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O, great pumpkin! A harvest of giants competes on Penfield Beach

Published 6:06 am, Monday, October 1, 2012

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  • CT Giant Squash and Pumpkin Gower's Association holds their weigh-off at Penfield Beach in Fairfield, Conn. on September 30, 2012. Photo: B.K. Angeletti / Connecticut Post freelance B.K. Angeletti
    CT Giant Squash and Pumpkin Gower's Association holds their weigh-off at Penfield Beach in Fairfield, Conn. on September 30, 2012. Photo: B.K. Angeletti

 

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The man who holds the world record for heaviest pumpkin ever grown won Sunday's pumpkin weigh-off at Penfield Beach with a smaller pumpkin that tipped the scales at 1,579 pounds.

Ron Wallace of Greene, R.I. set the world record Saturday in Topsfield, Mass., with a pumpkin that weighed 2,009 pounds, breaking the previous world record of 1,843 pounds. Wallace said his 2,009-pound pumpkin is on display at the Topsfield Fair until Oct. 8.

Wallace's 1,579-pound pumpkin was the 12th and last pumpkin to be weighed at the Connecticut Giant Squash & Pumpkin Growers Association's sixth annual weigh-off in Penfield Beach's parking lot.

Just before the giant gourd was weighed, Paul Piorek, a local meteorologist who served as emcee, asked Wallace to estimate its weight. "I'm hoping it goes close to 1,500 pounds, but you never know," Wallace said.

When Dr. David Garrell of Fairfield announced the weight of 1,579 pounds, Piorek said, "A big weekend for this gentleman -- fresh off a world record yesterday and another piece of hardware for his collection." Before his pumpkin was weighed Sunday, Wallace, who was considered the likely winner of the contest, said, "I'm very humble and grateful for whatever I have. It's a labor of love growing these things." Mark Lombardi of Milford, who placed second with a 1,250-pound pumpkin, said he had no problem losing to a world record holder.

"Losing to Ron is never a problem. We're always chasing him," he said.

Lombardi said Wallace always helps out other pumpkin growers who call or e-mail him with questions. "This year he'll be the best grower in the world, and he'll pick up the phone for anyone. His best three pumpkins this year will total over 5,000 pounds. That's a lot of weight," Lombardi said.

The third-place finisher was Ed Giarusso of Prudence Island, R.I., whose pumpkin weighed in at 1,038 pounds. The three heaviest pumpkins were the only ones to top a half-ton, Piorek said.

The top three finishers received $1,000, $750 and $500, Garrell said.

Elizabeth Lombardi of Milford, Mark's 11-year-old daughter, entered an exhibition pumpkin that weighed 1,018 pounds. It couldn't be entered in the contest because it developed a crack that had to be repaired, Lombardi said.

Mike Cooleen of Fairfield, who came to the weigh-off with his wife, Bettina, and 4-year-old twins Cameron and Caleigh, said the big pumpkins were amazing. "One of these days, we'll figure out how to grow one of those things," he said. "The amazing part of being able to grow something this big, it takes a lot of nurturing."

Eddie Lee and his wife, Jenny Park, of Danbury, came to the contest to support David Day, one of Lee's co-workers who entered the contest with a 392-pound pumpkin. "I've never seen anything like it," Lee said of the row of huge pumpkins on pallets. "You hear about it, but it's different hearing about it and seeing it in real life. I wouldn't imagine a pumpkin could get this big. It's crazy."

Wallace said the seed for his world record holder came from a 1,725-pound pumpkin that had been grown in Ohio and that he planted the seed April 10. The 2,009-pound pumpkin started growing June 17 and he took it off the vine on Sept. 27. "I knew by the first week of August I had a chance [of breaking the world record]," he said. He said the heaviest pumpkin he grew previously was 1,789 pounds.

The rumor among giant pumpkin growers at Penfield Beach on Sunday is that Wallace has another pumpkin that could break the 2,009-pound world record at a contest next weekend in Rhode Island. Wallace indicated that is possible and that it's also possible another grower may beat his world record in the next couple of weeks. "If somebody beats mine, that's fine," he said.

Growing giant pumpkins is a science that requires the right kind of soil, fertilizer, water and heat, Wallace said. He said he doesn't use outdoor lighting but has "close to a state-of-the-art" irrigation system on his property.

Garrell said the Fairfield contest usually features from 20 to 30 pumpkins but he was happy with the size of the pumpkins entered this year. "I'm happy in that we usually have a few big ones and we've got them," he said.

Also entered in Sunday's contest were three giant squash and three long gourds.

Garrell, who lives on Fairfield Beach Road, used to grow giant pumpkins but switched to growing long gourds this year, and his entry in that category was 107.5 inches. "Almost nine feet," he said. "Growing long gourds is a lot easier."

Sunday's event also featured a pumpkin pie baking contest sponsored by the Fairfield Beach Residents Association and the top three finishers were Donna Alatakis, Chuck and Mara Abercrombie and Sis Palmer.

Entries were judged on taste, crust, overall appearance, originality and true pumpkin flavor, said Jill Walker, a member of FBRA's board of directors.