Magnolia’s Great Pumpkin Patch

Posted on October 12th, 2017 by Sara

A guest post from Greg Shaw:

Photo courtesy of Greg Shaw

Once upon a time in the early 1970’s I lived in small rental home in Magnolia on Hayes Street. Halloween was a big event, but even to this day I can’t talk about how big, except to the people that were there.

So much for once upon a time. Pumpkins, an icon of Halloween are important so when I read on a package of pumpkin seeds; Big Max Pumpkin seeds-Grow 100 pound pumpkins, I immediately bought a pack but my rental house had no place to plant them so I purchased the largest pot I could find, a wood landscape pot about 40 gallons. The pumpkin grew well the only problem, as the plant grew during the peak of summer, late in the afternoon leaves would start to wilt, the plant had consumed all the water. I worked nights as a waiter at the Old Spaghetti Factory so I was around in the afternoon to give a second daily watering.

The plant produced a pumpkin close to 100 pounds, I was not disappointed. The pumpkin was the catalyst for the pumpkins I have been growing for the last 35 years. However, it would be another 6 years before I grew pumpkins
again. I moved to the University District, where I lived in an apartment attending school. After finishing school I returned to Magnolia. A few of you may remember the little house directly behind where I live now on 30th
Ave W, it had a gigantic front yard. It seemed as if this would be a great yard for pumpkins. The little house was on the back on the lot with a small flower bed in front, which is where I planted two pumpkin plants. They did
well, each year I added more pumpkin plants until the entire yard was covered with pumpkins and flowers. The area was about 3 times larger than my current front yard.

I have always found enjoyment in growing giant pumpkins but one of the things that provided extra motivation was catching people off guard when they would first see the giant pumpkins, which they weren’t anticipating. At
that time most people had never seen or even heard of giant pumpkins. I had a few late night problems, my mail box had been moved to the front by the side walk because the postal supervisor told me my yard was too treacherous to maneuver through to deliver my mail to the house. I was told if I wanted mail delivered the mail box would have to be next to the sidewalk. My pumpkins had now become hazard. Because of the rare late night problems, I placed a baby monitor in the back of the mail box as a preemptive pumpkin prowler warning system. It worked very well. It turned out I was also hearing comments from more than prowlers. You couldn’t see the yard until you were almost in front, close to the baby monitor. The top two comments: 1. Holy $@*t and 2. Way cool. Of course I heard more. Another comment heard quite frequently was: A little old man lives there. They must have been looking into the future.

Being young I was also motivated by various newspaper, TV and even Sunset Magazine stories about the pumpkins; each year I would try and do more. Lots of grade school classes and pre-school classes would come to take in the
pumpkin patch. I also delivered pumpkins to Magnolia Elementary, Catherine Blaine, Ronald McDonald house, Seattle Children’s Home and the Seattle Center.

Then there was Halloween, which had to be bigger every year with more than a 100 pumpkins carved and lit with candles, a scary Halloween tunnel leading to the from door with a strobe light bouncing off 100 pounds of dry-ice
clouds and enough candy for more than the thousand trick or treaters. One question asked many times do you ever take any pumpkins to weigh-in contests. Yes once, the Puyallup fair. At the time I had the perfect vehicle
to transport the pumpkin. An AMC Pacer, most of you don’t even know what one is. They didn’t make them for long but the car looked very much like a pumpkin. Two of us wrestled my largest pumpkin into the front passenger
seat, the seat belt wrapped around it nicely, we were both protected except from those staring at us as I drove down the freeway to the Puyallup Fair Grounds. We felt special driving inside the fair grounds to the agriculture
building. This was the closet any pumpkin I have grown would come to winning pumpkins. My pumpkin weighed 178 pounds, the winning pumpkin around 500 pounds. Last year the world’s record was over 2,600 pounds. Joe Holland won the Puyallup fair that year and is probably the winningest pumpkin grower in the United States. The pumpkins in my yard are descendants of Joe Holland’s seeds. I purchased seeds three years ago from Joe, one seed from a 1,700 pound pumpkin was $35, and another seed from a 1,500 pound pumpkin was $25.
The seeds are called Atlantic Giants. If you want to learn more about growing them just Google Growing Atlantic Giant Pumpkins or go to Joe Holland’s website.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkins were created by Howard Dill of Nova Scotia, I used to purchase my seeds from Howard Dill, and I would call him at home, chat and order my seeds.

Another Giant Pumpkin milestone is Norm Gallagher of Lake Chelan a retired logger. Norm Gallagher set the world record in 1984 with a 612 pound pumpkin. Two years later there was a pumpkin weigh-in at Lake Chelan. Of
course I went except my girlfriend was not happy and said I was acting like a stalker driving by Gallagher’s home over and over hoping to get a glimpse of something. I was really into growing pumpkins then and hadn’t learned yet
I would never even get close to what the winners grow. At the weigh-in I was trying to get as much information as possible, I asked one growers wives how her husband prepares his soil: She told me he digs a hole the size of an
Olympic size swimming pool using his backhoe and then fills it with his secret mix. I don’t think it registered yet what the top pumpkin growers do to win, except gradually I did realize after going to pumpkin weigh-ins for
more than 30 years I would have to be content with the biggest pumpkin in Magnolia.

I did stop growing pumpkins for a few years when I became a realtor 18 years ago. What got me started growing again was when two people told me: When I was growing up my parents would bring me to your pumpkin patch, now I am bringing my children. At one of the pumpkin weigh-ins I bought one of the pumpkins that was too small to place in the contest. I had bales of straw ready, level with the back of the grower’s pick-up truck. It’s amazing how
hard it is to slide a 900 pound pumpkin out of a pick-up truck. I bought more pumpkins that year and had a great display in the yard, that’s when I heard the two comments which is what has keep me growing ever since. I hear
similar comments a few times every year.

What do you do with the pumpkins after Halloween? It’s sort of like I am a villain because I don’t turn them into a thousand pumpkin pies. The reality is they are a hybrid for size and speed of growth, I have tried and I thought I had found the answer when a friend who had attended the Cordon Blue School of Cooking in France asked if she could have a pumpkin to make pies. She reduced and reduced for two days until she could reduce no more,
there was still no flavor.
I boiled a few pieces of pumpkin and tried eating them like squash. I am not sure what happened maybe it was all the large amount of Miracle Grow fertilizer that I use but my head turned into fountain of profuse sweat streaming down my face and head for about 20 minutes after eating two small pieces.

Do you roast the seeds, you mean cremate my children. If you like eating thin pieces of plywood you might enjoy them. I save the seeds for growing, if you knock on my door in the spring I am happy to give you some. There are
up to 600 seeds in a Giant Pumpkin if you had a prize winning pumpkin and sold the seeds for $35 each like I paid for one seed, you would not think about roasting $28,000 dollars.

After Halloween, the pumpkins are composted and used as nutrients for next year’s growth. If a few are still in good shape they will stay through Thanksgiving before returning to the earth. One last question I get: Will you sell me a pumpkin? I have never sold a pumpkin, the whole purpose in growing them is for people to come by to enjoy
looking at them all in one place.

One last bit of trivia: One year I had a bad crop and felt it necessary to purchase a few large pumpkins from Country Farms produce on Aurora, I overlooked the price that had been written on them with a grease pencil. I was soon confronted and accused of being a fraud by an irate pumpkin patch enthusiast.

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