Giant pumpkin on display at the fair

John Akkerman takes three measurements, front to back, side to side and the circumference. He refers to a chart to estimate the weight. This pumpkin weighs 552 pounds.  Photo provided

John Akkerman takes three measurements, front to back, side to side and the circumference. He refers to a chart to estimate the weight. This pumpkin weighs 552 pounds. Photo provided

When touring John Akkerman’s garden, it’s clear to see that he does everything in a big way. Enormous plots are devoted to growing eight giant pumpkins. However, these are not your typical attractive orange orbs seen around Halloween. Most are a pale orange to soft cream color shaped like a blob of a science project gone awry.

However, this is not a beauty contest. The goal is to have the heaviest pumpkin for the Giant Pumpkin Weigh Off held in Stillwater, Minnesota, on Oct.10-11.

A sheet is draped over the pumpkin to protect it from scorching.

A sheet is draped over the pumpkin to protect it from scorching.

Akkerman was introduced to giant pumpkins about 15 years ago when Dave Andree gave him some seeds. The Mower County Master Gardeners invited Akkerman to grow a giant pumpkin at the Junior Garden located at the Mower County Fairgrounds east of the 4-H Building.

The process started last fall after the giant pumpkins were harvested. Seeds were saved and dried, and early this spring the seeds were sprouted in an incubator, then planted on April 20. A three foot pit was dug and compost was worked into the soil before the plant was set out on May 1.

Eventually, the fastest growing pumpkin is chosen and the other two are destroyed. A sand base is laid under the pumpkin for better drainage and a snow fence is put around the vines to protect them from the wind. Once established, giant pumpkins drink up to 75 gallons of water a day.  They may gain 25-50 pounds in 24 hours. Akkerman uses a secret fertilizer combination two to three times a week along with hormones and fungicides.

The public is invited to see the giant pumpkin during the Mower County Fair, which starts Tuesday and runs through Sunday.

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