A huge pumpkin grown in Charleston has squashed the record for the heaviest one ever grown in Maine.
But breaking the record wasn’t a slam-dunk for Elroy Morgan’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin, which topped the scales at 1,756 pounds. In fact, the weekend pumpkin weigh-in for the upcoming Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta hit a snag on a technicality that caused festival organizers to reach out to an international pumpkin organization and ask for their blessing to make sure Morgan could be allowed to take home the glory.
“It was one of those rare occurrences,” Bill Clark, the president of the Maine Pumpkin Growers Organization, said Monday afternoon. “Was it an official state record or not?”
The dilemma came about because Morgan, a long-time pumpkin grower, had brought two massive gourds down to Damariscotta: one white and one, slightly smaller, that was orange. The rules put in place by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the international sanctioning body that ensures “fair and equal” competition for all giant pumpkin growers and contest sites, state that a grower can only enter one pumpkin in the contest to determine the largest pumpkin. Morgan had to decide which of his pumpkins would be for exhibition only, and which would be his attempt at the record, and he chose the white one because it was bigger. But, as it happened, he chose wrong.
“I was quite shocked that the smaller one ended up being a state record,” Morgan, who works as a custodian at the William S. Cohen School in Bangor when he’s not growing pumpkins, said. “I mean, very shocked. I did not know that it was going to go that heavy on the scales. The white one ended up being about 100 pounds lighter than I predicted.”
Giant pumpkins are largely hollow, and their weight comes from the density and thickness of the wall, making it hard to estimate weight based on looks alone. Morgan’s official entry weighed in at 1,683.5 pounds. Still enormous, by any measure, but 72.5 pounds less than his other pumpkin — and it would not have bested the old state record of 1,727.5 pounds, held by Edwin Pierpont of Jefferson since 2015. Could Morgan substitute one pumpkin for another?
The rules guiding the giant pumpkin measurement may seem pretty arcane and specific, festival organizers say, but they want to make sure they do things in accordance with the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, the international governing body that sets the rules for official giant pumpkin contests. That’s why Clark emailed that group after the weighing to ask them what to do in this situation. The answer came Monday afternoon, and it was good news for Morgan. The commonwealth advisors determined that because the giant pumpkin was weighed on a certified scale and judged as sound, healthy and undamaged, it qualified to be the official state record holder. But it did not qualify for the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth official weigh-off, and so would not be eligible to take home any of the organization’s prize money, which is not insubstantial. Altogether, the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth gives out $10,000 in purse money at the Damariscotta event.
But Morgan’s record-breaking pumpkin was eligible for the $1,000 bonus that the Pumpkinfest organizers awarded this year for the first time for a Maine grower who has set a new Maine state record. His other pumpkin, heavier than all the rest of the competition, did qualify for its share of the other prize money, including a $2,500 prize from the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.
“The public has a hard time with it,” Clark said of the complicated contest rules. “But [Morgan] was fine either way.”
And if it seems like Maine pumpkin records are made only to be smashed soon afterwards, it’s not just your imagination. The current world record is 2,600 pounds, but just 40 years ago or so it was only 400 pounds. The intervening decades have brought great strides in pumpkin breeding and in care. Serious growers do not skimp when it comes to strategies such as amending the soil of their pumpkin patch, heating the soil, keeping the pumpkin seedlings warm in the spring, and feeding their pumpkins with nutrients from fish, seaweed, molasses and more. Morgan said that he made sure his pumpkin patch was richly larded with cow manure and watered his plants with about 100 gallons a day. In August, at the peak of pumpkin growth, his giant fruit gained more than 43 pounds per day for a week straight.
“We’re learning more about what these things require,” Clark said of growing giant pumpkins.
The huge pumpkins will take pride of place during the upcoming festival, which features such crowd-pleasing and pumpkin-forward events as the giant pumpkin parade, the pumpkin hurl and catapult, the giant pumpkin drop and the pumpkin boat regatta. By next weekend, the town of Damariscotta will be full of both giant pumpkins and the people who come to celebrate them, according to one downtown merchant.
“We love Pumpkinfest,” Sarah Maurer, the co-owner of King Eider’s Pub said. “It’s great. It’s a lot of fun. It brings the whole community together, and is very family-friendly and low-cost. It’s a great way to see the Damariscotta area and have a lot of fun. With pumpkins.”