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Tyler County trio competes to grow the biggest pumpkin

By Staff | Oct 7, 2009

THE GREAT PUMPKIN — Jim Bowen set a new record with his 1,188 pumpkin which took first place at the Middle Island Harvest Festival in Middelbourne this past weekend.

Fall is the time of year when people go out in masses to buy pumpkins for their children or grandchildren to carve and put on their porches for display. But for three local men in Tyler County, they will not let anyone carve their pumpkins.

Their names are Keith Frum, Robert Christen, and Jim Bowen and their love for growing pumpkins has sparked a friendly competition between the trio with the goal to grow the largest pumpkin each year. They all have worked hard on taking care of their pumpkins and now is the time to see all that hard work pay off.

Last year’s weather plagued the big pumpkin growers, but this year seems to be looking up for two of them. Despite the loss that Jim Bowen had last season, his luck turned around for him this year. Bowen loaded up one of his giant pumpkins weighing in a 1,140 pounds and took it to the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton, W.V., where he won first place. The other one, which weighed 1,188 pounds, could be seen at the Middle Island Harvest Festival where he took first place there as well.

Bowen also took one to Barnesville, Ohio, that weighed in at 933 pounds.

“Yes it was a better year for me,” stated Bowen. “Last year I got washed out, this year was better because it was a cooler summer.” He credits the better weather and deciding to put 75 gallons of water on each plant every day for the last three weeks. “I had to haul the water in for the plants,” said Bowen. “I was lucky.”

The hard work has also paid off for Bowen in terms of national exposure. A photo of one of his giant pumpkins from 2007 is in the October issue of Southern Living magazine. That honor came as a pleasant surprise as, unbeknownst to him, someone had submitted it to the publication.

During the 2008 growing season, Christen, who had good luck despite the weather that put a couple of the others out of the race, brought home the bragging rights of winning the biggest pumpkin contest at the Middle Island Harvest Festival with a 669 pound pumpkin. He also won first place at the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Milton with a 694 pound pumpkin last year.

“I had a rough start this year, first the hail storm damaged it and I had to replant. Second, the frost got them but I was able to save them,” commented Christen.

He took seventh place at Barnesville with his pumpkin weighing in at 1,156 pounds. He also came in second place at the Middle Island Harvest Festival with one that weighed in at 892 pounds. “I still have one on the vine that weighs around 1,078 pounds,” stated Christen. He plans on taking that one to Chillicothe, Ohio, where the Southern Ohio Giant Pumpkin Growers will have its eighth annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off Saturday.

Keith Frum, another giant pumpkin enthusiast, did not fare so well this year. “I started out with two and they both went bad on me,” Frum stated. “One of them grew to about 811 pounds and then it split.”

Frum stated he and his wife checked on the other one the other day and it went bad on him also. “It was growing about 40 pounds a day and we think that is the reason that it went bad,” stated Frum. “It grew too fast too quickly.”

The one who introduced the trio to the sport has since retired from growing giant pumpkins. Though Ron Boor, known as the pumpkin guru, no longer grows pumpkins, he still offers his advice to those who are interested in getting started. He started back in 1990 with the small pumpkins and the fever got hold of him. He had to go bigger and bigger every year. The biggest pumpkin that Boor ever produced weighed 1,085 pounds.

It seems like the pumpkin fever has caught hold of others as well. Bowen said that there were a total of 10 giant pumpkins entered into the contest at the Harvest Festival in Middlebourne this year. “That number is up from the previous years. It seems that more people have taken a interest into it and that is good,” said Bowen.

Growing giant pumpkins is not an easy task. The growers have to pick out the “good” seeds and decide where to plant them. Then there is soil preparation, planting the seed, propagation of the seeds, plant care which includes protecting the plant, vine fertilizing, watering and mounding the soil, pollinating the blossoms, post fertilization, vine positioning, shade protection and daily measurements. But to the local growers, it is hard work with great rewards.

Growing these giant pumpkins is a fine art and there are many different ideas about how to do it best, though many growers keep their methods secret. Some use heating cables to protect against cold weather or special fertilizers for maximum growth. Regardless of the method, giant pumpkin vines are pampered and watched carefully.

Some interesting facts about pumpkins some may not know are that about four months after planting, they are ready to harvest. They come in not only orange but white and yellow as well. Pumpkins contain vitamin A and potassium and they are not only used for carving but for pies, breads, soups and other foods. The largest pumpkin ever grown hails from Rhode Island by Joe Juntras which weighed 1,689 pounds back in 2007.

Perhaps one of these days, one Tyler County’s local growers can beat that weight and become the new world recorder holder. Until then, Frum Christen and Bowen will continue to awe the community with their giant pumpkins.