There won’t be a Stillwater Harvest Fest this year. That means no 100-foot giant pumpkin drop and no chili cook-off. The pumpkin boat regatta? That’s been scratched, too.
But not even a pandemic can stop the Stillwater Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off.
The 15th annual event will be held Oct. 10 in the parking lot of the old Denny Hecker auto sales lot at the corner of Minnesota 36 and Osgood Avenue in Oak Park Heights. Giant-pumpkin fans are welcome to drive by and view the pumpkins during the day; the event also will be broadcast live online.
Pumpkin grower Pete Midthun, of New Richmond, Wis., thinks he has a contender for the $3,750 first prize. The enormous light orange gourd growing in his backyard is a beauty, measuring around 195 inches — or close to 16 feet — in circumference.
“We call it ‘The Captain.’ It weighs about 1,800 pounds,” he said, though it always possible he might be underestimating his gardening prowess to throw off the competition. “It’s a really nice pumpkin.”
In 2018, Midthun brought a 2,091-pound monster to Harvest Fest. That entry helped the St. Croix Growers’ Association — which sponsors the weigh-off — earn a world record “for top 10 heaviest weights at any weigh-off ever,” he said. He won $5,000 that year.
Midthun, 51, who works for SMC Ltd. in Somerset, started growing pumpkins about 10 years ago.
“It all comes down to the amount of work you put into it,” he said. “That’s the key. You get what you put into it.”
Growing a giant pumpkin starts with the right soil, he said. “You’ve got to get your soil dialed in,” he said. “You’ve got to get it tested and see what it’s lacking. Plants suck up so many nutrients. We rotate patches every year.”
Midthun swears by a special compost that he purchases by the pickup load from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “It’s cow manure,” he said. “It’s from the university. They should know what they’re doing down there. I just figure that’s got to be the best around. It doesn’t even smell bad; it just has an earthy smell.”
Next, Midthun said, you’ve got to pick the right seed. “Genetics play a big part of it,” he said. His monster came from the 1781 Zywiec, a gift from pumpkin grower Lorelee Zywiec, also of New Richmond, who is considered one of the most accomplished giant-pumpkin growers in the Upper Midwest. “She gave it to me for free,” he said. “Some seeds can go for up to $600.”
Midthun places sand in his 30-foot-by-30-foot pumpkin patch so the gourd has a comfy place to grow. He doesn’t want it “sitting right in dirt and mud” and rotting, he said. “If you put it on sand, it seems like that protects it better. At their peak, they’re growing 40 to 50 pounds a day. It’s just amazing to watch.”
He regularly waters the plant because it must be kept evenly moist in order to keep it from cracking, he said. “You hope for rain, but we water it every single day,” he said.
This summer was a good summer for growing giant pumpkins, he said. “You don’t want that extreme heat. We do pretty good because we have a lot of days that are around 80 degrees. You don’t want it too cool and you don’t want it too hot. We’re in a great area for growing.”
Giant pumpkins aren’t the only items being weighed this weekend. Growers also will be competing for bragging rights in these categories: long gourd, watermelon, tomato, field pumpkin and bushel gourd. Entries are limited to one per grower.
IF YOU GO
What: The Stillwater Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10
Where: The old Denny Hecker auto sales lot at 14702 60th St. N., Oak Park Heights.
Sponsors: St. Croix Growers Association, Summer Tuesdays and Cub Foods
To watch online: Go to stcroixgrowers.com, and watch the weigh-off live from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The group will weigh pumpkins at 9 a.m. up until the awards ceremony, which is slated for 4 p.m.
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