LINACY — Raising pumpkins is a growing pursuit for Tom Dudka.
Despite limited land, Dudka has started growing gourds that are hard to ignore. He placed fourth recently at a pumpkin contest in Windsor with his entry that weighed 1,080 pounds. The largest one was from the Windsor area and weighed 1,700 pounds.
Dudka was one of two Pictou County pumpkin growers at the event. Fraser Murray from Caribou entered a 524-pounder for his first competition
“He’s very serious about it,” Dudka said.
Dudka is displaying the pumpkin at the Aberdeen Sobeys store and has encouraged people to autograph it.
“I want to get 1,080 names on it,” he said.
Dudka has been growing pumpkins for 15 years, while mixing different soils and applying seaweed to enrich the ground for them to grow ever larger.
“We’re getting the soil right, so they’re growing bigger and better,” he said.
He credits local gardening authority Terry Megeney for helping him to improve the soil.
He is also grateful to Marinus Verhagen for supplying the heavy equipment to transport the pumpkins.
Dudka actually had a bigger pumpkin this year than the one he entered. It weighed 1,240 pounds but developed a soft spot on the bottom of it.
That can happen if a stone starts piercing the skin and allowing moisture to enter the gourd, which disqualifies them from competitions.
That’s an incentive to make sure the ground is flat, and the pumpkins’ root systems are buried.
Once the pumpkins reach a certain size, each one can require 150 gallons of water a day.
“This is the first year I had three big ones,” he said. “The other one weighed 900 pounds, so that’s 450 gallons of water a day.”
Dudka scours the world for suitable seeds to grow giant pumpkins.
“The seeds have good genealogy — you need that,” he said. “I trade seeds world-wide. I talk to all the growers. We exchange ideas about what soil, seed or pure fertilizer to use.”
For all the joy of growing big pumpkins, it’s hard work, he said.
“You start in April and you’re done in October,” he said. “You’ve got to love it.”
Dudka doesn’t stop at growing big pumpkins on his quarter-acre property. He grew a 10-pound cucumber and a 37-pound cabbage this year.
“I’d grow everything if I had the land, but I don’t,” he said.
The hefty pumpkin will remain at Sobeys until after Halloween and will be cut up so that Dudka can collect the seeds and share them with others to encourage more giant pumpkin growers.