TOPSFIELD, Mass. — Growing a giant pumpkin is no small task.
Those who nurture these monstrous squash devote several hours each day tending to their pumpkins.
George Hoomis, from Ipswich, Massachusetts, who has been growing giant pumpkins for 25 years, said the work includes watering the plant, weeding the surrounding area, spraying the pumpkin with pesticides, burying vines and covering the pumpkin with blankets at night.
Hoomis entered his nearly 1,500 pound pumpkin in this year’s giant pumpkin weigh-off at the Topsfield Fair. He was one of more than a dozen growers to compete in what is usually a signature event of the fair, where a grower last year won with a pumpkin that weighed 2,294 1/2 pounds.
This year’s installment of the fair — at 202 years old, it is the oldest county fair in the country — was cancelled due to the pandemic. But the pumpkin weigh-off was still held, albeit with no spectators and plenty of social distance.
“People look forward to it all year,” fair spokesperson Dave Thompson said of the weigh-in. “It’s the most popular question at the gates of the fair: ‘How big is the pumpkin this year?’ It’s usually the most popular photo on social media too.”
Growers come from across New England to compete at the Topsfeld Fair — like Steve Sperry of Johnston, Rhode Island, who grew this year’s winner, a 1,986 pounder.
But many of the enormous pumpkins are grown locally.
John Heenan, of Swampscott, Massachusetts, grew his first giant pumpkin eight years ago.
“I stuck one of these seeds in the ground that I got here at the fair,” he said. “It took up my whole yard and I was amazed by that. I said, ‘This is kind of fun.’ So I thought next year I would try to grow a giant pumpkin in earnest. I’ve been growing ever since.”
A Walgreens pharmacist with a small backyard, Heenan said he doesn’t have a farm or “manly tools.”
“I don’t even have a truck,” he said. “I just grow two pumpkins in my backyard and amaze my neighbors.”
Heenan’s pumpkin this year registered at 1,440 pounds, but he said the biggest he ever grew was over 1,900 pounds.
Henry Swenson, an 18-year-old from Topsfield, said he’s been growing giant pumpkins since he was 14.
“I went to a weigh-off one year, and I thought, ‘I want to grow a pumpkin this big,’” he said.
He ordered seeds online and grew a 540 pounder. Every year, Swenson said he tries to grow a bigger pumpkin than the last.
This year, his pumpkin weighed 1,185.5 pounds.
Every grower has different reasons for why they do it.
Hoomis said watching a giant pumpkin grow is “miraculous.”
“They grow fast, sometimes 50 pounds a day,” he said. “I also enjoy that growers trade seeds and knowledge. The actual growing is exciting, but it’s also a social thing. We’ve gone on pumpkin-grower cruises.”
Heenan said he especially loves seeing how the giant pumpkins he grows makes people smile.
Erin Nolan writes for The Salem News in Salem, Massachusetts.