The rumors are true. J.D. Megchelsen, the Nikiski man who currently holds the record for growing the largest pumpkin in the state, suffered irreparable produce problems last month just as this year's prize of the patch was getting plump.
"It blew on July 15th. Right when I was really starting to ramp it up, it got a split in the blossom end," he said.
While giant pumpkins develop many tiny cracks and blemishes that heal, then redevelop, then heal again in a constant cycle throughout a gourd's growth, Megchelsen explained the split sustained last month was terminal because it went straight through the hard outer wall and into the moist inner cavity. He said it was only a matter of time before the gourd which already was estimated to weigh 257 pounds at the time of the accident rotted from the inside out.
"It's the first time it's ever happened," he said.
While having to put down this year's pumpkin was a disappointment, it wasn't entirely a surprise for Megchelsen. In fact, he said he was a little overdue for a setback of this nature.
"They say if you're not blowing 'em, you're not showing 'em. These things happen frequently. It's common for 50 to 60 percent of giant pumpkins to blow. That's why there was only around 247 pumpkins over 1,000 pounds in 2006," he said.
As to the reason these blowouts occur, Megchelsen said it's typically a result of too much of a good thing, that being water. Giant gourds take in excessive amounts of water though their fire hose-sized vines, consuming as much as 100 to 120 gallons a day during the peak of growing season.
"They take a lot of fuel once they get going," he said.
Megchelsen said producing prodigious pumpkins isn't something that can be done in large numbers either.
"I really only grow one, because it's a lot of set up and hoops to jump through," he said.
This year's rind ruin left him without a submission for the pumpkin weigh-off contest at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer last week. He said similar difficulties by other growers around the state also may have been the reason the one and only entry in the contest was a gourd that, at 1.549 pounds, was far from gargantuan.
Megchelsen said he wasn't too broken up about not having another record-breaker this year since the last few growing seasons have been so good for him. He grew a 707-pound pumpkin in 2004, a 942-pounder in 2005, and the 1,019-pound whopper in 2006.
"I did three years in a row. That's quite a run," he said
Megchelsen said he will also use this misfortune as an opportunity to make a few changes to his growing regimen.
"It gives me a chance to revamp and catch up on some much needed work. I was a little limited growing on company property (at the Tuboscope shop in Nikiski), so I'll switch the operation to my house on Daniel's Lake. I've got a good microclimate there," he said.
Megchelsen said he's already begun enlarging the garden at his home and getting the soil and everything else ready for next season. He also is looking forward to being able to water his pumpkin plants by hooking the hose up to his hot water heater, rather than transporting warm water from his home as he's done in the past to protect the plants from the damage cold water can cause.
"I was having to carry heated water down there, sometimes twice a day when it was hot. It was fairly labor intensive, so this should be much easier in the long run," he said.
As to what type of pumpkin he might grow next year, Megchelsen said he may opt to make a change as different as his growing location. Rather than going with a seed that produces extremely large pumpkins, but with more of a peach color and a sagging shape, Megchelsen said he wants to pursue growing gourds with a more traditional pumpkin appearance.
"I'd like to go for something with a more classic pumpkin look. Something orange, nice and round and really photogenic. A real eye-popper," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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