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How an Iowa man grows a 1,600-pound pumpkin

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Young is an erudite gardener with a warm, relaxed manner. A professional tree trimmer by trade, he has a ruddy complexion and forearms like Popeye. Though a relative newcomer to pumpkin harvesting, Young has always had a knack for growing things. He figured out how to get tomatoes to ripen early – in the first week of June. He harvested corn by July 4th and grew enviable onions. But, as he puts it, "I got bored with that."

Then one day he saw some giant pumpkin seeds in a store. As he tried to grow them, he realized how un-green his thumb really was: His first pumpkin patch devolved into a tangle of vines. He started combing for insights online. "There are old growers who for decades kept their own little secrets, and they would always win [competitions]," he says. "Now, with the information highway, we all share. You can't be taught this in a classroom."

Young toils in his patch to minimize the risk to his pumpkins and maximize their growth. He shades pumpkins with old sheets to keep sunlight from prematurely ripening their skin and covers their bottoms with a special fabric he got from a pulp mill to ward off burrowing mice.

He tills the soil with manure, compost, and seaweed. He moistens the gourds with rainwater he collects in tanks behind his garage. If he uses city water, he lets it sit for a couple days to dilute the chlorine. He'll also water the pumpkins with a "compost tea" made from molasses and worm castings – a "secret that's been handed down to me from the good growers," he says.

Mark McWilliams, a big-pumpkin grower from Anamosa, Iowa, says Young is fanatical but regarded with a mix of awe and respect. "He's the guy to beat in Iowa right now," he says.

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