A Millville man’s pumpkins beat the Cache Valley record for largest pumpkin this year and ranked high at the Utah Giant Pumpkin Grower’s weigh-off at Thanksgiving Point on Saturday.
Meet Big Bertha, 1,109, and Magdeline, 1,066 pounds, two giant pumpkins grown by Alan Gebert of Millville.
“I was really happy with that,” Gebert said. “I was really happy to have two over 1,000 pounds.”
The previous Cache Valley record was for a 1,032-pounder grown by Dale Elwood of Hyde Park in 2011, the same year a Mountain Green man made the current state record with a 1,600-pound pumpkin.
Though Gebert and others at the competition estimated Magdeline, a larger, flatter pumpkin, would be bigger, they were surprised when the rounder Big Bertha was weighed.
“It was not the order of what I thought it was going to happen,” Gebert said. “Everyone was surprised.”
The largest pumpkin weighed this year was just over 1,200 pounds, not much bigger than Gebert’s pumpkins.
Friends and neighbors gathered in the Gebert’s backyard Friday evening to watch the two massive squashes be lifted by tractor onto a trailer. Moving two pumpkins, each large enough to comfortably hold a few small children, is quite the task according to Alan’s wife, Jill Gebert.
Growing giant pumpkins requires almost constant attention and planning, according to Lori Larson, whose husband, Greg, assisted in moving Gebert’s pumpkins. Greg also grows big pumpkins, though not as quite massive as these.
“It’s something like a hobby, or an obsession,” Lori said.
To ensure Magdeline and Big Bertha had a safe ride to Thanksgiving Point, the Geberts borrowed a trailer from a friend and a neighbor offered to lift it with his tractor.
Even a crack could result in the squashes being disqualified at the state competition.
Jill was especially nervous.
If the pumpkins accidentally fell while being moved, “I’d cry,” she said.
With a lurch, the tractor’s front loader lifted up, pulling the end of the harness wrapped around one of the pumpkins taught. In what seemed like minutes but was probably more like a few seconds, the tractor slowly lifted the giant, half ton squash off the ground into the air to cheers and whistles from the crowd.
Alan slowly backed the trailer underneath the pumpkin and the neighbor operating the tractor gently lowered Magdeline the giant pumpkin onto a foam covered pallet.
Growing pumpkins was always an interest of Alan’s. He said he grew them in high school, but did not get into giant pumpkins until he moved to Millville with his family a few years ago. After making friends with members of the giant pumpkin growing community, he learned the ropes and took a 501.5-pound pumpkin to the state weigh-offs in 2012.
The giant pumpkin community is very open and people are more than willing to offer growing advice, Jill said.
“Unlike some clubs, they all share their knowledge with each other,” Jill said.
They even share seeds. Alan’s pumpkins have an award-winning pedigree. Magdeline’s “grandmother” is a 1,818-pound world record holder, and Big Bertha’s “mother” is the former Cache Valley record holder from Hyde Park.
Alan said the secret to growing giant pumpkins is really quite simple.
“The two biggest things for growing big ones: Compost, compost, compost, and then in Cache Valley you really need heating cables in the soil in the springtime,” Alan said.
Alan embedded more than 70 feet of heating cables in the soil around the plants to keep them warm during the freezing months. He also heavily composted the soil using leaves donated by neighbors.
Boards placed around the pumpkin patch allowed people to walk nearby and not disturb the soil or compact it, Alan said. This allowed for better growth and nutrient access, he said.
During the summer, to protect the pumpkins from the sun, the Geberts placed canopies over each of the pumpkins, Jill said.
“You’ve got to watch the pumpkins day by day,” Jill said.
This variety of pumpkin grows at high rate, putting on about a pound an hour, she said. The pumpkins are grown on a sand patch to protect them from bugs. The sand also is a convenient way to tell it is growing because of the sand getting pushed to the sides.
The Geberts said they plan to incorporate Big Bertha, the winner, in their Halloween display this year — possibly involving hiding somebody inside to scare trick-or-treaters — but Magdeline, the slightly smaller one, is now on display at Thanksgiving Point.
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