World-record pumpkins: What does it take to grow them?

A new world record for the heaviest pumpkin was set earlier this month. Can any gardener grow an 1,800-pound pumpkin? If so, how?

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    This 1,504 lb. pumpkin smashed British and European records in June.
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A new pumpkin world record was set earlier this month by Chris Stevens of New Richmond, Wis.. It weighed in at 1,810-1/2 pounds.

How big is that? It “measures more than 15 feet around and is 4½ feet tall. It … contains enough flesh to make about 900 pies,” reports The New York Times.

Kinda makes your mouth fall open to just think about a pumpkin that size. Then you begin to wonder: Could anyone grow one?

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The answer is yes – if….

Basically, there aren’t any real secrets to growing a punkin like Mr. Stevens's, but it does require a lot of attention -- constant attention.

Heat, water, and plenty of nutrients

Basically, you need the weather to cooperate: Lots of hot weather and frequent rainfall this summer really made a difference for Mr. Stevens. But he also fed his giant gourd with cow manure, fish emulsion, seaweed, and microorganisms. And watered it constantly when rainfall was lacking.

Some growers go to extraordinary lengths to coddle their giant pumpkins, says Karan Davis Cutler: They use outdoor electrical heaters; erect portable greenhouses and install shade cloth and irrigation systems; pollinate the flowers by hand; place fruits on protective carpets and turn them regularly.

To ensure the largest pumpkins possible, it's also important to leave only one pumpkin per vine so that all the plant’s energy goes to it.

You also need to start with seeds from a humongous pumpkin -- and that will cost you. According to the New Richmond News:

Stevens said he plans to donate the pumpkin’s seeds to the St. Croix Valley Growers Association, of which he is a member. The sale of the seed then helps fund the association’s efforts.Estimated cost for one seed from the pumpkin, Steven said, is about $750. The seeds are typically sold via Internet auctions in pumpkin grower chat rooms.“It’s probably going to be the most valuable seed ever,” he guessed. “It’s pretty crazy.”

Pumpkin carving and eating

Next up for the super-size pumpkin: National TV exposure, of course. It and its grower arrive in New York City today for a visit tomorrow to "Live with Regis and Kelly." Then they’ll head for the New York Botanical Garden, where the giant gourd will be on display until Oct. 30. That's when it will be carved into the world’s largest jack-o’-lantern by Scott Cully, who's a record-holder in his own right -- for carving the world's biggest jack-o'-lantern.

Across the pond, the growers of the British record-holding pumpkin (1,504 pounds, shown in our photo) say theirs won’t be carved. They want people to see it in all its natural glory.

Ever wonder why we carve pumpkins? Really, no one knows but there are a couple of tall tales that try to explain. (Click here for one of them and here for the second.)

For most of us, pumpkins are either carved for Halloween or turned into pies for Thanksgiving. If you’d like other ideas, here are 100 ways to cook a pumpkin from Huffington Post.

My favorite of the hundred: pumpkin pie grilled cheese sandwich. But the pumpkin gnocchi looks good, too. If you owned the record pumpkin, you’d probably be able to make all the recipes. After that, you would most likely have had enough pumpkin till next fall.

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Judy Lowe is the editor of the Diggin' It blog and the author of a number of garden books, including "Herbs!" which will be published in January 2011.

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