Midway Pumpkin Man reveals secret to growing giant pumpkins
Pumpkin season has arrived and KPCW’s Amber Johnson has a confession: she is married to a man obsessed with growing the Great Pumpkin.
Every fall while the rest of the nation is reveling in all-things pumpkin spice, I’m inviting 100 of my closest friends to watch a forklift haul a 1,000-pound pumpkin out of my backyard in Midway.
The reason? I am married to a man obsessed with growing the Great Pumpkin. And no, there was not full disclosure before the marriage.
Jamie’s obsession started by accident. He bought a pumpkin seed from the local nursery and as the pumpkin grew, so did his fascination. I encouraged him to enter it into our local harvest festival hoping that would be the end of it…but then his 141-pound pumpkin won.
And that was when he became obsessed with growing the really big pumpkins. His largest: 1,325 pounds. And it all starts with the right seed–the Dill’s Atlantic Giant Pumpkin variety and just the right combination of good soil, irrigation and fertilization.
The growing season is relatively short. Jamie starts the seeds indoors in April, transfers them into hoop houses with heaters in May and he usually hand-pollinates the plants mid-to-late June. And then the fun begins.
“When these pumpkins are hitting their peak growth, they're putting on about 40 pounds a day, even up to 50 and 60 pounds a day for some of the amazing ones.," he said. "And you can literally go out in the morning and go out in the evening and see a difference in the size. And I'll usually grow my pumpkin on sand and it'll kind of bulldoze the sand as it grew out during the day. They’re the most amazing plants of any plant that I’m aware of.”
Jamie has entered the pumpkins in weigh-offs, regattas, pumpkin drops and one year, we had Stanley the pumpkin professionally carved (yes, of course he names them).
He can easily rattle off the weights of his last several pumpkins but when it comes to how much our children weighed at birth, he gets a little foggy. “Who cares about an 8-pound kid; that's not interesting or extraordinary. Most of them are seven, eight pounds, whatever. But you talk about a 1,325-pound pumpkin and people stop to listen for a little bit. That’s kind of unique.”
In 2014, the Pumpkin Man thought it would be fun to traumatize the neighborhood by hiding inside the pumpkin wearing a mask.
“And when they say it weighed 1,300 pounds, I came out of the top of the pumpkin with a scary growl," he said. "And we scared some children and some adults that night. We didn't go after the little kids–that was against the rules–but the older kids were fair game.”
As for me, I don’t even bat an eye when he tells me things anymore, like the time he casually mentioned, “I’m going over to Joe’s house to help him weigh his tomato.”
The Pumpkin Man is famous, too. He has been featured in newspapers, television and even the “National Geographic.” In 2011, we appeared on Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy game show “The Marriage Ref.” A panel of celebrities–Jerry, Ricky Gervais and Julianne Moore–weighed in about whether Jamie was spending too much time in the patch. Spoiler alert: he won.
And Jamie said the best part was when Seinfeld sang to him. “He serenaded me with a song called ‘The Pumpkin Man,’ which is something I guess he's done in his family for a number of years to the embarrassment of his own children. But he sang ‘The Pumpkin Man' song to a national audience in front of me.”
It’s not all songs and games Chez Johnson–pumpkins can also come with controversy, like when they started growing all over the neighborhood.
“Well, I believe I was set up and I can prove it," said Jamie. "Somebody planted pumpkin seeds in all the neighbor's front yards and there were these pumpkin vines coming out into the neighbor's yards. And the way I can prove it is that it was not an Atlantic Giant variety of seed. And why would I grow a little pumpkin?”
So when it comes to pumpkins this Halloween, bigger is always better.