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Growing and celebrating giant pumpkins

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Photo courtesy of Karan Davis Cutler

(Read caption) Pumpkins aren't just orange and smooth anymore -- white and warted varieties are increasingly common.

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Market gardeners are warning that Vermont pumpkins are small this year, so the state giant pumpkin record —1,392 pounds — probably won’t be broken. Our champion is well short of the pending world record of 1,725 pounds set a week ago, but it’s still large enough to house not only Peter the Pumpkin Eater’s wife but a couple of their kids.

Think twice as heavy as most lawn tractors. Think 127 pounds lighter than a 1967 VW Beetle.

Now that I have fewer trees and more sun, I may try to grow a colossal next season. Online booksellers are stocked with volumes about growing Goliath pumpkins, and the Web also is loaded with how-to advice.

The experts pretty much agree on the basics: Begin seeds indoors (it takes about 135 days to produce a giant pumpkin); pick a spacious outdoor location that gets full sun and keep the weeds pulled; prepare the soil by digging deeply and adding truckloads of composted manure and other organic matter; protect plants from wind; remove all but one fruit from a plant; prune the vines; and water and fertilize constantly. .

Serious pumpkin competitors do all this and more, including using outdoor electrical heaters; erecting portable greenhouses and installing shade cloth and irrigation systems; pollinating the flowers by hand; placing fruits on protective carpets and turning them.

They also take daily measurements — pumpkins can gain 30 pounds in 24 hours.

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