Backstory: A pumpkin patch out of control
Loath as I am to interrupt the daily deluge of experts pontificating about war and WMD – all the hair-raising caveats about slippery slopes and tipping points – I submit it is time to examine that frightening fall phenomenon, the pumpkin.Skip to next paragraph
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Old-timers call them "punkins," and there is even a variety named after my fair state. The Connecticut field pumpkin was a good-sized squash back in its heyday. Today it is barely a chickpea among the gargantuan gourds that dot the countryside like glacial boulders.
Two years ago, in my rookie season growing ludicrously large plant matter, I captured the blue ribbon at the Hadlyme pumpkin derby with a 575-pound behemoth. It took my neighbor's backhoe, a flatbed truck, and eight Swamp Yankees to move it, as my mother looked on proudly.
I wish I could tell you that this is as odd as it gets, that proliferating pumpkin mania has been largely contained. What if the secrets of nurturing these big boys fall into the wrong hands?
Certainly, it has gotten weird these days. My state's biggest pumpkin weighed 1,081 pounds. In Rhode Island, of all places, they've now topped the world record of 1,469 pounds, the size of your basic Volkswagen Beetle.
How is this possible? How do we do it? The short answer is we do whatever it takes. We sprinkle hot, steaming chicken manure on the gourds with our hands, like Parmesan cheese on pasta. We inject milk – undiluted whole milk, not that 1-percent yuppie solution – directly into the vines. We procure miracle growth products on the open market that would make a home-run slugger envious.
We don't cut and run: We cut the vines after they've run 30 feet and bury them to ensure that the plant's energy goes into the fruit (technically, a pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable). We euthanize the less genetically promising offspring. We crush the delicate emerging blossoms. There shall be no pumpkins but the Big Pumpkin.
We water them day and night, and sic our dogs on woodchucks and similar varmints. One old farmer down the road would plug the electric fence around his patch right into the house current. The result would knock a 10-point buck into next week.
Unfortunately, there's more. At harvest time, pumpkin people have smashing parties, wild extravaganzas where revelers wear bright orange clothing and parade around the curvaceous vines after eating various pumpkin derivatives: soup, bread, pie, roasted seeds.
Squash regattas are growing in popularity. Competitors chain-saw their monstrosities in half, outfit them with paddles, sails, and even outboard motors. There are giant-pumpkin conventions, websites, books, associations, apparel, and refrigerator magnets. More ominously, some have weaponized their crop, shooting pumpkins hundreds of yards with specially designed cannons.
Is there any hope of stopping this orange onslaught? Not as long as virtually every county fair in the nation features a giant-pumpkin contest – inspiring hoards of new recruits. And not as long as the question most frequently asked at the Durham Fair, my state's largest, continues to be: "Where are the pumpkins?"
• David Holahan is a freelance gardener from East Haddam, Conn.