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Giant pumpkin weigh-in set for Sept. 28 at State Fair of Virginia

TYRO—This has been an unusually rainy growing season for Virginia, providing a real challenge for gardeners growing giant vegetables for competition at this year’s State Fair of Virginia. But so far, the state record-holder for the largest pumpkin is still in the running.

“The secret to growing giant pumpkins is weather and luck, luck, luck,” said William Layton, who won the title in 2007 with a pumpkin that weighed in at 1,138 pounds. “And this year we’re having some horrible weather, but I’ve still got a patch with my new growing system that I’ve got.”

Layton, who gardens in Nelson County, has been hooked on growing giant pumpkins since raising a 225-pound gourd in 2005. He spends months every year nurturing his pumpkin plants, which can spread out over 35 to 40 feet for just one gourd. His wife calls herself a “pumpkin widow” because he spends hours each day in the patch, pruning it, dealing with disease and insect problems and sheltering it from too much sun or rain.

“I guess we’re just crazy, I don’t know. It’s just something about it,” Layton said. “The plant … it’s just like totally alive. You can watch it, it grows like 2½ feet a day. On good days the pumpkin will put on like 40 to 50 pounds. You can actually watch this plant grow. It’s just so amazing.”

It turns out that growing pumpkins in Virginia is more challenging than in the Northeast and Midwest, thanks to humid summers and tropical storm systems. Two years ago Layton lost a 1,500-pound pumpkin just three weeks before the State Fair. Last year a derecho in June wiped out his pumpkin patch.

Layton is a member of the Virginia Giant Vegetable Growers Association. He said an extremely wet spring this year has already knocked out most of his competitors, but anyone can grow a larger-than-usual pumpkin.

“You can grow a 300-pounder or a 400-pounder very easily if you get good seeds. You can find them on the Internet, and also you’ve got to have a big spot. It’s very, very easy. But it just takes a lot of time,” he said.

It’s also not an inexpensive hobby, since most giant vegetable growers raise their own seeds and sell them online. Layton said it’s not unusual for seeds from an award-winning pumpkin to sell for $1,000 or more.

“And you don’t even know if it will (germinate),” he said.

As of mid-August, Layton still had a pumpkin weighing about 400 pounds growing in his patch. He’s hoping he’ll be able to repeat his success in 2007, when he needed an earthmover to load his pumpkin onto a trailer for the trip to the fair. The competition is set for Sept. 28 in the Harvest Landing area of the State Fair.

Media: Contact Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.
Posted in: State Fair


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