped them," Travis Gienger volunteered. "Yes, they have broken. It's devastating."
Gienger, 30, has been growing giant pumpkins for half his life, since he entered a 380-pounder in the youth division of the Minnesota State Fair — and won. He'd always liked gardening, and his grandmother encouraged him.
As his pumpkin vines bloom, he hand- pollinates several blossoms, then determines which of the baby pumpkins might aspire to the big leagues. It's a gamble. "There are people who believe they only pollinate one, and that is it," he said.
Frequent rains provided some of the 100 gallons of water needed daily, but "all that rain means all this humidity." Leaves struggling to release excess moisture into humid air can result in oozing vines and the dreaded foaming stump: The stem weeps and starts to rot. Gienger battled that last month, lugging two fans to the garden to dry out the stem.
His pumpkin continued to grow.
How much a behemoth weighs at a given moment is hard to say. Growers estimate weight using a rule of thumb based on circumference.
Getting a pumpkin to a scale involves patience, padding and the hoisting power of a front-end loader. Eight straps attached to a D-ring are gradually worked around and under the pumpkin, which then is placed on a pallet covered with Styrofoam.
But keep this in mind: The world record pumpkin is 1,810.5 pounds, grown last year by Chris Stevens in New Richmond, Wis.
Stevens' pumpkin topped the scales at the Harvest Fest in Stillwater, Minn. The winner there earns $2,000. If it sets a state record, that's $1,000 more. A contest in Maine pays $2,500, and Colorado has several lucrative weigh-offs.
But the really big money is the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Oct. 10, where the winner gets $6 a pound. Last year's 1,535-pound victor, with bonuses, earned its grower more than $10,000.
There's also value in a champ's seeds. In an online auction, one of Stevens' world- record seeds sold for $1,625 — almost double the old record of $850.
Reached Thursday at his business, Waterstone Landscaping in East Bethel, Minn., Gienger said his favorite pumpkin this year is probably close to 1,300 pounds. He decided not to take it to the Minnesota State Fair because the prize money wasn't that much.
He plans to take it to the Anamosa, Iowa, Pumpkinfest and Weigh-Off on Oct. 1.
"It's not growing anymore, but I hope it weighs heavy," Gienger said.
Total prize money at Pumpkinfest is more than $7,000.