For the second straight year, Switzerland County resident Derek Archer has raised the Grand Champion pumpkin at the Versailles Pumpkin Show.
And he continues to out-do himself.
This year’s mammoth entry weighed in at a whopping 1,033 pounds, outweighing last year’s champion entry by about 100 pounds. It did outweigh this year’s second place entry (705 pounds) at the Versailles event by 328 pounds.
“It actually had the potential to get much, much bigger, but we had to cut it off of the vine about 3 1/2 weeks ago because the vine had rotted,” Archer said. “It started to spread to the stem. I missed out on about three or four weeks of growth. It could have been much better, if the heat and humidity hadn’t taken over.”
This year’s champion is not off of the same seeds as last year’s winner, with Archer saying that the “parent pumpkin” that this year’s seed was out of weighed 1,950 pounds.
“I ended up planting two plants this year,” he said. “I was hoping to cross-pollinate these two different plants to have a certain set of genetics for my seeds for next year; but unfortunately my second plant didn’t really make it, so I ended up ripping it out partway through the year.”
Archer started the seeds inside his house in the middle of April, growing them in containers on the kitchen counter for a couple of weeks before he transplanted them outside around the first of May.
“From May, I pollinated the pumpkin around the middle of June,” Archer said. “I pollinated the female flower which started the pumpkin process then. You grow the plant and try and get the vine to a certain size. It has to mature a little bit so you can produce flowers. You want to get the vine to a certain size and length so it’s big enough to support the pumpkin. Then you start pollinating.”
Archer said that he pollinated two or three female flowers, and then narrowed it down to one by the beginning of July.
“It was pretty obvious which one was going to make it and which ones weren’t,” he said. “At that point, I went ahead and cut off everything. The plant will continue to produce male and female flowers – the female ones are the ones that will actually turn into pumpkins. I went ahead and started cutting everything off at that point. Some people will leave a couple of smaller pumpkins on just a little bit longer as a back up, just in case something happens early on to their main one, at least they have a back up there; but I didn’t this year.”
At that point, Archer said that the process becomes an ongoing one, keeping up with the vine and other processes.
“You want to prune the vine so there’s not too much energy going into the vine growth,” he said. “You just keep all the other baby pumpkins from popping up.”
This summer’s wet and humid weather wasn’t good overall for pumpkins, leading to a decline in the number of pumpkins that made it to Versailles for judging.
“I think this year was a tough year, because July and August were really wet,” Archer said. “Most people who you talk to, even the commercial pumpkin growers who grow Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins to sell commercially; even a lot of those guys lost a ton this year to rot. It was just too wet and too humid.”
One of the great parts of the pumpkin growing process for Archer is that it has become a family affair, along with wife, Trisha; and children Hudson (age 7) and Poppy (age 5).
“Hudson loves it,” Archer said. “We went out everyday and took our measurements to see how much it was growing and how fast it was growing. He really enjoyed it, Poppy, not so much!”
Archer said that when the pumpkin was really growing in July, the family was weighing it everyday and measuring it everyday to see just how much it was growing.
“I think the best day we had, estimating the weight based off of charts that compare the size of the pumpkin, at one point we gained 38 pounds in a 24 hour period. It’s pretty amazing to think what these plants can do.”