Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Ian Paton about his success at growing record-winning pumpkins. Last year Ian and his twin brother Stuart broke the UK record for the heaviest pumpkin grown indoors, which weighed in at a whopping 2252lbs (160.9 stone, or 1,021kg)! This year they are hoping to do even better.
The process started back in April when a dozen specially selected seeds were planted, around the time of Thompson & Morgan’s nominated National Pumpkin Sowing Day. The best 6 plants were then selected and whisked away to the ‘PRD’ (Pumpkin Research & Development) where they start their journey to potential enormity.
Each plant is trimmed and trained in much the same way you would expect a tomato plant to be grown initially, except that every leaf nodule is placed over a pot of compost, and encouraged to produce a new root to help feed the plant.
Pollination takes place in June. The fruit is set and the race begins in earnest. Each plant, sporting 900 plus leaves, each with its own root, starts to feed the newly formed pumpkin.
“There are one hundred and ten days in the growing season, so everything has to be perfect for the pumpkin”
At the peak of the growing period, 100 gallons of water go into the plant and the pumpkin puts on 58lbs in weight PER DAY – that’s the equivalent of a bag of cement each day!
*Fun Fact – The Paton brothers’ first pumpkin, grown when they were 12 years old, weighed 57lbs!*
As the pumpkin growing season slows down, its water intake reduces by about a quarter. However, at this vital stage it is essential that the plant NEVER dries out. A dry pumpkin can split when watered – resulting in disaster and tears!
Each pumpkin is grown on a large bed of sand, which allows the pumpkin to slide easily as it grows. A bow wave appears around each giant fruit as it pushes sand ahead of it, making it look like it’s ‘surfing’ in very slow motion!
As the weigh-in day approaches, Ian and Stuart send pumpkins abroad to take part in the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. Recently a pumpkin weighing an estimated 1950lb was sent to Holland; another, at approximately 2000lbs, is en route to France. The biggest however, is kept for the local weigh-in, held in Hampshire!
Transporting these giant fruit is no easy task, though, and comes with risks. As Stuart told me:
“We were devastated that the pumpkin split on its journey to Holland, classing it as ‘damaged’ ”
The Paton brothers have high hopes for this year’s contender. It was grown from a seed from the world record giant pumpkin, grown by Mathias Willemijns last year and weighing in at 2624.6lbs. The pumpkin that Ian and Stuart are growing currently has some impressive stats, measuring an incredible 486 inches in circumference – that’s about the same as the length of a double decker bus – and is only 9 inches short of its record breaking pumpkin parent! Although Ian remains modest about the final weight, he feels confident that it may well beat their personal best – so another record breaker perhaps!
The giant pumpkin weigh-in is on Saturday 14th October at the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival, at the Royal Victoria Country Park in Southampton.
Do you want to try to grow a prize-winning pumpkin? Check out our giant pumpkin guide here, and try your hand with some Wallace’s Whoppers If you’ve already got yours going, share some of your pictures on our Facebook page – we love to see what you grow. Find advice for sowing and growing both regular sized vegetables and giants at our dedicated pumpkin and squash hub page.
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.
Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.