Tale of the giant pumpkin

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LINACY – Of all the gourds in the plant kingdom, none say autumn quite like the humble pumpkin and Tom Dudka of Linacy has seen more autumns than most.

His 941-pound pumpkin is now on display at Aberdeen Sobeys and is the eighth largest pumpkin in the Maritimes this season.

The pumpkin’s weigh-in is all the more impressive when you know that just seven months ago it was a seed the size of a finger nail.

The first 30 days of a pumpkin’s life are somewhat unremarkable – at least for everyone but the pumpkin. By 30 days, it is about the size of a beach ball.

“Within 30 days it’s more or less just like a baby,” Dudka said, “but after 30 days it grows  from 25 to 45 pounds a day.”

Dudka said once the pumpkin’s weight starts to pick up it becomes noticeable even after a few hours. After 70 days’ growth- it slows back down and it only gains a few pounds a day. What was once the size of a finger nail will take a favour or two from his friend, Marinus Verhagen, and his demolition equipment for Dudka to move. It’s too much for his pickup.

The pumpkin gets pretty thirsty as well, drinking as much as 100 gallons of water a day.

Dudka is quick to dispel the notion of giant pumpkins owing their bulk to milk. “That is just a rumour,” Dudka said. “It’s all in your soil; your soil has to be perfect.”

Soil has to be so perfect, in fact, that Dudka sat out last year while he and his friend Terry Megeney came up with a three-year soil strategy.
The pumpkin is equally needy when it comes to personal space – 700 square feet will be dedicated to one pumpkin only.

“It’s make or break,” Dudka said. “If it blows up on you you’re done.”
Dudka has been growing the pumpkins for the past 10 years. Prior to that he was not a gardener at all. “Once you get into it you’re hooked.”
Dudka said that as a hobby, giant pumpkin growing requires two hours a day in the garden for plant control and bug control.

“Cucumber beetles are your worst enemy,” Dudka said. “They can destroy the plant within 24 hours.”

Nature tends to lend a hand now and again. Bees, however, are not on the guest list as growers will self-pollinate their pumpkins, lest they be cross pollinated with a smaller pumpkin or a squash.

The pumpkins are also not a GMO seed, but are instead the product of cross pollinating and selective harvesting. Today, most regions worldwide have a seed suited to their particular climate, with the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin most likely to germinate locally.

“You gotta have the seed,” Dudka said. “We trade seeds world wide.”
Typically, growers will have to put five years into the game before other growers see that they’re serious about it. “Otherwise they won’t waste their time with ya,” Dudka said.

“There’s clubs all over the world and they want to know that you’re a serious grower, then you can tap into these clubs and world champion growers and they’ll give you your seed for nothing,” Dudka said. “Other than that you can pay $800, $1000 per seed.”

Dudka, however, is happy to hand out seeds to anyone who wants one, but just know what you’re getting into…

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