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Extreme pumpkins: Is a 1,985-pound pumpkin just too big?

October 15, 2013|By Deborah Netburn

The biggest pumpkins in the world keep getting bigger.

This year the largest pumpkin at the annual Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., weighed in at 1,985 pounds -- bigger than any pumpkin in the contest's 40-year history.

Still, it was not the largest pumpkin grown in California this year. That title goes to a 2,032-pound monster that was entered in a different competition in Morgan Hill, about 24 miles south of San Jose. The giant squash also holds the new world record.

The pumpkins were grown in Napa by different growers. Next year, if the weather cooperates, there is every reason to expect that the largest pumpkins will be even bigger.

"I'm just getting started," said Gary Miller, who grew the 1,985-pound pumpkin, in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. 

He said that at one point in its 100-day growth cycle, the pumpkin was gaining 50 pounds a day

But is there such a thing as a pumpkin that is too big? At a certain point, does the pumpkin plant suffer from the strain of making enormous fruit like those pictured in the gallery above?

William Lucas, a plant biologist at UC Davis who has been working with pumpkin plants for 15 years, says if you are thinking that way, you are humanizing the plant. As long as you take proper care of the plant, growing a giant pumpkin doesn't stress the plant at all, he said.

"Those pumpkins are a testament to the capacity of the pumpkin plant's system to take in nutrients and continue to grow to produce a very large fruit," he said. "It's a testament to what the plant really can do."

Unlike most fruits, the pumpkin rests on the ground as it grows, which in the case of super-sizing is a major advantage. Try to grow an oversized peach and at some point it will crack its tree's limbs.

"There is not much chance we are going to make other fruits that are this big," said Lucas. "The pumpkin is a fantastic fruit."

Lucas added that there are a lot of pieces that need to be in place for a pumpkin to grow as large as those pictured. The growers use seeds that have been specially bred for maximum pumpkin growth, and then feed their pumpkins with phosphorous-rich fertilizers on a regular basis.

"It is not just good enough to give them water," Lucas said. "The flesh of a pumpkin has a lot of nutritional value, and so you need lots and lots of nutrients at the root system."

He said growers also trim the plant down to just one fruit so that all of the plant's energy goes into a single pumpkin.

"Give it all that and the giant pumpkin is as happy as a clam," said Lucas, "assuming clams can be happy." 

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