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Published October 30, 2009, 10:38 AM

Move over Linus; trooper grows 683-pound pumpkin

A South Carolina trooper may have topped Linus Van Pelt in the search for "the Great Pumpkin."

By: Janet S. Spencer, Associated Press

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Chris Mace’s search for “The Great Pumpkin” sometimes makes him feel like Linus from the “Peanuts” comic strip.

Linus the cartoon character stakes out the pumpkin patch by moonlight each Halloween, remaining on the lookout for a huge, orange bearer of goodies to treat all good little boys and girls.

Mace the state trooper puts in an average of three hours daily preparing, planting and tending his patch, hoping to set a pumpkin-growing record. Mace, 34, started growing pumpkins two years ago and is fast approaching his target.

“Just wait until next year,” Mace said after the season’s harvest yielded a 683-pounder — his biggest yet — and a 400-pounder, but no prizes.

Mace is undaunted by this year’s national record — a 1,725-pound behemoth grown by math teacher Christy Harp of Ohio that could take the world title. He has done his homework and is well aware that differences in climate affect the growth of pumpkins, with the Northern region of the United State having the advantage.

Mace studies, reads, talks and now plants Atlantic Giant Pumpkins to get better results.

“I’ll start the seed indoors in April, germinating them under a grow light, and the first of May, I’ll put them in the ground,” Mace said.

The five- to six-month growing period requires watering the pumpkins twice a day, and by July some begin to increase in weight by 30 or so pounds a day.

The fast growers are identified and the vines controlled early, as the watch to protect the potential prize winner is constant.

“My biggest one would have grown more, but I put a tarp over it to protect it from the direct sun. It rained, and the tarp drooped, causing a soft spot. Last month, I had to pull it,” Mace said.

To measure his effort, he began looking for a place to weigh the pumpkin and stopped in to see Kevin Freeman, who owns Freeman Core Supply in downtown Chesnee.

“He kept saying they needed to weigh several hundred pounds,” Freeman said. “Then he said, ’I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I have a pumpkin that weighs 700 pounds.’ He was right. I didn’t know what to think at first.”

Freeman drove his F450 truck, and he and Mace used a winch to hoist the pumpkin and carry it to the scales.

“It almost filled the back of my truck. We got it weighed. I’m still amazed,” Freeman said.

Freeman and Mace made photos and video of the weigh-in.

“My wife came down to the store. She wanted to see the big pumpkin. Just think how big the pumpkin might have grown if he hadn’t had to pull it. I’m just glad I could be a part of it,” Freeman said. “I told my mom in Georgia about it. She couldn’t believe it either.”

Mace said his first attempt at growing pumpkins was a stress reliever.

“I still do it for that reason. But it’s the competition, too. The first year I bought a pack of seeds at a local store and grew a 130-pound pumpkin. I read up more on it and learned seeds from other big pumpkins work better. Now, I have seeds available,” he said.

Mace is proud of his efforts to reproduce “The Great Pumpkin” and is optimistic that his continuing research will be beneficial, although currently he has no trophies to attest to his effort.

“I just have to tell people now that my big pumpkin so far was about the size of a Volkswagen, and it’s true,” he said.

(The Spartanburg Herald-Journal)

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