How to Grow a 2,560-Pound Pumpkinsource • scientificamerican.com
In early October Travis Gienger hauled an enormous white-and-orange monstrosity of a pumpkin from his home in Minnesota to a championship weigh off in Half Moon Bay, Calif. There Gienger was crowned the winner—and his pumpkin, called “Maverick,” set the record for the biggest one ever grown in North America. It weighed 2,560 pounds and won him a total of $23,040, at $9 per pound.
Gienger’s Maverick is part of a trend in prizewinning pumpkins, which keep getting bigger and bigger. In 1900 the heaviest pumpkin on record weighed 400 pounds. The first one to exceed 1,000 pounds was unveiled in 1996, and the 2,000-pound threshold was crossed in 2012. Now 3,000 pounds doesn’t seem too far out of reach: the current world record belongs to an Italian grower who produced a 2,702-pound pumpkin in 2021.
How do competitive growers get their pumpkins to swell to massive sizes? And what’s unique about pumpkins—compared with other crops—that allows for such growth? Biology has the answers.
Gienger, who teaches horticulture at Anoka Technical College, says he begins growing his pumpkins in mid-April, starting with seeds that he grows indoors for the first few weeks, when Minnesota’s soil is too frosty. Once it warms up, Gienger transfers the plants outside, where they can soak up sunlight, nutrients from the soil and water—lots of water. “At the peak, you’re watering maybe 150 gallons, 200 gallons a day,” he says, and that’s per pumpkin. The fruits are about 90 percent water, so it’s not surprising that water is a crucial ingredient for massive growth.