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England seed grows Great Pumpkin

South Kentucky RECC member Hobart Girdler wins $1,329 at 2020 Kentucky State Fair

Hobart Girdler with wife, Bubbles, and Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles, second from left. Photo: Dwight Slone
The giant pumpkin is on display in the Girdler's Somerset, Kentucky, yard. Photo: Bubbles Girdler
Hobart Girdler's 1,329-pound pumping arrives for Kentucky State Fair judging in Louisville. Photo: Bubbles Girdler

Hobart “Hobie” Girdler of Somerset won the Largest Pumpkin Contest in August at the 2020 Kentucky State Fair, his fifth year of competition.

Girdler took home $1,329 for the weight of his pumpkin that began from a seed that originated from England, which he purchased at a Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) auction held by the nonprofit state growers’ association club.

“They sell seeds of giant pumpkins and watermelons that people donate and they auction them off to raise money for the GPC,” he explains. “I paid $50 for ‘Paton 2183.9’—a pumpkin owned by the Paton family that weighed 2,183.9 pounds.

“That was most I ever paid for a seed,” he says. “And, you just take a chance on it, it might not mature.”

Girdler planted two pumpkin seeds this year. Typically, he plants three. “I bought different seeds from GPC auctions—the Ohio Seed Auction and the Illinois Seed Auction,” says Girdler.

He explains that people track which pumpkin they pollinate their pumpkin with, in order to keep a family history. The GPC keeps track of the genetics so you know whether you’re getting a good pumpkin.

Girdler became intrigued in growing giant pumpkins when they attended the 2013 Kentucky State Fair and saw Frank Mudd’s prize-winning pumpkin.

This is Girdler’s fifth year of growing giant pumpkins. He says he’s still the same person before he won the contest. “It’s a lot of work—well, not a lot of work—it’s a lot of time.

“I get up at 4:30 a.m. and I’m out there between 5:30 and 5:45, and give it 55 gallons of water a day. I have drums and an irrigation system, and I do it all at one time. I put it on the ground and vines, then I go to work.”

His backyard plot is 26 feet wide by 29 feet long. “We are the original backyard growers. We are in the city limits of Somerset.”

He says he learned how to grow giant pumpkins by reading information on the internet and going to Great Pumpkin Commonwealth contests “and keeping my mouth shut and listening to people. They’ll tell you stuff.”

This is the timeline for Hobart’s prize-winning pumpkin:

March 1: Started the seed indoors in a pot.
March 25: Transplanted it into the garden.
August 20: Cut it off the vine.
August 22: Drove it to the Kentucky State Fair, Louisville, to have it judged.

What other helpful tricks did he use to grow a 1,329-pound pumpkin in under six months?

Girdler says he made a hoop house out of PVC pipe, placing it around the pumpkin with a tarp over the pumpkin to keep the sun off it. “I started doing that when the pumpkin was the size of a basketball. It keeps the skin from getting hard and makes it more flexible to grow.”

During cold weather, he put an electric heater in the hoop house, on the lowest temperature setting. “I just tried it out myself. That’s the first year I’ve put a heater on the vine to keep the ground and vine warm,” he says.

Girdler also used a fan to keep the pumpkin cool during hot weather.

“It’s a lot of guessing as you start out,” he says.

Did you give a name to the pumpkin? “No, says Girdler. “Sometimes we do we do, sometimes we don’t.”

Girdler gives a lot of the credit to Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles for pulling the contest together this year during the coronavirus pandemic. “A bunch of us didn’t have seed in ground or plants growing yet. If it weren’t for Quarles, we would not have had pumpkin and watermelon contest this year.”

He is also thankful to the Wallaces, owners of Somerset Farm Equipment, who have always been there to help him. “They come out here and load my pumpkin up with the Bobcat onto my pickup truck,” he says. “They have been selling farm equipment for many years, and I’ve been here for 41 years.”

After growing pumpkins for five years now, Girdler says he wasn’t nervous when it came time to load and drive the pumpkin to be weighed.

“We tied it down in the back of the truck and drove 55 miles per hour. People would come by as we were going to Louisville, give us the thumbs up and take pictures of it as they went past in their vehicles.”

He says, “You have to bring it to the contest on a wood pallet, then they take a strap and pick it up and put it on the scale.”

The award-winning pumpkin is 61 inches wide by about 41 inches tall, and 44 to 45 inches deep front to back. He says, using a tape measure, they came up with 391 inches wide and estimated it to be 1,327 pounds. When weighed, it was 1,329 pounds.

An interesting note: Any of the contests that are sanctioned by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth association is open to anyone to compete from across the nation.

Girdler says often people have trouble with disease and fungus, but “this pumpkin did not have trouble all year long. It was like it was just sitting there and growing. Like God meant it to live.”

The second pumpkin seed was a pumpkin he was growing for his grandson. After it formed a bad spot, Girdler had to cut it up. It grew to 400 pounds.

Girdler is also trying his hand at growing a giant gourd in his backyard. Girdler says, “It won’t be a record, but it will weigh around 150 pounds. We are taking it to the Alardt, Tennessee, contest the first Saturday in October.”

He says he and wife, Bubbles, will attend a few other GPC-sponsored contests. “We’re going to go with spectators and enjoy it. If they need help getting their pumpkin out of the truck and weighing it, we’ll help them and help with the contest,” says Bubbles. “This is where the pumpkin growers get together, at the contests. They share information and brag with each other.”

Bubbles explains the Great Pumpkin Commission encourages people to grow giant pumpkins and watermelons. “They provide a person money for travel, award ribbons, plus all the education. They make it easy for people who want to grow a pumpkin, and they are nice to boot. They sell shirts to raise money and have online chat rooms to talk with other pumpkin growers.”

The Girdlers, South Kentucky RECC consumer-members, have displayed their giant pumpkin in their front yard for all to see.

Photos: Bubbles Girdler

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