Cutting the Vine on the Biggest Pumpkin in Utah

92 days in the sun...

As you walk into Ed Dennis’ backyard, the orange mass that emerges from a field of dark green leaves is something to behold.

Family and friends have gathered at Ed’s house in Pleasant Grove to see the unusual conversation piece removed from his backyard. It isn’t an elaborate water feature or tacky piece of statuary, and though many of the younger children there would love to try to scale it, it isn’t a jungle gym. What has attracted this throng is an enormous pumpkin.

92 days it lay shaded from the sun, growing. Early on, it would have looked like any regular pumpkin, surrounded by vine and leaves – the only thing growing in the entire garden.  That would have been months ago. Now it reclines on the dark soil like an over-sized albino sea lion on a black sand beach.

After the forced binge of carefully crafted nutrients, the pumpkin's skin is scarred with what appears to be stretch marks, its rapid growth discoloring its surface to a pale orange-white.  If you wandered into the yard unknowingly, you would probably recognize it as a pumpkin because….well, what else could it be?

Ed carefully exposes the pumpkin’s vine, which has grown as thick as a young aspen but looks more like an old oak. Two quick cuts harvest the beast while fellow giant pumpkin growers stand by to help in the move.

Despite the rough appearance, a giant pumpkin can be fragile. Moving such large produce poses a number of real dangers. No one has seen the underside in months. If it is rotten under there, then not only will it not be eligible for the contest, it could possibly split apart under its own weight.

Not-so-slow Growth

It is more than just an early planting and ongoing care that determines a pumpkin’s size. Having big parents helps. Ed’s pumpkin seeds came from the U.S. record holder, a champion from Rhode Island that grew a crushing 2230 lbs - 700 lbs heavier.

Growth rates can be stunning. After a quick start where the pumpkin grows an impressive 25 lbs in 15 days, the rate of growth shoots up to an average of 16.8lbs per day.  This pumpkin’s biggest gain was 45 lbs in just 24 hours!

It is unlikely that Utah will ever be home to a real record holder. Ed says that hot summer days and cool nights limit growth. Pumpkins do not like ambient temperatures higher than 90-95. Utah’s summer heatwaves can really slow growth.

The pumpkin is carefully hoisted into the air. Ed, eager but cautious, crawls under the suspended mass and happily calls out that the bottom is free of rot.

Half an hour later, it is successfully loaded onto a flatbed trailer.

An Ignoble End...for Some

Ed would go on to win this year’s contest, his fruit weighing in at 1491.5 lbs. Runners up in the giant pumpkin contest ended up being hollowed out and as boats in the annual Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta – held this year at the man-made lake in South Jordan’s Daybreak community.

The Regatta draws big crowds. The spectacle of consumed oarsmen and women frantically rowing their directionless ‘vessels’ is pure fun.

At the regatta, Ed Dennis’s champion was not hollowed for the races. It was perched proudly on its pallet, the perfect prop for a thousand selfies.

Giant Pumpkin Regatta - 2016

Paddling Back to the Docks | Modern Gardener - Pumpkin Regatta 2016

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Giant pumpkin in the vines

Mark Thomas

KUED Digital Media

Mark is a jack-of-all trades—he produces, hosts, and writes for Modern Gardener between his regular duties as KUED's webmaster and home and garden DIYer.Read more