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Click on a thumbnail picture below to see the full size version. 54 Entries.
Thursday, April 9 View Page
It is time to get things going for the year!
 
Friday, April 10 View Page
It has been a few years since I’ve had a diary here on bigpumpkins.com, so I guess it would be good to start by introducing myself. My name is Russ Pugh. Ever since I was a kid when I saw my first big pumpkin at the Kansas State Fair in the 1970’s I’ve dreamed of growing the biggest pumpkin in the world. That’s where my pumpkin growing story begins. I'm the one wearing the pumpkin-head costume. Batman is my big brother.
 
Friday, April 10 View Page
I’ve been growing pumpkins in Santa Rosa, California since 2001. Like almost everyone who grows these things, I started small and worked my way up. This is my first “big” pumpkin. It weighed 131 pounds. Far short of the 300 pounder I saw at the state fair when I was a kid.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
Thanks to the help and advice of many fantastic growers I slowly figured out things over the years. If it wasn’t for the help and support of my fellow growers, I might still be trying to break the 1000 pound barrier. Believe it or not, when I started growing 1000 pounds was a lofty goal.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In August of 2005 I went on a patch tour with the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers. On this tour my eyes were really opened. I spent a couple days driving all over Oregon & Washington looking at patches and meeting some of the best growers in the world. It was a fantastic learning experience.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
One of the stops on the patch tour was at Lincoln Mettler’s house. Lincoln had won the Half Moon Bay World Championships a couple times. I had no idea who he was. I also had no idea that he would change my pumpkin growing perspective and approach by matter-of-factually saying these words: “The only reason to grow pumpkins is to try to break the world record.” Lincoln was the first grower I’d ever seen who openly shared this kind of crazy goal with a group of strangers. At that moment my childhood dream changed into a grown-up’s obsession.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
After the PGVG patch tour I went home and got to work. Over the next thirteen years I worked tirelessly. I read everything about growing giant pumpkins I could find. I met and learned from the greatest growers in the world.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I figured out that the native clay soil in Santa Rosa was never going to grow a world record, so I brought in thousands of yards of compost.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I built huge hot houses to start my plants in.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I got a small tractor to help keep the work manageable. Then a few years later I got a bigger tractor, so it would be big enough to load up the pumpkins I was growing.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
Through the process I learned a lot and made some great friends.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I ultimately built a 9,500 square foot patch which was raised 24 inches above the clay soil.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
And I had great successes. And great failures.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In 2011 I had two exceptional pumpkins going. In September they both looked to be contenders to not only win big California contests, but they both had legitimate shots at achieving my goal of breaking the world record. Neither one did.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In fact, the one which was the largest pumpkin that had ever been grown at the time (based on measurements) ended up being damaged and was ineligible for competition. The world record at the time was 1810 pounds. My big, damaged pumpkin weighed 1794 pounds at Half Moon Bay. Along with the 1794 I had a “bonus” five-gallon bucket which was half-full of the pumpkin mush that had been removed from the its underside where it had a soft spot. The bucket of mush was never weighed.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In 2014 I had another big one judged DMG just before it was weighed at Half Moon Bay. It had a tiny hole/split between two ribs on the bottom. The split was about an eighth of an inch long. On this day I learned there is a certain rush involved with having a contender DQ’ed just before being weighed. It is kind of like the moment when you are riding a roller coaster and you feel like the car is going to fly off the tracks. You feel like you are going to puke, but you don’t because you think that you might die in a couple seconds. Then a few minutes later you are smiling and talking about “what a great ride it was.” It was a rush created by a truly exciting and sickening emotional ride.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In 2014 I also grew a big squash. It taped 401 OTT and weighed 1362.5 pounds at Elk Grove. It held the giant squash world record for a couple hours until Scott Holub’s 1578 pounder was weighed later that day in Oregon. It was a beautiful, dark-green fruit and was grown from a 996 Haist seed. I still think the 996 Haist is the greatest producer of dark green squash ever.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
Two years later I had another special one growing on a 1781 Zywiek. It was going like crazy. In late July it needed to be re-positioned to keep it from tearing itself off the vine. Unfortunately, I re-positioned it too far. It taped to 290 OTT on day 30. Snapping it off the vine while trying to set it up to make a run at the world record was an indescribable feeling of disappointment. Yes, it was a rush too.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
2016 ended up on a good note when I finally got a big one to the scales and won at Elk Grove. It weighed 1944.5 pounds. It was a good feeling, but I felt as if there was something more to want.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
After all, earlier that year I had another potential world record greenie going. It was grown from Scott Houlb’s greenie/pumpkin cross that ended up producing a new greenie world record that year for Joe Jutras. Mine ended up a being a spumpkin that measured 440 OTT. Another disappointment.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
Joey Chestnut, the legendary Coney Island Hot dog eating champion, was there at Elk Grove. He was impressed with my pumpkin. I was impressed with his pumpkin pie eating.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In 2017 fusarium showed up in my patch.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
The plant growing my best fruit that year lost about a third of its vines to fusarium in September. I thought it had a real shot to make 2000 pounds. Instead it ended up at 1786 and placed second to Josiah Brandt, who drove his 2095 pounder 32 hours from Wisconsin to the contest at Elk Grove. The good news was that I learned a couple things from Josiah which would make me a better grower. I also learned that no matter how big your pumpkin is, if someone shows up with a heavier one, they were going to beat you. Even if they had to drive 32 hours to get there and it was completely implausible that they would be competing against you on that day. I learned that anything can happen in a competition.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
In 2018 my “perfect” patch with its “perfect” screenhouse succumbed to fusarium. By the middle of August everything was dead and gone. One afternoon after a long phone call with Steve Daletas, who had dealt with fusarium himself, I realized that it was time to start a new patch in a new place.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
As I face the start of a new pumpkin growing season in a new patch, I reflect on things I have learned about life through my quest to grow the world’s biggest pumpkin.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I’ve learned that if you are going to do something, you might as well set the highest goal possible for that endeavor. If you settle for a lesser goal, then you’re only lowering the bar of your expectations and ultimately will be laying a foundation which will not enable you to achieve what you really want to accomplish.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I’ve been coaching high school track and cross country for the past four years. We’ve set high goals with our athletes. In fact, we’ve set goals which more experienced coaches told me were not achievable. But we got the kids to buy into the goals and have been more successful than anyone ever thought was possible.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
Last fall our cross country team had the top two finishers at the California State Championship for Division 3, and our team finished second overall. No guys team from California’s North Coast Section had previously won a CIF State Cross Country title. That’s what we were shooting for and we came really close. Four of the guys from our team will be running at the collegiate level next year. All the guys on the team learned that if you set your goals high and commit to doing the necessary work, then you can become great.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
I also coach high jump. I’ve coached kids who have jumped as much as six inches higher than they are tall. This spring, after one track meet it was looking like I would have six guys jump over 6 feet this season. I’m pretty sure that two of them were going to jump 6’6”. At that first meet I had a freshman girl make the second highest height in our school history! A few days later Coronavirus hit our country and the remainder of our track season was cancelled.
 
Saturday, April 11 View Page
What I’ve learned from coaching is that once you get people doing the right work and committed to becoming great, that everyone around them will become better. Collectively we can all become better than we ever would individually. John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I’ve seen this work in the pumpkin growing community as well. This approach works fantastically. That is, until Coronavirus or Fusarium hits and wipes everything out.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
I am fortunate to have a friend whose house is on about 2.5 acres. Over the past year I have been building out a 2100 square foot patch, which will be the perfect size for 2 plants.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
It has been a lot of work getting the new patch ready to go. Our soil here is a clay adobe and is not good for growing much of anything. This is nothing new for me. There are also lots of gophers on the property, so it was necessary to put town gopher wire.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
To make it so the entire patch would drain I put down about 4 inches of gravel on top of the chicken wire. There is a slight slope to the area, so it should drain well.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Next it was time to fill it up with compost! All together it was about 150 yards of material (70'x30'x24"). 120 yards was composted green material from the local Forest Products place. The remainder was composted sludge from the City of Santa Rosa water treatment facility. I have never used "humanure" before, but it should be fine. It was cheap and I know that they do a great job composting and testing it. Overall the pH of the patch full of new compost was quite high (8.2), but I knew that the pH would fall as it decomposed.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
In late November I seeded in a cover crop of legumes that they call "vineyard mix" here. This pic was taken in early December after it had rained a couple times.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
I had to run water and electrical about 300 feet for the patch . I did that last fall before the rain started. It was a big job.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
In late January I discovered that some sort of varmint was tunneling through the gravel under the landscaping blocks which made up the walls of the patch. It was then that I decided that I had better take down the entire wall so I could put up gopher wire up the sides of the patch too. This was a major ordeal, but I thought it was the only was to keep rodents from tunneling their way into the patch.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
The morning after taking down the first section of retaining wall and putting up gopher wire I was greeted at the gate by Chief, the resident German Shepard. Chief had watched me work the entire day before as I moved landscape blocks and explored the tunnel to try to find out what was invading my patch. Although I didn't find any varmints, I suspected it was a gopher. After his customary greeting of excitedly jumping on me, he raced over to the patch and picked up this gopher and dropped it at my feet. That answered my question.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Here is another shot of the trench I dug for the water and electrical. That was not fun.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Here is what the wall looked like after reinforcing the walls with gopher wire. It took me about two weeks of working 2-3 hours a day to do this to the entire patch.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
On April 8th I plowed in my cover crop. I checked the pH before I did this and it it was 7.5.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
The morning after tilling in my cover crop I checked my pH again and discovered that it had fallen to 6.5. I was shocked that the addition of the organic matter from the cover would have such an impact on my pH. 6.5 is right where I want to be!
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Then I added my amendments. 600 lbs of gypsum, 26 lbs of Magnesium sulfate (epsom salts), 2 lbs of borax, 7 lbs of mangenese sulfate, 1 lb copper sulfate, 8 lbs iron sulfate.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Then I tilled it all on.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Then after months of work, my patch was finally ready to go!
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
Here is another shot of the whole patch.
 
Monday, April 20 View Page
And another.
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
The 2005 Haist grew this pumpkin last year. I'll be growing a 2005 Haist!
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
I also will be growing an 1885.5 Werner.
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
As backups I will be growing two of my 1944.5 Pugh seeds. I have grown the 1944.5 a couple times and I think it has great potential which has been limited by the fusarium issue I had in my old patch.
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
Last Friday I put up the frame for this hoop house. The two plants I grow will be planted about 6 feet apart and will grow back-to-back.
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
My wife, Tracey helped me put the plastic on the hot houses on Sunday. It is much easier to do this with help, so I greatly appreciate her assistance with this project!
 
Tuesday, April 21 View Page
The first two seedlings to emerge were the 2005 Haist & the 1885.5 Werner. I started seeds on April 15th. This pic was taken on the 19th. The 1944 Pughs have sprouted and are one day behind these seedlings. They all look normal, so I am off to a good start!
 
Sunday, April 26 View Page
The seedlings are officially in their hot houses today. In 60 days I hope to be pollinating my keepers! That would put us at June 25th.
 

 

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