Seeds of giant dreams

Nikiski grower harvests DNA from state record-setting pumpkin

Posted: Monday, November 06, 2006

 

  J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski carves his 1,019-pound pumpkin that set a new state record back in September at the Kenai Safeway on Saturday. The walls of the pumpkin were 10 inches thick in some sections. Photo by Joseph Robertia

J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski carves his 1,019-pound pumpkin that set a new state record back in September at the Kenai Safeway on Saturday. The walls of the pumpkin were 10 inches thick in some sections.

Photo by Joseph Robertia

If you think carving a Halloween pumpkin is a tough task, imagine cutting into one with walls 10 inches thick.

On Saturday, people didn’t have to imagine. They got to see the spectacle firsthand when J.D. Megchelsen of Nikiski carved his state record-setting 1,019-pound pumpkin at the Kenai Safeway .

“People have seen it from the outside, but now they’ll get to see the inside,” he said before cutting into the giant gourd.

The event drew a small crowd, from agricultural amateurs to master gardeners who’s thumbs have been green for years. Some had come for pumpkin meat to make pies and soups from. A few had come to ask pointers, but all wanted to know how many seeds the behemoth would hold.

Megchelsen tried to warn the crowd that the number may not be many, or even any. The 942-pounder he grew last year only had 79 seeds in it and he was expecting fewer from this year’s garden goody.

“Sometimes there are no seeds in them or there will be seeds, but they’ve already started to germinate,” he said.

This, along with the enormous size of giant pumpkins, makes the seeds extremely sought after. They can fetch prices as high as several hundred dollars, and Megchelsen has seen both sides of this seed-seeking phenomena.

The pumpkin he grew this year was from a seed from the Wallace 1,068 — the same pumpkin that produced the 1,502-pound gourd grown by Ron Wallace of Rhode Island that broke the world record earlier this year.

It was Megchelsen’s second Wallace 1,068 seed.

“I bought one at an auction two years ago, but it didn’t germinate,” he said.

However, giant pumpkin growers are a tight-knit community. After getting to know the Wallaces — Dick, who grew the 1,068-pound pumpkin, and Ron, who grew the 1,502-pounder — fairly well through phone calls and e-mails to exchange information about growing gourds, Megchelsen said he was able to obtain another seed.

Now that Megchelsen used that seed to sprout a new state record, he said it is his pumpkin’s seeds that are being sought after.

“A lot of people want them,” he said.

Megchelsen said he would like to be able to give everyone who has requested one a seed, but that’s just not possible.

As someone who knows firsthand the difficulties of growing pumpkins in a cool climate with a short growing season, he said he will likely give preferences to those facing similar challenges.

“I’ll cater to the northern growers. I’ve got three guys in Sweden — top growers — that want some. There’s a guy in Belgium and a couple in England. If they want seeds, I’ll give it to them first,” Megchelsen said.

After Megchelsen gutted the gourd Saturday there were only 12 seeds that could be used.

Despite how much work he put into getting the pumpkin to such amazing proportions, Megchelsen said taking a knife to it wasn’t emotional for him because it didn’t signify an end. Rather, with seeds in hand, Saturday’s event signified another beginning.

“I’ve got to get ready for next year,” he said.

Megchelsen’s pumpkin grew off the secondary vine, instead of the main vine. He explained the vines are the supply lines to the pumpkin, which, at the peak of the growing season, will consume 100 to 120 gallons of water a day.

Since the secondary vine is roughly the size of a garden hose, as opposed to the fire hose-sized main vine, it restricted how much water he could get into the pumpkin, and thus the pumpkin’s placement off the secondary vine restricted its growth.

“It’s exciting to think what might have been had this pumpkin been on the main, so that’s what I’m hoping to get next year,” he said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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