Sometimes size really does matter, especially in the largest pumpkin contest at the Missouri State Fair. It is a contest with few entries but the end results are enormous.
In fact, the winning entry at this year’s competition, grown by Nicholas Voss, weighed in at 738 pounds. Pumpkins, squash and watermelons entered in the “largest” competition are judged solely on weight. Pumpkins or squash must weigh a minimum of 100 pounds to be entered. Watermelons must weigh a minimum of 50 pounds.
In addition to bragging rights and a plaque, the first-place pumpkin grower receives $650. Second place is awarded $450 and $250 is given for third place.
While he did not compete this year, Kirk Wilmsmeyyer, of Franklin, knows a thing or two about pumpkins. Last year he took home first prize in the competition with an entry weighing 530 pounds.
It is rather ironic something of that size all begins with a tiny seed weighing less than an ounce.
According to Wilmsmeyer, to grow giant pumpkins, the most important step is the right kind of seed.
“They have to be Atlantic giant seeds, and the ones I use usually come out of pumpkins weighing well over 1,500 pounds,” he said.
To have the pumpkins grown in time to enter the fair, Wilmsmeyer said he starts the seeds in small pots in early April. Once the first three or four leaves appear on the seedlings they are transferred to the garden.
“The plants can grow really quickly, and generally I try to keep one pumpkin per plant on the main vine of the plant,” Wilmsmeyer noted. “Once the pumpkin is established and growing, they can grow extremely fast.”
Wilmsmeyer explained his pumpkins can increase in size as much as 30 pounds a day, while others grown by who he describes as the “really competitive growers” can increase by as much as 60 pounds per day. The biggest competitions are usually in the northern United States where the summers are cooler and the climate is better suited for growing the largest ones. He noted the world record for a pumpkin is one that weighed more than 2,600 pounds.
Wilmsmeyer, who is married with three children, grew up on a family farm. He is still farming with his dad, uncle and brother.
“I’m not sure why I got interested in growing pumpkins. My mom’s family had been taking vegetable samples to the fair for many years,” Wilmsmeyer said. “My uncles and cousin always entered the largest watermelon contest, but I was always more interested in the pumpkins, and how big they could actually get.”
While getting pumpkins to grow may be easy, transporting them to the fair can be quite an undertaking.
“To move them, it takes several guys, and I have a tarp that was specifically made for loading pumpkins,” Wilmsmeyer commented. “We have to roll it onto the tarp, and then it has handholds where we all get around it to pick them up.”
Like many farmers this year the weather and record rains were not kind to Wilmsmeyer’s pumpkin patch.
“Not sure what happened to my pumpkin this year,” Wilmsmeyer said. “It was already over 400 pounds, and was really growing well, and then it just stopped and was rotting within a few days.
“Usually I have a few, but we’ve had a really busy year, and that was the only one I managed to get started that had the chance to get really big,” he added. “The biggest one I’ve ever grown was 734 pounds I think, but I’m really hoping to get one over 1,000 pounds here in the next few years.”