SQUASH-ING THE COMPETITION
There's nothing more iconic during the fall than a pumpkin.
For hundreds of years, these bright orange squashes have been the ubiquitous symbol of the harvest season — and annual trips to the pumpkin patch are almost always competitions to see who can find the biggest and most handsome pumpkin in the bunch.
But a pair of local residents don't have to venture too far from their backdoors to find pumpkins that dwarf those you see in patches or at local grocery stores.
"There's something about growing pumpkins that gets you. They start growing and they just go so fast," says West Linn resident Jef Treece.
Treece has grown field pumpkins since he was a teenager in West Lafayette, Ind., and when he moved to Oregon in 1996, he continued the tradition. Today, most of the yard at his Hillcrest Drive home is filled with field pumpkins, known amongst pumpkin aficionados by their scientific name, Cucurbita Pepo.
Treece remembers the first time he planted a pumpkin in his family's garden. He forgot about it, and several weeks later he found a giant pumpkin attached to the vines tucked way at the back of the garden.
"It was like finding a little treasure," he says.
Since then, the draw of growing pumpkins has been a self-competition. Each year, Treece attempts to outdo himself. His largest pumpkin so far weighed in at 167.5 pounds at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
"Don't forget the half," he says, jokingly. "That's an Oregon record, by the way, at least at the moment."
Treece had the opportunity to best himself yet again at an event hosted during the first week of October by Bauman Farms in Gervais, just outside Woodburn. His field pumpkin took home top honors at 120.5 pounds. He also took second place for tomatoes, with one of his red giants weighing in at 5.96 pounds, just shy of the winning 6.02 pounds and the Oregon record of 6.06 pounds.
The event at Bauman Farms is one of two weigh-offs sanctioned by the international clearinghouse for pumpkin weighing, the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. The other event is the West Coast Pumpkin Regatta, which will be held at the City of Tualatin's fall festival on Saturday, Oct. 21. The event includes a weigh-off and pumpkin boat race in which people hollow out giant pumpkins and race them across the lake at the Tualatin Commons.
Admission to the festival is free, as are most of the activities.
It's at this weigh-off where fellow giant vegetable grower and Lake Oswego resident Brian Williams will get to see if the work he's put into his Atlantic Giant — the cousin of the field pumpkin that's known scientifically as Cucurbita Maxima — will pay off.
"I lived in Elk Grove, Calif., for a while and they have an annual giant pumpkin festival. That was the first time I saw them and they were just fascinating to me," Williams says. "I mean, who doesn't like big stuff?"
Williams isn't wrong. The Atlantic Giant growing in his garden up on Prestwick Road does more than turn heads. It drops jaws.
The massive white pumpkin has a system of vines that take up about 100 square feet in a garden Williams built after ripping up a concrete sport court to give his plants more room.
"This is the first time I've ever had a big one," he says.
A big one is a slight understatement. Williams' pumpkin looks like it could be hollowed out and turned into a small car for a child. It's so big that a grown adult man cannot put his arms around it. And to move it, Williams is building a truss to hoist the giant into a trailer when he takes to the weigh-off in Tualatin on Oct. 21.
The record for an Atlantic Giant in Oregon was set at a Bauman Farms weigh-off in 2015 by Steve Daleta, whose pumpkin weighed in at 1,997 pounds, just three pounds short of a ton. The world record was set at the Giant Pumpkin European Championships in Germany by a Belgian man — that gourd weighed in at 2,624.6 pounds.
While William's pumpkin is about a quarter of that weight, he's still excited about how his turned out. It's more about the journey than the destination, he says.
"I think she weighs somewhere around 600 pounds," Williams says. "It's been fun, and I've really enjoyed it."
The West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta is sponsored by the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, a group of growing enthusiasts who help each other with everything from pollination and picking out seeds to a variety of growing techniques. Treece, who serves as chair of the group's outreach committee, says growing giant pumpkins is a lot more accessible than you might think, and there's a host of friendly growers eager to help newcomers get started.
"I live in West Linn. I don't live out in the country. So anyone who is interested in doing it can," he says. "I like to see people getting more in touch with the soil and their gardens."
For more information about growing giant vegetables, check out the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers website at pgvg.org.