Shoppers at Kenai Safeway pass by a state record pumpkin grown by J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Shoppers at the Safeway store in Kenai may have found a recent addition to the produce section hard to miss especially with their shopping carts.
The reason for the detour is J. D. Megchelsen's 942-pound giant pumpkin that went on display at the end of last week.
The orange-fleshed gourd is fresh from the Alaska State Fair in Palmer where, on Aug. 30, it crushed the state record by nearly 200 pounds.
"We got it back again," Megchelsen said.
Megchelsen, of Nikiski, held for nearly a year the title for growing the greatest gourd in the state for a 707-pound pumpkin he grew last year.
However, in August, Dave Iles of Fairbanks took a 752-pound pumpkin to the Tanana Valley State Fair and claimed the title for himself.
But when the two went head to head or perhaps more appropriately, gourd to gourd in Palmer, Megchelsen's gargantuan trumped all others.
Realizing that not everyone was able to either make it out to Nikiski or up to Palmer, Megchelsen agreed to display the pumpkin in Safeway again this year until at least mid-October.
"It's a good way for a lot of local people to see it that otherwise couldn't," he said.
Megchelsen added that displaying the pumpkin in such a prominent location also shows people that it's possible to grow huge produce not just in Alaska, but on the Kenai Peninsula, as well.
"Maybe someone will see it and get interested in growing one for themselves," he said.
Doug Jung, manager of the Kenai store, said the pumpkin is a welcome addition at this time of year.
"It's very festive. It ties into our seasonal display, so we bring it in for people to see," Jung said.
Meanwhile, Megchelsen is already thinking about next year's crop.
"It'll be tough to beat my own record, but I'm gonna go for it again next year," he said, adding that his goal is to grow a pumpkin that ends up in the 1,000-1,200 pound range.
With such a lofty task ahead of him, Megchelsen is already renovating his garden and working the soil for next year.
"I'm going to increase the size of my grow operation. I'm going to add about 280 square feet of growing room and devote that to one plant," he said, as opposed to this year when he grew two vines in the same limited area behind the Tuboscope shop where he is employed.
As to what type of pumpkin Megchelsen will grow, he said he's uncertain at the present time.
"I might grow the same thing again, or might not. I'm not sure yet. I'll research it out over the winter," he said.
Rather than using seeds from existing giants that grow to enormous proportions, but typically look like half-deflated balloons that are faded orange or greyish-green in color and have a skin texture like a cantaloupe, Megchelsen said he's considering getting seeds from a more typical-looking pumpkin.
"It would be nice to grow one with a nice shape and color, too," he said.
This can be a dicey move since pumpkins that are very round and orange get up to 500-700 pounds but tend not to grow as large as the more unusual-looking pumpkin strains that can average 1,000 -1,400 pounds.
"I'll research it all out during the winter, then decide on which seeds to plant," Megchelsen said, since he doesn't start his seeds until the end of March.
As to the seeds from his own pumpkin, Megchelsen said he will cut up the giant gourd when he gets it back from Safeway and likely will give out many of the 700-800 seeds he is expecting to harvest.
Megchelsen said the meat of the pumpkin has already been claimed by folks who will take and freeze it for later use in pumpkin pies for fund-raisers and for the Arctic Winter Games.
"What ever is left over will go into the compost heap for next year," Megchelsen said.
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