Ed Pierpont’s pallid-green pumpkin slumped on its pallet like an overturned Jabba the Hutt pinned under his own grotesque size. But at the 2015 Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta, big was beautiful. Pierpont had pampered this gourd since it was the size of a golf ball, when he put it on bed rest atop a soft mat, swaddled it in sheets to protect its tender skin from the sun, and covered it with blankets on cold nights to stave off frost. Now, man and squash had arrived at their moment of truth: the annual weigh-off, sanctioned by Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, arbiter of big-pumpkin contests worldwide.
At 1,727.5 pounds, his behemoth took the $2,500 first prize and set a state record, giving Pierpont his fourth state title. It also placed 44th out of 2,000ish pumpkins weighed worldwide. The 2015 world champ? A 2,230.5-pounder grown in Rhode Island by Ron Wallace.
Growers of big pumpkins are a competitive but collegial lot who trade seeds in a quest to breed ever-larger squash. Pierpont’s titleholder was started with seed from one of his earlier giants and hand-pollinated from the male flower of a plant descended from a Wisconsin state winner. Most champs are Atlantic Giants, a variety cultivated by one Howard Dill in 1981, when he set a world record with a 493.5-pounder — just a peanut by today’s standards.
When conditions are right, a pumpkin can put on as much as 50 pounds a day during peak growing season, Pierpont says. A grower must be attentive to challenges like too much or too little rainfall, mildew, diseases, insects. This year, Pierpont has a quintet of giants in his Jefferson backyard, fed an elixir of super-nutrients developed by Wallace, a three-time world champion and the first person to break the 2,000-pound barrier. Short of moving to a warmer climate, Pierpont says he can’t best Wallace, who benefits from a longer grower season, but he’s set his sights on parading another state-record squasher in Damariscotta.
When the weighing’s done, of course, a pound here or there won’t matter much, as all pumpkins share the same fate: they’ll be carved into whimsical jack o’ lanterns, shaped into boats for the regatta, or dropped onto junk cars just to see how much damage they can do. — Virginia M. Wright
Damariscotta Pumpkinfest and Regatta is October 6–10 in downtown Damariscotta. The official weigh-off was held October 2 at Pinkham’s Plantation, 431 Biscay Rd., Damariscotta.