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Winner shares the secrets to growing giant pumpkins
 
by DOUG GRAVES
Ohio Correspondent

CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio -- Among 42 pumpkins weighed at the Circleville Pumpkin Show recently, one entry not only beat the competition by more than 400 pounds but also broke a state record. The previous record was 2,749 pounds.
This year, Bob and Jo Liggett grew a pumpkin that weighed 2,388.5 pounds, 425 pounds heavier than the second-place finisher who weighed in at 1,963.5 pounds. The Liggets name their entry each year. This year’s giant pumpkin is named “Matilda.”
“This is the 116th year and all of our pumpkins we weigh come within a 25-mile radius of the city of Circleville, so that’s what makes us a little more special than the other weigh-offs around the country,” said Ernest Weaver, a Circleville Pumpkin Show trustee. “We normally have 25 or 30 entries. This year’s lineup featured 42.”
Since show organizers began weighing these large fruit in 1980, the Liggetts have captured the weigh-in title 16 times, first winning in 2002 with a pumpkin that weighed just 935 pounds. The Liggetts were crowned champions from 2007 to 2012, with each of those weigh-ins heavier than 1,315 pounds.
Pumpkin growers are normally hush-hush about their growing methods, such as when they plant the seed, what type of seed they use, the type of soil, amount of water, how they deter predators, fight off insects and more. But Liggett, a retired optometrist, isn’t shy about sharing his growing methods, or the type of seeds he uses.
“First, you need good genetic to begin with, so we try to find a seed to use that was inside a giant pumpkin to begin with,” said Liggett, 84. “Then you must treat the pumpkin right once you get the good genetics. I’ve been fortunate to have great soil. I live just four miles south of town and my soil is some of the best you’ll find anywhere. I have sandy loam soil and it drains very well.”
Liggett normally plants his seeds on May 1. This year he grew three large pumpkins in enriched soil. (One year he utilized a mix with alpaca manure). His pumpkins take up 900 square feet of space. He normally makes use of a snow fence and 18-inch chicken wire. In the past he’d cover his pumpkin patch with a tent-like structure of 50 percent silver shade cloth.
 “This year we planted three different varieties of pumpkins and thanks to my grandkids I was able to spend the required time on all three fruit,” Liggett said. “Normally I can only tend to two pumpkins. Of the three I planted this year, I lost one plant to bacterial wilt, caused by the cucumber beetle. I probably didn’t spray at the right time.”
 A few years ago, Liggett’s pumpkins were affected by aphids, which brought watermelon mosaic virus to  his plants. A researcher at Ohio State University said that silver repels aphids, which is why he uses a silver-shaded cloth to cover his plants to this day.
Another secret revealed is Liggett’s use of boron, an element that plays a key role in a diverse range of plant functions including cell wall formation and stability.
 “After the soil, we need to get all the elements up to their maximum level, so we use boron,” he said. “Boron allows the roots to take up the calcium, and calcium is what makes the pumpkin shell strong, enough to withstand the growth of 40 pounds per day. For a period of 10 days to two weeks, they will grow 40 pounds per day.”
 Growing such beasts requires water, lots of water, Liggett says. 
 “You need the right amount of water, and not too much,” Liggett said. “This year we didn’t have the monsoon rains that we often have, we didn’t have those three-inch rains back-to back-to-back. We were able to water an even amount of water to the plants every day. Ninety gallons of water a day is about right and will lead to a champion pumpkin. Moderation is the key here.”
 Liggett said he gets hundreds of requests for seeds from his weigh-in winning pumpkins, and he doesn’t mind sharing his secrets of growing pumpkins or the seeds themselves.
 “The seeds from this champion pumpkin will be sought after,” he assured. “Many friends and people I’ve never met have already called me asking for the seeds. Even the Kentucky pumpkin record-holder is on the list to get the seed.
 “We don’t sell the seeds. When we hold our annual spring meeting anyone in our 40-member club who wants a seed will get one. I even donate some seeds to other growing clubs around the state. Many Ohio pumpkin growers hold their auctions in the winter time and these seeds may wind up there. They may sell the seeds upwards to $50, maybe even higher.”
 According to Liggett, this year’s pumpkin (or Matilda) will hold roughly 400 seeds.
 Liggett and other competitors are a fraternity of sorts when it comes to growing enormous pumpkins. Growers are often online at www.bigpumpkins.com to research and share growing ideas and techniques. Even growers at this year’s weigh-in were busy sharing growing techniques, before and after the weigh-in.
“It’s one of those things where you try to improve what you do by listening to other people,” Liggett said. “We’re all competitors, but there are no enemies among us.”
 The Liggetts now have their sights set on going even heavier. It will be a tough feat as the world record was set this year by a Minnesota horticulture teacher in California. That pumpkin weighed 2,749 pounds.

10/23/2023