November 19, 2018
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Massive gourds are the new stars of Bangor Community Garden

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Byron Hale, Master Gardener for the Bangor Community Garden, checks on the long gourds he's tending in the pumpkin patch of the Bangor Community Garden on Sept. 13, just a couple weeks before the gourds will be measured at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest. The longest of the gourds on Sept. 13 was more than 8 feet long.

This year, for the first time, the Bangor Community Garden is growing giant gourds, a number of which have already surpassed the height of the gardener tending them.

Known as long gourds, these skinny, green vegetables hang from a large trellis in the garden’s pumpkin patch, their rapidly growing bodies extending toward the ground. In fact, they’ve become so long that Byron Hale, their caretaker, has started digging holes beneath them so they can keep on growing without bumping into the ground.

On Sept. 13, the longest of the gourds, Buster, had reached well over 8 feet long.

“I try to grow exciting things in the garden,” Hale said.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Byron Hale, Master Gardener for the Bangor Community Garden, checks on the long gourds he's tending in the pumpkin patch of the Bangor Community Garden on Sept. 13, just a couple weeks before the gourds will be measured at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest. The longest of the gourds on Sept. 13 was over 8 feet long.

An advocate and volunteer for the community garden since it was established in 2012, Hale serves as the master gardener of the Bangor Community Garden, helping people set up their raised bed gardens and offering advice. He especially enjoys working with children, and he’s found that unusual plants such as giant gourds and pumpkins tend to capture their imagination. These large plants also grab the attention of people passing by the gardens on Essex Street.

[Giant pumpkin grower from Veazie finds her luck]

In 2014, Hale created the community garden’s pumpkin patch. That year, he grew a 70-pound pumpkin, and the following year, with the help of Sarah Whitty, a gardener from Veazie with experience in growing giant pumpkins, Hale grew an 867-pound pumpkin, which he named “Peanut.”

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Byron Hale, Master Gardener for the Bangor Community Garden, checks on the long gourds he's tending in the pumpkin patch of the Bangor Community Garden on Sept. 13, just a couple weeks before the gourds will be measured at the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest. The longest of the gourds on Sept. 13 was over 8 feet long.

That fall, Hale transported Peanut to the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest, a pumpkin-themed celebration held for 10 days from early October thorough Columbus Day weekend each year. The pumpkin received 13th place in the giant pumpkin competition, which is based on weight. It was then transformed into a boat for the Pumpkin Regatta in Damariscotta Harbor.

It was during those festivities that Hale became interested in long gourds. At the event, giant pumpkins aren’t the only contenders. There’s also classes for squash, which are placed by weight, and long gourds, which are placed by length.

“It’s a big group around the world that grows [long gourds],” Hale said. “There are Facebook pages and websites and YouTube videos about it.”

In 2017, Charleston resident Elroy Morgan, a custodian at William S. Cohen Middle School in Bangor, broke the state record when he grew a long gourd measuring 126 inches — more than 10 feet — and showcased it at the Pumpkinfest. And it’s from that award-winning gourd that Hale got his seed for the Bangor Community Garden. Morgan also gave a seed to Sarah Whitty. So this fall, all three Bangor-area gardeners will be hauling their long gourds to Damariscotta Pumpkinfest for a little friendly competition.

“To move it, we’ll bring a 10-foot 2-by-4, strap it on with duct tape and chop it off [of the vine],” Hale said. “If it’s 10 foot, it’ll fit in my car.”

“If not, we’ll put it on the roof rack and drive down the interstate causing accidents,” he added, jokingly.

Hale intends to donate some of his shorter giant gourds — named Moe, Curly, The Rock and Right Angle — to local Halloween events, including the 16th annual Pumpkins in the Park in Bangor Oct. 12.

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