Records broken at Virginia pumpkin, watermelon contest

Managing Editor

DOSWELL, Va. (Oct. 7, 2014) — Discussion amongs the tight-knit group of growers during the State Fair of Virginia’s Giant Pumpkin Contest was that entries were “weighing light” compared to measurement estimates before going on the scale.
Then Hank Huston’s pumpkin, the last to be weighed, went on the scale at the Meadow Event Park on Sept. 27 and became one big exception.
At 1,203.2 pounds, the giant pumpkin broke the state record of 1,138 pounds set in 2007 by William Layton of Nelson County and shattered Huston’s personal best of 487 pounds.
“I wanted to beat that,” said Huston, a carpenter and hobby farmer from Spotsylvania County. “Then I wanted to beat 800 pounds, then 1,000 and then beat the state record. So we did it all this year.”
Huston, who’s been growing giant pumpkins for three years, said in general it was a good growing season but what he thought helped him was missing a few large rain storms that could have made the pumpkin grow too fast and split.
“I kinda got lucky a couple of times. You need the luck,” he said.
You also need a lot of time, too, Huston said. “To do this properly, it’s about an hour and a half per day per plant you need to work on them.”
This year, Huston said he started eight giant pumpkin plants but has decided to cut that in half for next year because of what’s needed to add massive amounts of weight in only a few months.
Work on the soil where Huston puts his plants is year round, taking soil tests every couple months to see where his nutrient levels are through the season.
“Basically, you’re trying to get your ratios right,” he said of his fertility program. “It’s all about your ratios.”
Huston said he got interested in growing giant pumpkins after coming to the fair years ago with his family.
“I just always liked growing things,” he said.
Then one winter, while nursing an injured shoulder, he bought some Atlantic Giant variety seeds and an instructional video online.
This year’s record-breaking pumpkin started from a seed out of last year’s Illinois state record holder that weighed in at 1,546 pounds.
The world record for a pumpkin was broken last year with Tim Mathison’s 2,032 pounder grown in Napa, Calif.
The competition in Virginia had 19 entries, about double that of recent years, contest officials said, mainly due to good growing conditions.
Another state record was set in the giant watermelon contest, with J.R. Brent’s 218.5 pound entry.
Brent said coming into the competition he “was hoping to make 200 pounds” and even with his goal set, he added he was “shocked” to hear the weight on his 3-foot long, 65-inch around melon.
Brent said he’s been growing giant watermelons off and on for 30 years but “mostly off” until he retired from DuPont and started growing produce on an 1 1/2 acres in Lancaster, Va., to sell at area farmers’ markets.
Like giant pumpkins, Brent said bulking up a watermelon takes a lot of planning and work.
“Genetics is a lot of it, and you’ve got to have your ground right,” he said.
For growing the heaviest watermelon, Brent won a $75 cash prize and bragging rights for at least a year.
For winning the pumpkin contest, Huston got a $300 prize and also received a $100 bonus for breaking the state record.
All the contest entries stayed on display for the rest of the fair.
Huston said before his winning pumpkin was weighed, he had gotten offers to buy it.
Someone may offer me enough and I’ll sell it,” he said soon after being named the winner. “I think the price just went up, though.”