In the world of competitive pumpkin growing in British Columbia, there is Scott Carley, and there is everyone else.
Carley won the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off Event at Krause Berry Farms Saturday with a pumpkin weighing 1,411 pounds.
It was a repeat win for the Langley champion, who had a 1,177-pound pumpkin in the 2014 event.
“The longer I grow, the better things are getting,” says Carley, who was inspired to take up pumpkin growing as a hobby because of his farming background in the prairies.
While it may seem like a quirky hobby, there’s actually a small but dedicated group of giant pumpkin growers throughout North America.
Carley won an event Washington State last week, and next week, the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off takes place in Half Moon Bay.
We asked Carley, who operates a website called Giant Pumpkins B.C., to give the lowdown on the world of giant pumpkins.
What’s the key to a giant pumpkin?
“Steady fertilizer,” says Carley.
But it’s not quite that simple. Carley, who grew 12 giant pumpkins this year, says it’s important to get the right amount.
“If you go too far, you’ll split them pretty easily…you’ve got to drip it in over a long period of time,” he says.
The pumpkins are planted in late April or early May and pollinated at the end of June.
Carley says a fair bit of time goes into planning the pumpkins – making sure they have enough space, and setting up the drip irrigation system.
But during the course of the summer, it doesn’t take too much of his time.
“Just a couple hours a day. Instead of watching Seinfeld or some TV show, I head out and spend some relaxing time with them,” he says.
How are pumpkin competitions regulated?
The official organization for the giant gourds is the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC). They sanction events around the world, provide a common set of regulations, and even have their own Hall of Fame.
Pumpkin weigh-offs are a big deal in the United States. There are five weigh-offs in Washington state alone, and top prizes often several thousand dollars.
But the top prize for the Krause Berry Farms weigh-off – the only one in British Columbia – was just $500.
“Our competition here in B.C. is fairly young, but we don’t have a lot of corporate sponsorship,” says Jeff Pelletier, whose 1,018-pound pumpkin finished in fourth place.
Carley agrees. Because you can only submit any pumpkin to a weigh-off once (per GPC regulations), his top pumpkin, the one he hopes will break the British Columbia record of 1,536 pounds, will be weighed in Washington next week in a more lucrative competition.
Transporting giant pumpkins
It’s one thing to grow a giant pumpkin, but it’s another to transport them to events.
“Because there’s so large at this stage, they can hurt or even kill somebody if it starts to roll,” says Pelletier.
“There’s been people who’s gotten them on their trucks, they get on the freeway, the pumpkin rolls off, and it’s not good.”
Yesterday, he used a special pumpkin-lifting tarp ordered from Pennsylvania to move his from his garden to a staging area. Then, a crane lifted it into a pumpkin-lifting ring, before it was carefully placed in the back of his vehicle.
But even that last step can be fraught with danger.
“Once you crack them, you can’t weigh them because of the rules and regulations governed by the GPC. It’s unfortunate, because he would have had an Alaskan state record, but they couldn’t weigh it, because it was disqualified.”
What does Carley’s wife think of pumpkin growing?
“She’s definitely behind me on it,” he says with a laugh.
“We do have a new daughter. she doesn’t want me to take too far away from that. Hopefully when my daughter’s old enough she can join me in the pumpkin patch.”