Mammoth gourds, pumpkins and assorted vegetables lined the Milton Farmers’ Market last Thursday, as part of the recreation department’s fourth annual giant vegetable growing contest.
“Look at the size of that sweet potato,” passersby said as they gazed upon the fruits and veggies procured by nine local gardeners’ labor.
The contest was part of a town effort to build community and get people outside, according to rec coordinator Kym Duchesneau.
“It’s kind of a fun challenge just to see what people can grow,” she said.
This year, reigning champion Rick Wasielewski celebrated his fourth win, taking home first place again. Christian Dymond took second place, and both growers got all the gardening glory that accompanies success, with their 367- and 358-pound pumpkins, respectively.
The rec department provided aspiring farmers with giant pumpkin seeds from last year’s winning pumpkin and from seed packets this past Green Up Day. But Miltonians were encouraged to flex their green thumbs and grow any kind of behemoth they could imagine from flowers to potatoes for the “best in show” contest.
Although Milton Rec doesn’t have a scale hefty enough to handle participants’ bounty, rec commission chairman John Lindsay was happy to step in with a measuring system developed by the University of Ohio. He says the system can measure within 5 percent of the pumpkins’ true weight.
Children, adults, participants and market shoppers alike stopped to watch as Lindsay wrapped his string this way and that, recording lengths and widths.
“You make a cross [with the string] at the stem, measure each part of the cross, then the thickest part of the pumpkin,” he said. “Then you add those measurements up.”
It’s like measuring from the North Pole to the South Pole then around the equator, he explained.
This year, Lindsay entered a sizable 61-pound pumpkin into the contest. It was his first successful attempt — woodchucks and insects plagued his patch in prior years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Lindsay said. “It’s almost like caring for a baby.”
His efforts started in late spring and included burying vines to get maximum nutrients and moisture to the fruit.
But every tiller’s strategy is different.
Jim Ballard uses a large water barrel and hose system that his student farmhands developed to give his Blue Hubbard squash and assorted veggies near-constant hydration. He’s positive it saved his crop from drought conditions this summer.
“I didn’t do anything,” four-year champ Wasielewski said, of his 2014 attempt. “I just put it in the ground.”
The pump-king has since refined his tactics with special watering techniques. Next year, he’s going to install a fence to keep pesky critters away from his crops.
For Collette Hebert, the “cutesy factor” is paramount. Poor soil and scarce light on her property mean she’ll never raise a colossus. So she cartoons characters on her pumpkins to give judges and attendees a laugh. This year she went with the comedic duo, Laurel and Hardy.
“One pumpkin was larger than the other,” she said. “So I went with two characters who go together, one larger than the other.”
Hebert said it’s neat to see what everyone accomplishes.
“I like the way it brings the community together and brings us all a smile,” she said.
Smiles, indeed. Children laughed and scrambled up Wasielewski’s winning harvest, while the adult crowd tricked one another with a hefty-looking faux pumpkin.
The top crops were awarded $25 Amazon gift cards, and all other entrants received participation certificates.
Photos courtesy Jake Held, Held in the Moment Photography; Ben Nappi, Milton Recreation Department; Madeline Clark, Milton Independent