Competitive pumpkin growing

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No, Linus, THIS is the great pumpkin. Greg Ruffing took this photo of Tim Parks harvesting last year's entry into a contest held by the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers club. Amazingly, he didn't win. Smithsonian magazine has a feature about competitive pumpkin growers, illustrated by Ruffing's photos. The "holy grail" in this game is a one ton pumpkin.

(In 1893, Ontario farmer William Warnock) produced a 365-pounder for the Chicago World's Fair; seven years later, in Paris, his entry weighed 400 pounds. His next world record—403 pounds at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair—would hold for more than 70 years. "For exhibition purposes, it stands without a rival," the 1924 Rennie Seed Company catalog noted of the lineage: "Skin dark green, flesh golden yellow."

Warnock's record was finally shattered in 1976 by a Pennsylvania grower, but it was a Canadian named Howard Dill who ushered in modern competitive gardening. Dill spent 30 years crossing Mammoth pumpkin varieties with one another, trying to isolate the best characteristics, such as a rich orange color. Beginning in 1979 Dill grew the world's biggest pumpkin four years in a row, and he landed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1981 for a 493.5-pounder. Today's growers still use seeds descended from "Dill's Atlantic Giant," a variety he registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plant variety protection office in 1986. While other fruits, including the field pumpkin, long gourd and watermelon, have put on some serious pounds in recent years, none has matched the Atlantic Giant, which sets a new record nearly every year.

"The Great Pumpkin"